Quick guide: ICTs ...

Quick guide: ICTs in education challenges and research questions

After a review of the current knowledgebase of what is known -- and what isn't -- related to the uses of ICTs in education, especially as it relates to the Millennium Development Goals, infoDev has prepared a set of 50 research questions to help guide its work program in this area in the coming year.

Note to reader: infoDev – a program of the World Bank – promotes innovation and entrepreneurship in smart agriculture, digital technology, and climate change technology. Through business programs and early stage financing, we help developing countries in the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia go green and develop solutions to local problems.

In the past, infoDev worked with ICT and education. While our programs do support some entrepreneurs and start-ups that develop educational technologies (like Afroes and ListenMi), ICT and education are no longer the focus of our mission.

As a result of requests from donors and partner organizations, infoDev is sharing this list below, in the hope that doing so may stimulate discussion and help to set research priorities and directions in the coming years.

These questions have been divided into topics and themes, based on the topics and themes identified as part of infoDev's work on a set of related Knowledge Maps: ICTs in Education.

50 Research Questions


  • Impact of ICTs on learning and achievement
  • Monitoring and evaluation issues
  • Equity issues: Equity, special needs and marginalized groups


  • ICT in Education Policy issues
  • School-level issues

Current implementations of ICTs in education

  • Current projects and practices
  • Specific ICT tools used in education
  • Teachers, Teaching and ICTs
  • Content & Curriculum issues


  • Costs

Additional topic: HIV-AIDS

Theme: Impact
Topic: Impact of ICTs on learning and achievement

Research topics and areas of activity meriting further investigation

  • Research question 1:
    How do exposure to and use of ICTs in school affect future employment?

The impact of ICT use in school and student exposure to ICTs, and the nature of use and exposure, on student employability in developing has not been well documented. Tracer studies of the impact of ICTs on further study and employment would be useful, as this could be a useful additional measure of educational quality, beyond standardized testing results.

  • Research question 2:
    What is the impact of ‘computer-literacy’ instruction in schools?

In most circumstances in LDC schools, ICTs are used almost exclusively to provide instruction in “computer literacy’. Emerging research from OECD experience suggests such instruction may not be a productive use of time or resources – is this true in LDCs?

  • Research question 3:
    What is the gender impact of ICTs in education on access, use of, attitudes toward, and learning outcomes?

Studies of the potential differential impact of ICT use by gender on student access to learning in a variety of LDC contexts need to be done.

  • Research question 4:
    How can ICTs be used to present, comment on and discuss student work, and what are the implications of such impact?

The effects of using ICTs to present and discuss student work are not well researched.

  • Research question 5:
    Are some school subjects better suited for ICT integration than others?

Given that access to ICTs in schools is quite limited, it would be useful to know if certain ICT applications are better suited to use in certain school subjects and others and, if so, how ICTs can be utilized to aid teaching and learning in such subjects.


Data is mixed on the impact of ICT use on student achievement. Even where emerging best practice points to what should be done, ICT-related interventions in education are typically only one factor (and typically only a minor one) in a complex mix of inputs into educational achievement. That said, while emerging best practice exists, there are presumably many examples of "worst practice" on interventions in education that do not positively impact student achievement.

The identification of activities that have been demonstrated to have no positive impact on student achievement, as well as those that have a negative impact on student achievement, could help donors as they advise education (and other) policymakers on what not to do.

An analysis of where ICTs are inappropriate tools to help meet EFA challenges should include an examination of the necessary enabling environments that must exist if ICTs are to be used ‘effectively’. Such an analysis might be especially useful, given that many of the promises of ICTs for education are dependent on their use to enable and support educational change, while in practice many if not most ICT in education interventions in LDCs are used to extend and support existing educational practices.  A few large-scale cross-national studies of the impact of ICTs in education in LDCs have been done (most notably SITES Module 2 and the evaluation of the World Bank's pilot World Links for Development initiative). These studies included expensive and time-consuming data collection efforts. The data collected, which is publicly available, has not for the most part been evaluated by third-party groups not affiliated with the groups who designed, commissioned, collected and evaluated the data, although the researchers involved in such studies have pointed out the potential usefulness of the data collected for other researchers. Given the vast amount of data already collected and available for analysis, it is recommended that this data be further mined and evaluated to see what light can be shed on potential uses (and misuses) of ICTs to help meet EFA goals.

