Technology in education: Diffuse the 'hype cycle'

Students in a computer lab at the Rhodes Park School in Zambia. Tech tools should not define the solutions needed on the ground, according to Alex Pompe of IREX. Photo by: IICD / CC BY

Technological advances continue to influence education efforts in the developing world, but questions remain around approaches to design, accessibility and the so-called “hype cycle.”

For a certain technology to take hold, it needs three parts: people who want to be empowered, the processes — whether political or social — to make that possible, and the technology itself, Kurt Moses, director of education practice in South Sudan for FHI 360, said during the breakout session “The role of technology in education: False starts and emerging hopes” at the Society for International Development’s 2014 Annual Conference in Washington, D.C.

So what’s taking hold now? Technology that creates better communication, Moses said, which is evident in some developing countries, where “more people have access to communications technology than toilets.”

But in order to better utilize these advances, it’s necessary to disarm the hype cycle in tech in development, according to Alex Pompe, head of IREX’s Technical Assistance to Regional Study and Resource Centers program in Namibia.

Take for example the launch of a new iPhone, when interest shoots up and the public is crazy about getting one — a hype that quickly dies.

Pompe then pointed to the practice of ceremoniously putting computers in a classroom in the developing world and visiting a year later to find the terminals aren’t working because the person who knows how to fix them lives 12 hours away.

“These are questions of access and questions that mobile phones and massive growth of mobile communications are solving for us,” he said.

It’s crucial, Pompe explained, to think about tech in a classroom just like people think about textbooks and chalkboards, which are just tools.

To understand the appropriate use of tech, “we can’t let that tool define the solutions we’re looking for on the ground,” he said, adding that empowering students to come up with their own computer repair programs — which could in turn become a source of income — is another way of better equipping a community and thinking of technology as a means of education enhancement.

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    Kelli Rogers

    Kelli Rogers is a global development reporter for Devex. Based in Bangkok, she covers disaster and crisis response, innovation, women’s rights, and development trends throughout Asia. Prior to her current post, she covered leadership, careers, and the USAID implementer community from Washington, D.C. Previously, she reported on social and environmental issues from Nairobi, Kenya. Kelli holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, and has since reported from more than 20 countries.