Astrid Dufborg is the executive director of GeSCI since March 1,2006. Before joining GeSCI,Dufborg worked as an Ambassador and ICT Adviser based at the Swedish UN Mission in Geneva, where she led the Swedish work within the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). She also represented Sweden at the UN ICT TF. Prior to that she what for the Swedish international Development Co-operation Agency (Sida) and was stationed in four African countries over a ten-year period. Her last positions at Sida were Director for the Department for Infrastructure and Economic Cooperation, and Assistant Director General.
GeSCI works at the local, national, and international level to support, to create, and to implement strategies to harness Information Communications Technologies (ICTs) for education and community growth. Astrid Dufborg, Executive Director, GeSCI, while speaking to Digital Learning elaborates these works and contributions that Astrid Dufborg is the executive touch to the belief that ‘Education changes life’
? Why was GESCI created?
The power of harnessing ICTs for development and the improvement of people’s lives is clear and urgent. In education it is particularly clear that ICTs, applied inclusively and imaginatively can act as catalyst in failing education systems in the developing world – and help unlock the creative potential of entire societies. Over the last number of years thousands of diverse, small-and medium scale projects and pilot projects aimed at exactly this harnessing of ICTs for social good, have been implemented and are leaving their mark worldwide. Though their individual results may be small in face of the magnitude of the global education crisis, the difference they are making to individual classrooms and communities is at times astonishing. Over all, these pilots show that ICTs are improving education. Implicitly they also show that up-scaled end-toend strategies could ensure such improvements are made all the more immense and wide-reaching in effect. In this context, in 2003, the UN ICT Task Force, promted by Irelan Sweden, Switzerland, and Canada, established the concept of the Global eSchools & Communities Initiative. Taking up the challenge of the Millennium Development Goals, GeSCI’s purpose is to support stakeholders in the development of comprehensive strategies for wholesystem deployment of ICTs in education. Now an independent Notfor- profit organisation with a secretariat in Dublin, GeSCI believes that the missing links can be made visible and joined-up in the ICTS for development chain, by convening comprehensive multistakeholder partnerships at local, regional and national level – anywhere there is a demand – and creating end-to-end, holistic strategies and implementing them in a sustainable, collective manner.
? How does GeSCI approach the field of ICT Education?
Our imperative is to respond to the needs of real people – and real gaps in educational strategies and community development. Therefore we try to bring all stakeholders to the table in a collaborative way, and to complement and coordinate existing efforts already underway. We look to understand the context and then clearly articulatewhere we can add value. Typically our value is inherent in our ability to bring stakeholders to the table, build and implement a plan and to mobilise resources to do so. We are working to varying degree with such stakeholders in Namibia, India, Ghana and Bolivia. All four countries have in common a demonstrated readiness to take on ICT in education strategies in a comprehensive and national way and believe in the importance of ICTs and the potential for greater impact.
? You’re obviously very passionate about the potential of this initiative. Why?
There’s a huge gap between policy makers and practitioners. You can bring people together but you cannot align them effectively. People are saying: we should do this, or that, but there is no understanding in the middle – no interpreter between the two. That’s one of the reasons that GESCI was established – to act as the interpreter, the facilitator.
? You say the goal is to “raise education standards.” What do you mean by that?
One of the things we mean is directly contributing to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The primary education goal is a huge one. The statistics speak for themselves: around 370 million school-aged children are not in school, not even near a classroom; sixty-seven per cent of the illiterate adults in the world are women. If we can lower those numbers, we’re doing something right. Traditionally ICT in education has tended to be technology led. In putting the educational cart before the technology horse so to speak, we mean to make a further impact on education standards. ICTs can be hugely beneficial to learners and teachers across the curriculum, but the key is strategic, goal-orientated and well-planned intervention. Where we achieve this, educations standards will rise.
? GeSCI is considering a role in Teacher professional development.
Why is this?
It is teachers who shape the future through their work. They are multipliers, authority figures and agents of socio-economic change that must be empowered. Therefore, they should have all available tools at their disposal, including the full range of information and communication technologies – not just the Internet, but also standalone computers, radio, TV and telephones. However, in order to provide them with the skills they need to become facilitators of learning, to improve their own effectiveness and to insure that the ICTs that are finding their ways into schools in the developing world are put to good use, teachers urgently require training in ICT. However, it was recognized that educators who had been trained in ICT often abandon their teaching careers for jobs that pay better salaries – a form of teacher brain-drain. New models of capacity development of teachers and administrators are key to the success and sustainability of education strategies and to a systematic approach in the use of ICT for education.
? What are some of the major achievements of GeSCI in terms of policy and implementing strategies to harness ICTs for education and community growth?
There have been several so far, but I’ll just mention three. One is the central strategy called ‘complete or end-to-end system’ that guides all of our work, and provides a model approach to development. By this, we mean programmes that are comprehensive, demand-driven, capable and efficient, and coordinated. Another is our work in Namibia, where we are working closely with the Namibian government, and other stakeholders, to implement a national ICT in education plan. A third is our work on developing practical knowledge tools for policy makers and practitioners, such as studying the costs of benefits of various technology options for education.