“Over the years I have talked with lots of people who see teachers (and teachers’ unions) as a ‘problem’ that needs to be ‘solved’. One ‘solution’ increasingly considered is to figure out ways to use ICTs as a sort of metaphorical stick with which to prod teachers into various sorts of actions. This impulse is perhaps understandable in places that suffer endemic challenges related to (for example) teacher absenteeism, which is certainly a very serious problem in certain (often poor, rural) communities. That said, it may not be all that productive at a practical level.
A well known study done by researchers at the MIT Poverty Action Lab a number of years ago (and well worth reading, in my opinion) looked at a program in Udapur, India in which “teachers were instructed to have their picture taken each day with students and were paid only when the cameras recorded them present.” According to the authors, in this case “objective monitoring with incentives worked” — in other words, a mechanism was found to motivate teacher attendance. On numerous occasions, in conversation with policymakers in many different countries, I have heard this study cited as proof that technology (in this case, a digital camera) can be a ‘solution’ to the problem of teacher absenteeism. Perhaps.
But there is a real danger in many such discussions of confusing the symptons with the underling pathology. So-called ‘silver bullet solutions’ (aim the right weapon at a problem and you can ‘kill’ it) figure prominently in the checkered history of educational technologies. Things are seldom so simple, however.
Yes, the fact that mobile phones with cameras are increasingly ubiquitous in rural communities around the world does mean that it may be possible for community members to stand outside schools and take pictures of teachers as they enter and exit (a scenario I have had pitched to me on three separate occasions — in one case students were meant to wield the cameraphones themselves) and send them on to education authorities or post on a web site for public shaming.
But there just might be some unintended consequences from such activities ….
Another option might be to explore how ICTs can be used to support teachers with positive incentives linking them to other teachers via text messaging groups to help form professional support communities, or to help them save time in lesson preparation by providing additional learning resources via television (or delivered all at once on a USB stick), or to help improve their mastery of the subjects which they teach through interactive radio instruction. Sticks can sometimes work … but so can carrots. Do you want to use ICTs to punish, or to nourish?”