Pierre de Vries found some interesting data that made me wonder about this. So I compared the data that Pierre referenced from the Economist to the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) data on student performance around the world (both are 2006 studies).
There's no correlation between the two; some of the high performing countries have more computers per capita and some don't.
Many of the countries in the high-performing list aren't in the high-computer list. This is not based on a defensible statistical analysis, but if there isn't a correlation, then why are we all obsessed with adding more technology to the classroom?
We know that a great teacher is the beginning, so that's number one. What's number two? Is it curriculum, assessments, parents, the environment (building, furniture, etc.), urban vs. rural, economic factors, genetics?
Is there something else?
If this second critical factor is X, then is it something that we could use ICT to improve?
Is it something we could use public policy to improve?
Is it something we can use money to improve?
Or does this molecule depend on all these other ingredients in some measure, but at the end of the day, it's all about the teacher?
If that's true, then it pretty clearly points us to doing as much as we all are able to proliferate wonderful and brilliant teachers.
Is it as simple as that? Is this the one and only place we need to focus? If we as a society put all our attention and energy into creating better teachers, do we win? More importantly, do our children win?
If this is the panacea, then what is preventing us from doing what we need to? Is it the teachers' unions? Is it the intractability of teachers who teach the one year they know every year? Is it how standardized testing has polluted/forced the teacher to teach a certain way? Is it money? Is it how the school system in this country is organized (thousands of districts vs. a central mechanism)? What?
Is this the one thing we need to solve to transform education everywhere?