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Developing countries should not spend millions providing computers to all children, UN expert says

Governments in developing nations such as India and Kenya should abandon plans to equip all students with tablet computers in favour of giving one to every teacher instead, according to UN's education body.

David Atchoarena, who heads up Unesco’s division for the planning and development of education systems, said technology might have more impact if it was placed in the hands of teachers rather than pupils. 

Governments around the world have been spending billions of dollars on initiatives to give every student a mobile tablet device or laptop. Developed countries including Turkey and Singapore, as well as many states in the US, are aiming to give pupils one-to-one access to a tablet device.

There are similarly ambitious targets in a number of developing nations. In Kenya, the government aims to give every one of its 1.3 million students a personal laptop in a £399 million scheme, despite 90 per cent of its schools having no electricity.

The Indian government is subsidising a programme to give computer tablets to each of its students by handing out mobile devices that cost just $20. The handheld computers usually cost $40 but the government is paying half as it believes it will save money by removing the need for supplies such as textbooks.

Mr Atchoarena said that mobile learning and mobile devices could play a key role in providing education to children in some of the poorest countries.

But he added: “It is worth asking the question to what extent one tablet per teacher would be more effective than giving one laptop per child if we are to succeed in achieving our Education For All goals?”

Too often, he said, technology was seen by schools and governments as the end rather than the means. “Technology must be seen a way to solve specific issues and challenges, not as the solution itself,” he said.

Mr Atchoarena made the comments during a debate hosted by Education Fast Forward, a not-for-profit enterprise set up to provide educationalists from around the world with a platform to discuss pressing issues in the sector. 

Related stories:

Governments seek tablets for all as takeover continues - 2 August 2013

Kenya plans to plug in with 1.3 million laptops for children - 26 July 2013

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