That computers should be introduced into schools so that teachers and students learn how to use them seems to be received (tautological) wisdom. Indeed, whereas many educators in OECD countries see computer literacy instruction as a means to an end (namely skill development that will enable students to use ICTs for other educational uses) in LDCs it is often seen as an end in itself. Should it be? Especially given the many current high-profile, private-sector promoted initiatives (endorsed by many ministries of education) to introduce ICTs into schools in developing countries, even in those most at risk of not meeting EFA goals by 2015, it is perhaps time that this question be revisited.

Theme: Impact
Topic B: Monitoring and evaluation issues

Research topics and areas of activity meriting further investigation

  • Research question 6:
    What would be a useful set of ‘core’ indicators that could be used across countries?

Given the great variety of circumstances and challenges, and the great variance in the use of ICTs in education from country to country, it would be unrealistic (and inappropriate!) to attempt to formulate a uniform set of indicators that can be used to frame data collection for ICT in education projects. That said, it would be quite useful to have a set of commonly agreed upon, ‘core’ indicators that can be used across countries. Important criteria to be observed in formulating these core indicators would include local relevance, reliability and robustness when these are used for comparison of one ICT project or country with another.

  • Research question 7:
    How have monitoring and evaluation work related to the uses of ICTs in education been conducted in LDCs, and what can we learn from this?

There is a great need for case studies of how M&E activities related to ICTs have been carried out in LDCs.

  • Research question 8:
    How should monitoring and evaluation studies of the impact of ICTs in education in LDCS be conducted?

There is a great need for toolkits outlining ‘how’ to conduct ICT in education M&E activities in LDCs, especially as they relate to education-related MDGs.

Theme: Impact
Topic C: Equity issues: Gender, special needs and marginalized groups

Research topics and areas of activity meriting further investigation

  • Research question 9:
    What is the gender impact of ICTs in education on access, use of, attitudes toward, and learning outcomes?

Studies of the potential differential impact of ICT use by gender on student access to learning in a variety of LDC contexts need to be done.

  • Research question 10:
    How can/should educational content for dissemination via ICTs be produced to ensure inclusion?

Although it is widely believed to be important, little research has been done about the need for gender and culturally inclusive electronic educational materials. Research into how such educational materials can be produced, resulting in best practice guidelines, would be quite useful.

  • Research question 11:
    How to the types of learning strategies fostered by the use of ICTs impact special needs and disadvantaged students, and how do they differ by gender?

Research into the types of teaching and learning practices fostered by ICT use (most especially more ‘learner centric’ pedagogical strategies) and how such pedagogies affect disadvantaged students would also be quite useful.

  • Research question 12:
    How do different ICT applications, audio/verbal versus visual representations of educational content, and communicative modes impact communicative practices and create/reinforce/ameliorate various exclusions and inclusions as curriculum and communication methods are moved on-line?
  • Research question 13:
    What are the best practices for producing, disseminating and using educational content in audio format (including via radio) for deaf students?
  • Research question 14:
    How can issues related to ICT use for special needs and disadvantaged students by introduced into teacher professional development activities, and what are best practice examples of such activities?

Instruction for teachers on reaching disadvantaged groups should not be marginalized by separating it from normal professional development activities.

  • Research question 15:
    What are the emotional, psychological and cultural impacts of ICT use on learners from disadvantaged, marginalized and/or minority communities?

The impact of ICT use on learners may be most pronounced not on student achievement, but rather on a learner’s sense of self and cultural identity.

  • Research question 16:
    What is the impact of the promotion of collaborative activities in groups facilitated by ICTs on students with little interest or background in computers, and what practices can better promote their inclusion?

