Other countries' ed-tech practices could help inform U.S. policy.

Other countries' ed-tech practices could help inform U.S. policy.

Scotland and the Netherlands both invest significantly more federal money per student in information and communications technologies (ICT) than the United States, and they both view ICT as essential to classroom teaching and learning and in developing 21st-century skills, a delegation of education technology advocates discovered during a recent visit to the two countries.

The results of that visit, led by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), appear in a report issued May 12, called “Real Investment, Real Innovation.”

“Scotland and the Netherlands approach ICT in the classroom as an absolute necessity—not as a luxury—for improving learning and teaching, as well as developing workforce skills,” the report noted. “We found this attitude inspirational, particularly in view of the continuing debate in the U.S. about the unproven and uncertain value of technology.”

The delegation aimed to gauge how well-prepared students in Scotland and the Netherlands are for success in a global economy, explore innovative uses of education technology, discover some common challenges in using ICT in education, and identify unique policies and practices in Scotland and the Netherlands that might be replicated in the United States.

“Across the globe, technology is being leveraged to enhance learning and boost administrative efficiency in schools,” said Keith Krueger, CoSN’s CEO. “U.S. educators and policy makers need to look at best practices from around the world if they hope to use technology to transform learning and enable the enterprise of education.”

According to the report, after taking into account the unusually high U.S. federal investment in education technology that came in the form of $650 million through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the U.S. spent “$922 million on classroom technology to support nearly 50 million students” in 2009.

And while exact comparisons between the U.S. and European countries are difficult owing to differences in government and programs, the most recent budget for BECTA—the U.K. government agency advocating for effective education technology use—was $161 million in U.S. dollars for a student population of 8 million. In the Netherlands, the Ministry of Education spent $27.7 million last year to operate Kennisnet, the organization that focuses on supporting ICT implementation in K-12 schools for 2.5 million students.

Excluding ARRA funding and looking at the most recent annual ed-tech appropriations of $272 million, the U.S. has spent $5.44 in U.S. dollars per student on ICT at the federal level, compared with $10.80 in the Netherlands and $20.10 in the U.K.

“Replicating the policies and approaches that exist in Scotland and the Netherlands will be difficult, given that the system of local control is a powerful cornerstone of American public education,” the report acknowledged.

Still, it said the U.S. could learn from the existence of a strong policy framework, a clear vision, and strategic investments in ICT within the two European countries.

“At the federal level, leadership at the U.S. Department of Education and the White House can play a critical role in … creating the sense of urgency that will inspire local leaders to interpret and adapt ICT,” the report said.

The report likened the two countries’ commitment to ICT, and the strong policy framework that accompanies that commitment, to the potential that the recently released National Education Technology Plan holds for education in the United States.

“This kind of vision and commitment of resources to ICT has been largely absent at the national level in the U.S. given the structure of American education, with most technology planning and acquisition decisions driven by state agencies and local district administrators,” the report said. “We are hopeful that the National Education Technology Plan may provide some of the missing vision for U.S. educators and policy makers.”

Unique resources

The CoSN-led delegation, which included educators, policy makers, and leaders from national education associations, found many innovative approaches to solving technology and engagement problems during its visit abroad. One school in the Netherlands has a “laptop doctor” who helps teachers and students when hardware stops working properly. A teacher in Scotland incorporated students’ Nintendo Gameboys into a mathematics lesson.