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Education institutions around the world continue to undertake changes following the impact and lessons from the COVID-19 global pandemic. Meanwhile, the global nature of the changes calls for strengthened partnership, cooperation and collaboration among different stakeholders. In this blog, I focus on the global increase in the use of digital technology as an example of educational changes in question. Specifically, I reflect on some of the issues to be part of the conversations in the technology and education partnerships sub-theme of the BAICE 2022 conference.
For starters, like Neil Postman, I use ‘god’ of technology to characterize the high importance attached to educational technology (EdTech) in improving access and quality of education in many countries around the world. In my view, the ‘good news’ of technology is mainly ‘preached’ by a network of stakeholders, or what I characterize as the ‘praise team’. For instance, as is the case with most educational development initiatives, implementation of digital EdTech programmes involves mobilization of multiple stakeholders with a view to achieve buy-in for scaling and sustainability.
Praise team members include implementing agencies, financial aid providers, ministry of education officials and academic researchers who construct narratives that ‘glorify’ the god of technology. Meanwhile, embedded in this network of praise team members are partnerships and collaborations that need to be appraised. Indeed, we should continue being suspicious of, in the words of Neil Selwyn, the ‘technological opportunities’ that are being pushed onto education by the praise team. The goal is not to discard the potential and possibilities presented by EdTech, but to stimulate alternative ways of thinking and doing when engaging with EdTech. There is a need to go beyond celebrating the gains reaped from technology use in education.
Among other issues, we need to continue making sense of the language of technology, including what technology means in different contexts. For scholars such as Neil Postman, technology does not only mean machinery like computers, but also ‘techniques’ such as theories and models. Learning from my field of inquiry, technology and teacher education, the development of teacher educator technology competencies (TETCs) in the USA can exemplify the meaning of technology as a technique. The TETCs are meant to guide technology professional development for all teacher educators. Yet, Daniel Krukta and others’ argue that the definition of technology is not clear in the TETCs, and it is only assumed that technology refers to digital technologies such as computers, iPads or internet. Meanwhile, focusing on definitions of technology in diverse contexts might benefit the field, especially offering propositions of how the TETCs as technology might be applied to different contexts. In the same way, at the BAICE conference we will be asking: what technologies (both machinery and techniques) specific to the field of educational technology are currently shaping partnerships and collaborations in education technology emerging at different levels?
Additionally, as different stakeholders forge partnerships or collaboration around EdTech, it is also necessary to ensure that such partnerships do not ignore or exclude the ‘less privileged’, as has been observed in higher education partnerships. Exclusion and inequality in educational technology tend to be viewed through the global north-south lens, where the global south is often positioned as a ‘victim’, and the global north is seen as ‘imperialist’. Ezumah for instance takes a ‘non-western’ perspective to highlight problems associated with technology transfers from the western world to sub-Saharan Africa, and how such transfers serve to perpetuate western dominance. While these insights are useful as they help us understand educational technology differently, the critiques themselves also need to be critiqued.
Furthermore, in Malawi, I have opined that efforts aimed at scaling the use of information communication technology (ICT) in higher education institutions should be understood as an extension of the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM). Pasi Sahlberg looks at GERM as a virus, and suggests how education systems can avoid being infected by it. In my view, the need to find a ‘vaccine’ for the GERM virus cannot be overemphasised, especially for developing nations which, given their dependency on external donors, seem to be at higher risk. This perspective needs special scholarly attention, and that is why at BAICE 2022 conference we will also reflect on the tension in scaling access to quality education and the growing global EdTech encroachment on local educational autonomy. For instance, what forms of ‘vaccines can enhance immunity of local educational autonomy in low income countries?
Above all, it is necessary that partnerships are mutually beneficial. This underscores the importance of reflecting on the end or purpose of partnerships or cooperation in EdTech. To borrow from Daniel Krukta and others’ phrasing, the issue is not that the effects of collaboration and partnerships in educational technology development “are exclusively harmful” but that it is the responsibility of the partners to “aim to do no harm” for each other as they pursue collaborations and partnerships.
So, amen to the god of technology, as well as the partnerships and praise team that drive or are driven by this god, but for whose benefit and to what end? These are some of the major questions to guide our discussion in the technology and education partnerships sub-theme of the 2022 BAICE conference.
By Foster Gondwe, University of Malawi