  • Research question 17:
    Are there differential impacts of ICT use in education on identifiable sub-groups of boys and girls?

It is well established that ICTs used in education can have differential impact on boys and girls. However, such research has neglected to explore the possible impact of ICTs on certain sub-groups of girls (and boys), and the resulting implications for impact of ICT in education on different types of girls and boys.

  • Research question 18:
    How can ICTs be utilized to attract and retain out-of-school and at-risk students (for example, through improved communication and provision of alternative modes of learning)?

  • Research question 19:
    How can ICTs be used to reach out to and teach illiterate youth?

A number of pilot projects are researching potential uses of ICTs on literacy; a survey of the results of such pilot projects would be quite useful.


Issues of equity are central to the discussion of the education-related Millennium Development Goals.  For a variety of reasons and in a variety of ways, the introduction of ICTs to benefit education can have profound impact on issues related to Education For All.  While for many ICTs offer a promise at greater inclusion of previously marginalized groups (whether marginalized by gender, disability, distance, language, culture, race, age or economic status), their use also brings with it very real dangers of increasing the marginalization of such groups inside the education system.

Theme: Costs
 Topic: Costs

Research topics and areas of activity meriting further investigation

  • Research question 20:
    What is the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for computers in a variety of educational settings, at both the school and system level? How should we calculate such figures?

Especially useful would be toolkits, workshops and case studies related to TCO analyses, at the school and system level, of various implementations of ICTs in education to benefit education.

  • Research question 21:
    What are the costs/benefits of situating ICTs for use in schools outside of computer classroom?

Cost-benefit analyses of situating computers outside of classrooms, but rather in school libraries, teacher training institutions and community telecentres (including those that are school-based), would be quite useful.

  • Research question 22:
    How can public-private partnerships be used to ‘cut costs’ and what are the resulting cost savings (if any)?

Case studies of a variety of strategies explored by public-private partnerships to deliver ICT hardware, educational software and content, maintenance and training as ways to share costs should also be explored.


Significant work needs to be done related to the costs of ICT in education initiatives in LDCs. All of the claims listed in the related “Knowledge Map” pertaining to costs found in current literature deserve additional scrutiny.

There is little credible data related to the costs of using ICTs to support education in developing countries. Few good, reliable cost studies of ICT in education implementations exist. Those that do exist measure different things, and thus are not easily comparable. While the impact of ICT interventions on student achievement may be difficult to measure, costs explicit and implicit costs of ICT-related educational activities should be measurable.

One striking gap in the literature is a "Total Cost of Ownership" (TCO) analysis of ICTs in education in LDCs of any kind. (TCO is a method of identifying and understanding all the costs associated with the acquisition, deployment and support of ICT, with the aim of improving strategic decision-making about future ICT investment.) Such analyses are needed if real costs of operation and maintenance of ICTs to benefit education are to be undertaken. Such work is especially relevant in education systems that exhibit great resource scarcity.

Where cost studies exist, there is a greater focus on initial costs of introducing ICTs than on the real costs of implementing and maintaining ICTs over time. In addition, anecdotal evidence suggests that many of the assumptions related to various components of TCO may be different in some LDCs from OECD experience.A model implementation of a TCO study in the context of an LDC school and LDC school system would be a big contribution to the literature and could help to move towards establishing best practices in this area.

Given the interest in potential uses of open source software to benefit education, it is recommended that case studies include implementations of both "free" and proprietary software solutions.

Theme: Current implementations of ICTs in education
Topic: Current projects and practices

Research topics and areas of activity meriting further investigation

  • Research question 23:
    How should ICT components in education projects supported by donors be identified and quantified?

If the presence, magnitude and nature of ICT investments in education in developing countries is of interest to donors, standard definitions of ICTs in education must be developed, agreed to, disseminated and utilized, and changes must be made to current coding practices of donor-supported education projects. To this end, the formation of a multi-donor task force to study and this issue and agree upon certain common definitions and coding standards could be useful. Such standards and definitions need not (initially) be comprehensive, but should not focus exclusively on hardware indicators. A comprehensive study of a small number of donor-supported education projects to identify all uses of ICTs components could be a useful tool to support the effort to articulate and agree upon common definitions and standards.

