chapter  5
20 Pages

Local Variations in Educational Technology Provision and Practice

The past two chapters have depicted educational technology as a rather standardised ‘top-down’ affair. The totalising policy discourses of national governments and the grand gestures of international organisations certainly convey a confident sense of what educational technology should be. Yet it is important to remember that all of the activities, agendas, programmes and policies described in Chapters 3 and 4 bear little resemblance to the rather ‘messier’ realities of digital technology use in ‘real-life’ educational settings. The persuasive discourses of ‘twenty-first-century skills’ and ‘intelligent islands’ should be seen as idealistic rather than realistic depictions of educational technology – informed by politically driven desires and produced to promote particular sets of values. As David Nye (2007, p.35) reflects, such policies and programmes “are in essence little narratives about the future. They are not [necessarily] full-scale narratives of utopia, but they are usually presented as stories about a better world to come”. All of the agendas, strategies and visions reviewed up to this point in the book

provide only a partial reading of educational technology use around the world. It would be unwise to ascribe any particular ‘effect’ or ‘impact’ to these programmes and policies – especially in terms of how digital technologies are actually used ‘on the ground’ by individuals and institutions whose interests and experiences may be far removed from the interests and experiences of national policymakers or international organisations. As was argued in Chapter 4, education technology policies are in many ways not intended to result in significant realignments of education provision or practice per se. Indeed, it could be reasoned that many education policy drives are little more than symbolic interventions on the part of governments – a means for states to maintain legitimacy in terms of their governance of national

education systems or their influence over national economic fortunes. Thus all of the policy programmes and initiatives reviewed in Chapter 4 are perhaps best understood as a way for governments to appear ‘on message’ with a number of key political concerns – not least global economic concerns of national competitiveness, the up-skilling of workforces, the dynamics of global capitalism and the intensification of the economic function of knowledge. What these policies and initiatives are not able to do, however, is tell us how and why digital technologies are actually being used in educational settings in any particular country or locality. In one sense, then, educational technology policies and the educational technol-

ogy actions of international organisations present a rather homogenised and partial account of educational technology use around the world. All of the policies reviewed in Chapter 4, for example, relay well-worn mantras of a computer for every student, technology-rich curricula, highly trained teacher workforces, thriving indigenous IT industries, and re-skilled workforces. We now need to move beyond these ‘global models’ of educational technology and, instead, pay attention to what is taking place at the local level of analysis. In this sense, we need to consider how the ‘global flows’ of educational policymaking and supranational activity end up being ‘vernacularised’ in the contexts of specific countries and societies as they meet local cultures and politics (Rizvi and Lingard 2010). Thus in order to develop a more rounded understanding of how and why educational technologies are used (and not used) in the diverse ways that they are around the world, we now need to consider the complex interactions between the global and the local. At this point, we can return to the issues outlined in Chapter 2 as arising from

the comparative education tradition – in particular the ‘culturalist’ tradition of comparative education that seeks to examine “the way global policies are interpreted, adapted and changed at the local level” (Spring 2009, p.117). This approach raises a number of questions that can be of use in understanding the local recontextualisations of educational technology policies and the actions of organisations such as the UN, OECD and Microsoft. For example, how do local actors borrow and adapt concepts and practices from the national and global flows of educational ideas about technology? How are these concepts of ‘educational technology’ subject to local distinctiveness and resilience, or even what Gabriel and Sturdy (2002) term a ‘politicisation of local identity’? How are digital technologies framed in terms of local social, political, economic and cultural imperatives? These questions certainly chime with the socio-technical tradition of viewing

digital technologies as shaped continually by the social contexts in which they are implemented and used. From the social shaping perspective, it is simply not good enough to assume, for example, that any specific educational technology will have an essentially similar influence on classrooms and learners in London as it would in Lima or Lahore. Instead, social shaping warns against discounting the local influences that shape the nature and form of ‘educational technology’ in these very different contexts. As Cherian George (2005, p.914) reminds us, “communication technologies are not independent variables appearing from out the blue … their

forms and functions are shaped by the societies that absorb them, even as they influence those societies”. As many other academic accounts of general media and technology development have shown, these shaping features can include the influence of local cultures and contexts through to issues of language, religion and other structured forms of social relations. What significance, then, do these ‘local’ issues have for the development and implementation of educational media and technology? With these issues in mind, the remainder of this chapter is devoted to exploring the localised realities of digital technology use in education.