High Tech for Young Minds

Feature | 7 June 2010

An ADB project in Uzbekistan hopes to bring education into the 21st century by providing computers, internet connectivity, and training to schools, even in rural areas.

Tashkent, Uzbekistan - At Secondary School Number 94 in Tashkent City, Rogova Nadejda Viktorovna moves among students working on computers, supervising their multimedia lessons in mathematics.

A teacher since 1990, she completed in-service teacher training in information technology in June 2009, part of an ongoing ADB-funded Information and Communications Technology in Basic Education Project.

"Learning is more interactive using computers and students learn far faster than the old ways," Rogova says. "They are able to access a lot more information on various subjects too."

Bringing Information Technology to Students

Under the umbrella of the Government of Uzbekistan's National Program for Basic Education Development for 2004-2009 - an ambitious effort to improve the quality of education - the 5-year project has, since 2006, been integrating information and communications technology (ICT) in teaching and learning. ADB provided US$30 million in financing toward the US$43 million cost of the project.

As part of the project, the government deployed internet and intranet connectivity to improve learning in subjects that are seen as particularly important in grades five through nine. Before the project began, in 2004, only 14% of Uzbek secondary school students had access to modern computer classes.

Tamara Samoylovich, head of the teaching department at Tashkent's Secondary School Number 94, says that computers installed in September 2009 are already clearly improving education for 1,700 students. Hers is one of 860 ADB-financed cluster leader schools. Cluster leader schools act as a hub for ICT dissemination. The cluster leader schools share access and disseminate information to, on average, 11 or so auxiliary schools. The government is providing modern computer classes to other schools in the cluster.

After a school rehabilitation program by the government, computers and other equipment were delivered to the first batch of 300 cluster leader schools, with the second batch of 560 cluster leader schools supplied in early 2010.

Cluster leader schools act as resource centers forsurrounding schools and disseminate new materials and information. At cluster leader schools, there are two computer classes, one for students and another for teachers.

With the surrounding schools typically no more than 30 kilometers away, teachers can easily travel to the cluster leader school for training, information, lessons on how to deliver presentation materials, and opportunities to share knowledge with each other.

Expanding Impact through Cluster Leads

Beyond consultations with the Ministry of Public Education and other agencies, the planning stage of the project included meetings at over 60 schools and mahallas (self-governing local communities) where 180 focus groups of teachers, parents, and students were included in discussions.

Building on this input, the project consisted of four components: establishing cluster leader schools, strengthening teacher and staff development, building capacity and management support, and developing e-learning materials.

The Ministry of Public Education overseas the production of e-materials, including software applications such as spreadsheets and databases, web, and intranet-based materials, e-books, and subject-specific educational software. These materials support teachers to use ICT and help students to work independently. Cluster leader schools are also provided with TV and DVD sets and audiovisual equipment.

When the entire national network of 860 cluster leader schools is operational, 540,000 students will directly benefit. From 2006 to 2010, 81,000 teachers; technicians; administrators; and school network managers from the 8,900 noncluster leader schools will have been trained in specialist skills required to integrate ICT into basic education. The central role of the cluster leads means all students and teachers in Uzbekistan could potentially benefit from the project.

Access for the Socially Vulnerable and Minorities

The project contains specific pro-poor measures that have a direct beneficial impact on about 165,000 poor students in grades five through nine. For example, the project ensures that 70% of the cluster leader schools are in rural and poor areas. The Ministry of Public Education is rehabilitating rural schools and ensuring reliable power supply needed for ICT.

At the same time, pilot projects test alternative ways to get connectivity to remote schools, says Oybek Khayitov, monitoring and evaluation specialist for the project. These pilots include the use of mobile and wireless connections. The project will provide a boost for minority students in cluster leader schools, through faster, cheaper, and more user-friendly versions of software and e-learning materials in other languages, including Karakalpak, Kazakh, Korean, Kyrgyz, Russian, Tajik, and Turkmen.

The project also extends the benefits of school ICT facilities to entire communities. According to estimates, one quarter of rural schools will make their ICT facilities available to local communities for use, benefitting over one million households in mostly poor rural areas.

Through these pilot activities, the project benefits the country's socially vulnerable families and bridges the digital divide between urban and rural areas in Uzbekistan.

Raising Uzbekistan

Tugeeva Guzal, consultant to the Ministry of Public Education, says it is crucial to the development of Uzbekistan that graduates are prepared for challenges in the 21st century, in which the workforce is required to have advanced ICT skills.

"ICT literacy has increased dramatically since the project was launched," says Sayora Melikova, director of Number 21 School in Samarkand City, where 1,500 students are benefiting from 26 computers installed through the project.

She points out that tertiary education is computer based these days, so ICT study is critical to students' further education. "Before, computers were only for grades eight and nine, but now grades five through nine have them too," she says. "This project is giving them a head start."