What we choose to believe…
In the reports, speeches, PR, and literature of the international development world, we often take informational truth for granted. We have ministerial aid programs, World Bank project syntheses, and project cycle charts thrown in our faces ad nausea. This overload of analysis can be overwhelming and often misleading. Given these statements, I’d like to point out a recent finding and some food for thought to back them up.
It may seem trivial, to point out a contextual misunderstanding of academic literature by a UNESCO report that I was recently reading, however there are more than a few reasons why I believe otherwise. The report is a thematic study titled, “Applying New Technologies and Cost-Effective Delivery Systems in Basic Education”. It attempts to comment on the potential benefits of ICT in Education, however is tainted due to a misguided approach to research.
For example, the authors make the claim, on page 19 of their report, that, “The global context can act as a powerful site for the ‘recognition of, and support for, cultural difference’ and for the assertion or protection of differences on the part of both parties in the exchange (Giddens, 1990, p. 7). In this, school linking appears to hold particular significance.” The report, a non-academic paper, uses the academic work of Anthony Giddens in this case to support its argument. Most, would simply accept this use of literature to support the UNESCO stance as accurate and move on. However, after some digging into the work of Giddens, and the use of The Consequences of Modernity in their citation, a few things appear questionable.
Most importantly, The Consequences of Modernity by Anthony Giddens calls into question modernity as a positive force. In fact, page 7 of Gidden’s masterpiece of sociological thought never mentions the phrase UNESCO includes in their quotations, ‘recognition of, and support for, cultural difference’. Nevertheless, the authors of this paper on ICTs in Education use it and additionally come to much different conclusions about technological use than Giddens.
In reality, on page 7, Giddens spends all of his time talking about modernity as a “double edged phenomenon”, where certain opportunities for the expansion of a rewarding existence have grown through modernisation, but how there is also an incredibly destructive and sombre side to modernity, often brought along by new technology in previously unknown spaces. Giddens follows this by page after page of critical analysis of new technology and systematically proves its destructive capability. He follows much of this analysis with discussions of the role of modern institutions (including new technologies) in changes in value orders and unitended consequences in the development process across societies, all of these points left out by the UNESCO authors.
And surprise, surprise! The authors of the UNESCO paper go on to conclude that, “There are demonstrable successes in broadcasting and in the use of distance education, and important potential in the use of computer based technologies.” This argument was in large part set up by the misuse of the Giddens literature that provided the supposed theoretical basis to legitimize the later claims in the report. Ironically, this misuse of a well respected set of theories calls into question the legitimacy of this entire piece of research by a supposedly well-respected development actor. It is another example of how we trust large institutions and they let us down time and time again with broad-based assumptions and academic misconduct. Was UNESO simply being careless and lazy, seeking to add another source to their list of citations? Or were they seeking to give legitimacy to biased and pre-meditated conclusions about IT for Education based on their current support and funding of such initiatives? I leave the final conclusions up to you, but shame on you UNESCO!
What are your thoughts on the integrity of development literature, its relevance, and the industry of thought in this confusing and often contradictory field?