The New School University Graduate Program in International Affairs
This paper aims to explain the current state of how information and communication technology (ICT) is being used in education and how it can better benefit current and future users. From the Introduction: "Considered as a powerful tool to promote social and economic development, education has become a primary focus of the recently forged Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICTD) community, especially in the Least Developed Countries. One way of ensuring equitable development targeted at the very [economically] poorest is through universal social protection, including education, health and income...."
Challenges include improvements to basic educational infrastructure and ICT infrastructure; availability of quality teachers to apply ICT to the existing education systems; bringing long-term, sustainable ICTE reform through local, national, and regional government bodies; making difficult decisions in how to allocate national monetary resources and foreign aid; and shifting the existing focus from the traditional educational models in place, depending on the specific country, to one that is ICT-driven.
The document provides examples from the following countries [footnotes removed throughout by the editor]:
- Examples of access include the following:
- Brazil - A special Secretariat for Distance Education was created in 1996 to implement ICT initiatives in the Education sector. One such initiative was ProInfo, a federally funded partnership between the Ministry of Education and state and municipal Secretaries of Education to integrate computers and communication technology into teaching and learning. ProInfo aims to distribute computers to public schools across the country and establish a network of teacher training and computer resource centres to train lab coordinators and teachers to ensure long-term success.
- Bangladesh - In 1999, the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) began an initiative to narrow the urban-rural ICT gap by creating community-based ICT facilities in rural areas. As of June 2008, BRAC had equipped 800 Gonokendros (multi-purpose learning centres) in selected areas with computers. The objectives of the Gonokendros are to increase access to reading materials to different sections of the rural community while also developing the community’s reading habits and familiarising them with ICT. The Gonokendros are also to be developed as information centres working to ensure the participation of everyone, particularly women.
- Azerbaijan - Azerbaijan initiated the Transnational-Eurasian Information Super Highway during the Baku Regional Ministerial Meeting held in November 2008. The Super Highway, by passing through the territories of Eastern Europe, the Commonwealth of Independent States, and Central Asia, will bridge the existing two developed information networks between Western Europe and that of the countries of the Pacific.
- Malaysia - The Malaysian Smart School project involves "Browser-based Teaching- Learning Materials for Bahas Melayu (official Malaysian language), English Language, Science and Mathematics, a computerised Smart School Management System, a Smart School Technology Infrastructure involving the use of ICT and non-ICT equipment, Local Area Networks for the pilot schools, and a virtual private network that connects the pilot schools, the Ministry’s Data Center and the Ministry’s Help Desk." This project also includes support services in the form of a centralised help desk and service centres throughout the country.
- Rwanda - The Government of Rwanda (GoR) is receiving global information system (GIS) software and training in every secondary school through Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) Germany and provision of a five-year programme for computers in primary schools through One Laptop Per Child (OLPC).
- Examples of providing training for teachers of ICT include the following:
- Bangladesh - BRAC initiated the Computer Aided Learning (CAL) programme to improve teachers' capacity to maintain learners' attention through interesting and interactive learning and also developed software for English and Math based on the national curriculum. Soon after, it was introduced in a few schools. The teachers are not only given training and technical support when necessary, but they are also provided with an opportunity to give feedback to ensure that the programme is being utilised to its full capacity. The schools that have taken on this project are given infrastructural support including a computer, a multimedia projector with screen, and a two-hour capacity uninterruptible power supply (UPS).
- Malaysia - The Malaysian Ministry of Education uses the cascade model to train teachers in which selected individuals are trained to be ICT ready and, in turn, train others.
- Rwanda - The Centre for Geographic Information Systems, for example, uses the Snowball dispersion model, in which schools train other schools and teachers to support each other. A shortage of teachers may be addressed through the introduction of distance learning through ICT.
- Mali - "One of Mali’s biggest teacher training programs is the Programme de Formation Interactive des Enseignants par la Radio (FIER), which is a training activity using radio and digital technologies that enables the Ministry of Education to bring the training directly into the communities."
- High costs and transitions to ICTE, as stated here, may be linked to corruption and profiteering among state-owned telecom companies. The document recommends that "[g]overnments should consider re-evaluating their licensing policies and initiate regulatory frameworks conducive to more cost-effective and enhanced choices for connection....Due to the high costs associated with ICT, investments must be carefully planned, finding creative ways of financing, and creating networks and synergies."