  • Research question 24:
    How does access to and use of ICTs outside school impact the use and impact of ICT use in school?

The relationship between out of school use of ICTs by students, teachers and administrators to in-school use of ICTs in LDCs should be explored in greater depth. Given that confidence in ICT use and ICT-related abilities in school tend to correlate with access to ICTs outside of school, studies examining the differential impact (on achievement, uses and attitudes) of ICT use in schools in rural and urban settings could provide an important contribution to understandings of equity issues in the uses of ICTs in education.

Theme: Current implementations of ICTs in education
Topic: Specific ICT tools used in education

Research topics and areas of activity meriting further investigation

  • Research question 25:
    What models exist for the effective utilization of ICTs to support on-going professional development for educators?

The need for trained teachers is great throughout most LDCs, and ICTs are increasingly seen as important tools in reaching and engaging teachers on an on-going manner.

  • Research question 26:
    What are the best practices for mainstreaming pilot projects involving interactive radio instruction (IRI) at the Ministry of Education, and how are such projects managed and maintained over time?

Despite the rich experience over the past two decades on using IRI for educational purposes, there are no case studies of and guidelines for the successful ‘folding in’ and maintenance of such initiatives at scale inside the Ministry of Education.

  • Research question 27:
    Where should computers reside if they are to have the greatest learning impact in education?

A comparative study of the benefits and costs of placing computers in computer laboratories, individual classrooms, teacher offices, libraries, and/or community centres would be quite useful.

  • Research question 28:
    Is the use of ICTs as in-class presentation mechanisms as cost-effective use of technology?

The use of television and LCD projectors are in wide use in many LDCs as information presentations.

  • Research question 29:
    How have/can handheld devices (including SMS-enabled and 3G mobile phones) be used to support education (especially related to the professional development of teachers and school administration), and what are the emerging best practices?

Handheld devices have one great advantage over many other types of ICTs – they are mobile – and anecdotal evidence suggests that this mobility could provide help meet certain needs of schools and educational systems.

  • Research question 30:
    What successful models exist for opening ICT facilities in schools to the wider community?

The community telecentres movement has grown enormously in the past decade. However, sustainable models for such centres have not emerged. Increasingly, multi-purpose centres based in schools are seen as having a greater likelihood of achieving sustainability, but little data supports such beliefs.

  • Research question 31:
    How can existing community and interactive radio networks outside the education sector be used to benefit education?

Potential target countries for this study include those with established experience and expertise in using radio for developmental purposes outside the formal education sector.

  • Research question 32: 
    Does the use of so-called “open source software” offer compelling benefits in education?

Impartial, independent cast studies of the costs and benefits of open software use in education vis-à-vis proprietary solution would be quite welcome, as almost all such studies today are advocatory in nature.

  • Research question 33:
    What models exist on effective public-private-community partnerships in education for ICT equipment provision and maintenance?

Due to the large costs involved in equipping schools with and maintaining ICTs, innovative public-private-community partnerships are being explored to help reduce costs.

Theme: Current implementations of ICTs in education
Topic: Teachers, Teaching and ICTs

Research topics and areas of activity meriting further investigation

  • Research question 34:
    Can the same types of pedagogical practices and transformations thought to be enabled by the introduction of ICTs be introduced and maintained in environments where ICTs are not used?

This is a vitally important question, for if the types of pedagogical shifts said to be promoted by ICT use are possible without the introduction of ICTs, and such tools are the most compelling raison justifications for ICT use in schools, this calls into question one of the key drivers for ICT integration in schools.

  • Research question 35:
    How can we measure outcomes of ICT use by teachers resulting from participation in professional development activities?

Additional research into how to measure teacher outcomes resulting from ICT-related and –enabled professional development activities would be quite useful.

