Unlearning

This is the first in a series of weekly posts on developing a computer-aided learning (CAL) programme in Suriname. This blog will use the CAL experience as a lens through which to explore issues around innovative project design, partnership building and ways to monitor and evaluate technology for education work. We will aim to be open and honest about our failures as well as successes, and to learn from other projects. Therefore as well as charting the challenges of this project, this blog is an open call for people to observe, monitor and contribute.

Unlearning may seem like a strange way to start an education project. Yet we have so many preconceptions about what we need, what works and what doesn’t, and the role technology can play, that a blank slate could be the best possible starting point.

This is especially true in projects which depend on a partnership between multiple agencies. For the computer-aided learning project in Suriname, there are four partner organisations which aim to co-ordinate the new project, alongside three pilot villages and schools. The past few weeks have focused on the agreement of the final project proposal and the creation of a Working Group Chaired by the Ministry of Education and Community Development (MINOV). Also involved are UNICEF as the implementing partner and Peace Corps, whose volunteers are acting as observers for the initial phases, plus an organisation supplying the hardware and technical support. Each partner has a huge amount to bring to the table, but also brings with them a specific understanding and attachment to different elements of the project.

The CAL project in Suriname is a research pilot which will give laptops to each primary school child in three pilot schools in the country’s interior. The project is based in the principle of one-to-one computing which is “one model of incorporating technology into education that has gained tremendous traction in Latin America and the Caribbean… One-to-one refers to the ratio of digital devices per child so that each child is provided with a digital device, most often a laptop, to facilitate learning.” There has been much debate around the world about the value of one-to-one programmes, and many different values attached to, particularly, the technology aspects. There are also attachments to particular ways of working and principles. Only by engaging with all the aspects of this project, and by being open to both unlearning our own assumptions and learning from other experiences from all over the world can we develop the most appropriate programme from Suriname.

Some of the key questions are:

  • What are we trying to change? Is the project aiming to improved educational achievement, school attendance and grades? As a pilot, is the goal of undertaking research and harvesting useable results more important than the impact on education itself?
  • Again, as a research pilot project – how can we maximise what we learn, and how we share those learnings and embed both the knowledge and the learning process into the partner organisations’ work? By the end of the project do we want an options report or a well-developed project infrastructure ready to roll out to more schools?
  • What changes do we as organisational partners need to make to ensure the project is successful?
  • How can we work with and on people’s expectations and assumptions about CAL – that it is not a computer literacy project per se; that the poorest and most marginalised people can benefit from access to the most current technology; and that laptops are not a silver bullet for education but need to be seen as one – catalytic – element of change as part of a huge range of issues?

Over the next few weeks I look forward to the process of unlearning and building new understandings on a solid foundation.

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