How ownership and liability issues can impact the use of computers in schools

owned! pwned?

owned! pwned?

In many low and lower middle income countries around the world, large scale purchases of computing devices for use in schools are just beginning to happen. Given that efforts of this sort have occurred in other education systems for many years (and in some 'highly developed' countries, for decades), there is a real opportunity for countries new to such efforts to learn from past mistakes made by others -- and not to repeat them.

Let's leave aside, for the moment, the fundamental question of whether or not a country should be investing its scarce resources in, for example, a new program to roll out laptops or tablets to all of its students or teachers. Let's say, for better or for worse, that this decision has already been made (and hopefully that it was a good decision!).

And: Let's leave for another discussion a topic regularly explored on the World Bank's EduTech blog: What might it mean for these devices to be used 'effectively'? Instead, what if we ask:
 

What are some of the 'little details' that can actually have a big impact on whether the devices supplied to schools are actually used at all?

Past posts on the World Bank's EduTech blog have attempted to document and analyze many of these 'little details'. Here's one that we haven't explored before:
 

Who owns the computer equipment in schools, who pays for the stuff that gets broken, who decides, and how is this information communicated?

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions, of course. As with so many things in life, context is king. Tolstoy famously wrote that "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." In my experience, the exact opposite is often true when it comes to education systems attempting to introduce new technologies into schools for the first time: All (eventually) unhappy education systems are (too often) alike; every happy education system is happy in its own way.

Here's a quick example of one education system that quickly became 'unhappy' with the initial results of its high profile effort to provide laptops to teachers. I'll call this country 'Laptopia', the generic name I use in training exercises when referring to real-life examples where little would be named by identifying the country specifically. (For what it's worth: When I shared the story below with two colleagues, both of them were sure they knew to which country I was referring. Both named different countries, and both were wrong.)