  • Research question 36:
    Which models of ICTs use can provide the most effective and relevant support for professional development, including enabling peer networks, and how?

  • Research question 37: 
    How are ICTs currently being used at the pre-service level (if at all) to train teachers in LDCs, and what can we learn from such use?

Despite the purported promise of ICTs to aid in the training of teachers, a pressing need if education-related MDGs are to be attained, no comprehensive study has been done of this topic.

  • Research question 38: 
    What are the most successful and relevant strategies for using ICTs to change pedagogical practices?

The development of models and case studies on successful strategies for using ICTs to change pedagogical practices would be useful. Especially useful would be case studies and examples of so-called "multi-channel learning" practices, which focus on enriching the environment by engaging the resources that are available to help effect incremental change by coordinating the various ways to connect learners with information, knowledge, and stimulation, and to mediate those interactions. Such practices may be especially relevant in countries seeking to utilize ICTs to help meet education-related MDGs.


How teachers are prepared for teaching is a critical indicator of education quality. Preparing teachers for the challenges of a changing world means equipping them with subject-specific expertise, effective teaching practices, an understanding of technology and the ability to work collaboratively with other teachers, members of the community and parents.

The extent to which teacher training is currently being done with ICTs to meet these challenges is not well documented, especially at the in-service level. It is widely believed that interactive radio may be a cost-effective way of providing regular outreach and support to teachers, especially as it relates to (a) teacher subject knowledge and (b) teacher pedagogical practices. In many countries, radio networks exist that serve non-education sectors (for example, in agriculture or community development), but that could be used to benefit education.In addition, where interactive radio is being used, many of them are part of pilot projects, and it is unclear to what extent such initiatives can be mainstreamed and sustained by the education system after the pilot project is completed.

Theme: Current implementations of ICTs in education
 Topic: Content & Curriculum issues

Research topics and areas of activity meriting further investigation

  • Research question 39:
    What are the best practices for creating electronic/digital curricular content?

Case studies and toolkits related to the production of educational content related to curricula would be valuable additions to the field. Useful case studies and toolkits would include: Adapting and localizing educational content developed abroad for use with a country’s national curriculum; toolkit for evaluating ‘outside’ content for inclusion in a national curriculum; models for public-private partnerships to develop curricular content in electronic format; models for international-local partnerships to develop curricular content in electronic format; toolkits on mainstreaming pilot interactive radio content and pilot initiatives; toolkit on intellectual property issues and the development of educational resources in electronic format; and case studies of human resource capacity development as it relates to the development and maintenance of curricular content in electronic format.

  • Research question 40:
    What is the relationship between uses of ICTs, curricular issues and standardized testing?

Case studies of issues related to the use of ICTs in education, curricular content in electronic format and standard testing schemes would be quite valuable.

  • Research question 41:
    What special issues relate to the creation, dissemination and use of curricular content in indigenous languages?

A number of pilot initiatives related to the minority language content are currently underway. Comparative case studies of a number of such projects would be quite useful, especially they relate to how lessons learned can be mainstreamed into larger educational initiatives and where they involve alphabets or written forms of language in little use in electronic format.

Theme: Planning
Topic: ICT in Education Policy issues

Research topics and areas of activity meriting further investigation

  • Research question 42:
    How can/should EFA-related issues as they relate to the uses of ICTs be included in the decision-making processes of education officials?

Good toolkits and policymakers workshops materials have been developed (or are in the process of development) by the World Bank Institute and UNESCO-Bangkok. However, planning and policy issues specific to the meeting of education-related MDGs do not exist (or are not explicit) in such materials; further work in this area would be quite useful.

  • Research question 43:
    What ICT in education policies are currently in place, and how do they address EFA-related issues?

A database of existing policies related to ICTs in education should be developed and analyzed. This could serve as a resource for both donor staff and Ministries interested in developing such policies themselves.

  • Research question 44:
    How can ICTs be used to facilitate the decentralization process underway or contemplated in many Ministries of Education?