- Namibia - "In a partnership with Telecom Namibia, the XNet Development Trust was created. It brings affordable bandwidth connectivity to several sectors in the country, including education, health and agriculture. USD $2.05 million (USD) have been devoted by Telecom Namibia towards XNet which has decreased the flat-rate for schools for 24/7 Internet service to USD $25 per month. Through this partnership, XNet is provided to all schools that participate in SchoolNet Namibia. Better-off schools in the system are encouraged to pay more than the monthly fee in order to help cover those schools which still cannot afford the costs. Furthermore, SchoolNet receives through Telecom Namibia a reduced rate on its national phone number 0700, through which educators can access the Internet for free."
- Government cooperation and policy implementation - As stated here, "[g]overnments should adopt a coherent national policy framework, not just within the education field but also encompassing those of other ministries as they are seen as intertwined....Not only are national policies necessary, but the government also should assist in building organizational and institutional capacity to effectively deal with the complexities of integrating and implementing ICT. Organizational restructuring might be necessary from the highest levels of authority (Ministry of Education) down to local administrators." Examples include the following:
- Ghana - "...under the guidance and facilitation of the Global e-Schools and Communities Initiative (GeSCI), the Ministry of Education carried out a critical assessment of the existing utilization of ICTE to identify shortcomings as well as hindrances caused by the state of the educational system. GeSCI has helped the government of Ghana develop a National ICT in Education Policy based on the countries ICT for Accelerated Development (ICT4AD) Policy and its Education Strategic Plan 2003-2015."
- Uruguay - "Political will is crucial for the successful integration of ICT and, as demonstrated by the government of Uruguay, it proves to not only enhance the training necessary to improve education but it also ensures the country’s ability to progress towards its national development goals. Acknowledging the importance of providing students and teachers with access to ICT as part of the curriculum, the Educational Connectivity Program (ECP) began as a direct initiative from the President of the Republic of Uruguay, in a joint effort with the [private sector and national telecommunications infrastructure]....Likewise, the ECP has demonstrated the potential that exists in multilateral partnerships between government, international organizations, and the private sector."
- Monitoring and evaluation - The document cites this regional effort: "A collaborative effort is underway in Africa that is doing just that. Together with Aptivate, a UK [United Kingdom]-based NGO [non-governmental organisation] providing IT services for international development, Camfed, an NGO improving girls’ education in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ghana and Tanzania, has tested the efficiency and quality of personal digital assistants (PDAs) as a tool for monitoring and evaluation. Data can be calculated within hours rather than weeks and through its ability to connect to the internet it can be transmitted directly from the worker in the field to the headquarters. PDAs not only improve the quality of the surveys and the procedure but also the reliability of the outcome through a more consistent data collection."
Lessons learned include the following:
- Intra-regional collaboration, such as the Transnational - Eurasian Information Super Highway, is important for long-term successful provision of large-scale connectivity.
- Teacher training is, according to this document, the backbone of education, to be supported by the development of an online resource centre that both trains and provides critical information for teachers. Workshops creating a knowledgeable and committed group of teachers that can make ICTE work on the local level should be replicated.
- Affordable access requires collaborative partnerships, possibly public-private partnerships, focused on providing free or low-cost access to schools, possibly through cost-sharing based on need.
- Effective leadership from a country’s most powerful political actors is necessary for any successful ICTE initiative.
Mobile technology may have a role in future ICTE. "Looking ahead however, ICTE experts and practitioners in the field are predicting that mobile phones will be the next transformative device in the field of education." For example: "Mobile devices extend desktop-based online learning into the mobile and wireless environment, students with personal mobile phones to access educational materials from anywhere at any time. Mobile technology also gives teachers a new means of education delivery, and allows them to connect with their students at anytime. Teachers in rural areas can interact with experts in developed countries in real-time using a basic mobile phone."
Recommendations, in addition to those exemplified above, include the following:
- "Special consideration should be given to ICT connectivity and accessibility for educational purposes.
- Central and regional digital libraries and resource centres should be developed which can serve institutions in their respective regions.
- Greater exchange and collaboration in the production and management of educational resources [including across national borders where culture and languages are shared] would lower expenses in the development of materials as well as increase the amount of educational content available to teachers and students across the region.
- Any initiative, be it from government, private sector or civil society, should make lobbying for more investments in computers a priority
- International agencies such as the UNDP [United Nations Development Programme], the World Bank, among others, should work together along with the local governments of grant-receiving countries to establish a global framework to deal with emerging issues of the digital divide due to the new Internet economy.
- National [ICT] policies need to be aligned with policies on education [ICTE].
- Governments should consider re-evaluating their licensing policies and initiate regulatory frameworks conducive to more cost-effective and enhanced choices for connection.
- In countries where government capacity is weak, increased efforts are needed from all stakeholders to curb corruption and increase the nation’s capacity, accountability and transparency.
- Stakeholders working on ICTE implementation at all levels must closely monitor the progress of their projects to ensure that they are progressing and sustainable."