Case studies on uses/misuses/costs of ICTs in facilitating the process of decentralization in the education sector could be a valuable tool to help countries planning for similar processes.

  • Research question 45:
    How can ICTs be used to combat corruption in the education sector?

Pilot initiatives should be explored in using ICTs to disseminate information about education budgets and activities in a set of target countries to gauge the effectiveness of such information dissemination (and information dissemination mechanisms) in helping to combat corruption and leakage in the education sector, which is generally thought to be quite high. It is worth noting that, as responsibilities in the education sector are decentralized, so are oversight responsibilities.

  • Research question 46:
    What are the best practices from implementing education management information systems (EMIS)?

Forty World Bank education projects over the last four years have had EMIS components, but little is known about best practices and lessons learned from such investments. Case studies on EMIS planning and deployment, as well as best practices and lessons learned, would be useful planning tools for donor staff and educational policymakers.

  • Research question 47:
    What regulatory issues exist related to connectivity and information access issues as they relate to the education sector, and what guidelines and best practices have emerged?


Existing toolkits have received very limited use and exposure by policymakers in developing countries – a series of workshops utilizing these materials with a select group of target countries and donor staff interested in ICT and education issues could be easily conducted with existing materials, once they have been supplemented with EFA-specific material. Demand for such services from countries appears to be high; while demand from donor staff does not appear to be very great, such lack of interest may stem as much from lack of knowledge about and exposure to the subject.

Given the great challenges facing countries at greatest risk of not meeting EFA goals by 2015, there is a real question of the appropriateness of even seeking to investigate the potential cost effectiveness (let alone implement and afford) of ICTs to meet EFA objectives in such circumstances. It may be that the most cost-effective use of ICTs to benefit education in countries where they have not yet been introduced on a wide scale is not to use them for instructional purposes at all, but rather to use them to disseminate information about the education system itself. For example, the rapid broadcasting (via existing radio networks) and publishing (via e-mail and the Internet) of information about what funds have been allocated by government for use by schools could provide greater transparency and accountability on how (and if) such funds are used at the school level. Such information could be directed at local community leaders and groups, as well as local media, and accessible in community telecentres (where they exist). (Recent work in Uganda in this regard using newspapers could be a model for this activity.)

Such activities could complement existing initiatives in other sectors (HIV/AIDS and other health-related topics, community development, civics, agriculture) and piggy-back off their existing information distribution mechanisms.

Theme: Planning
Topic: School-level issues

Research topics and areas of activity meriting further investigation

  • Research question 48:
    What are successful examples of how ICTs have been introduced and maintained in schools?

In addition, individual case studies of particularly challenging issues related to the roll-out and maintenance of ICTs in education in LDCs at the school level could be developed to highlight where best practice in LDC environments may differ from OECD experience.

  • Research question 49:
    What types of information must be provided to schools to aid in the introduction and maintenance of ICT-related equipment and to promote ICT-related instruction?

A set of fact sheets on a variety of topics related to ICT use based on OECD and LDC experience but tailored for LDC environments could be produced as models for adaptation and dissemination in ICT in education initiatives in LDCs.


The greatest need related to this topic is for existing knowledge and information to be delivered to the relevant people in charge of ICT in education initiatives in LDCs, as well as those (in donor agencies, NGOs and the private sector) who advise or contribute to such initiatives. Short workshops could be delivered to target countries preparing to scale up ICT in education initiatives to transmit such lessons learned.

Additional research topics and areas of activity meriting further investigation

HIV-AIDS is one of the most critical factors affecting (and inhibiting) the ability of countries to meet education-related MDG targets. A large number of programs are underway to distribute information related to HIV-AIDS utilizing various media. It is acknowledged that HIV-AIDS is one of the most important issues impacting education today, and, while infoDev is engaged in other activities related to uses of ICTs to combat HIV-AIDS, it is important here to re-emphasize the critical link between HIV-AIDS and the education sector.

  • Research question 50:
    What models exist for how can existing information distribution mechanisms being utilized in education also carry information about HIV-AIDS, and what best practices have evolved?

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