5.1.1 The Objective
Decision makers and beneficiaries alike now recognize that education is crucial for economic development, human welfare, societal advancement, and environmental protection. Looking into the future, the demand for education is going to escalate.
Countries have entered the 21st century with a basic education deficiency gap�in terms of children out of school and illiterate youths and adults. Equally pressing is the demand for higher levels of education, triggered by more completers of first-level education, higher ambitions of parents and students, and more sophisticated requirements of the marketplace. As developing countries are forced to contend with more developed countries in a competitive knowledge-based global economy, they find themselves behind in providing educational opportunities beyond the basic levels. Moreover, the fast changes in knowledge and skills require further education, upgrading, and reorientation of a significant segment of the population. If only 10% of the adult population needs such educational services, we are talking about a significant segment of the population.
The biggest challenge is to reach individuals and groups that are historically underserved:
- girls and women, who face cultural and physical obstacles to educational institutions;
- rural populations that are too thinly dispersed to populate "regular" schools with reasonable class sizes;
- adult workers who have no time to attend regular courses; and
- persons who cannot come to learning centers because of security hazards.
Here we need to be innovative and think radically. In some situations, we may need to go "over" the hurdles and provide education where these potential learners are�anywhere and everywhere.
5.1.2 The Potential
It is unrealistic to assume that conventional delivery mechanisms will provide educational opportunities for all in affordable and sustainable ways. ICTs have the potential to contribute to the realization of this objective. They can overcome geographic, social, and infrastructure barriers to reach populations that cannot be normally served by conventional delivery systems. Additionally, they provide feasible, efficient, and quick educational opportunities.
The potential of ICTs to reach large audiences was tapped initially in the late 1800s, when correspondence courses became an alternative means to educate individuals who could not attend regular schools due to geographical, social, or cultural barriers. Experiments with radio broadcast started in the early 1900s, and, in 1924, the British Broadcast Corporation (BBC) began to air educational programs. Since then, radio has been instrumental in reaching scattered and rural populations.
Although experiments with televised broadcast began in the 1930s, it took another 20 years for television to become popular. Two of the most prominent examples are Telecurso in Brazil and Telesecundaria in Mexico (see section 188.8.131.52).
Computer-related technologies, which began to make inroads 30 years ago, are changing the concept of time and space rapidly. There are now virtual high schools, virtual universities, and virtual programs provided by campus-based universities. About 60% of U.S. universities provide virtual education programs. In addition, open universities expand opportunities to populations that traditionally have been excluded from education due to geographic, cultural, and social barriers: minorities, girls, rural populations and the elderly.
5.1.3 Specific Solutions
In the age of computers and the Internet, we tend to forget about simpler and less expensive technologies. Radio, almost universally available, has the potential to expand access to education. All countries have radio stations, and almost all households in developing countries have at least one radio. Radio is an inexpensive, reliable technology; it is easy to use and maintain, and it can be used where there is no electricity infrastructure.
Radio can offer many educational advantages:
- Stations may broadcast programs prepared by specialists in instructional design and production.
- Well-designed educational packages may use sound effects, drama, and other audio-enhancement mechanisms.
- Programs may be aired more than once without additional development costs.
- Radio breaks the isolation of schools by offering educational news, directives, pedagogical guidelines, etc.
Radio does have some drawbacks, however:
- Radio programs are restricted to the audio dimension of knowledge.
- Radio programs follow a prearranged schedule, to which learners have to adjust.
- There is no interactivity with broadcast programs. Since there is no explicit response from students, it is difficult to know how effective the program is. There are, however, mechanisms to deal with this issue, such as Interactive Radio Instruction (see Section 184.108.40.206.2 below).
220.127.116.11.1 Broadcast Radio
Broadcast programs usually entail an audio lecture or lesson, with printed materials for the students to follow. In this way, a "general" teacher or an underqualified subject-matter teacher can use the radio program as a main instructional source with his or her students. Broadcast programs follow the traditional model of education and can cover every subject in many different languages, depending on the target audience. They also can be geared toward adults for lifelong learning.
Advantages of broadcast radio
- Programs prepared by specialists
- May use sound and other effects
- Programs aired again with no additional development cost
- Breaks the isolation of schools
Disadvantages of broadcast radio
- Restricted to audio dimension
- Pre-arranged schedule
- No interactivity
For specific cases, see: Resource 2.1.1 - Broadcast Radio Cases
18.104.22.168.2 Interactive Radio Instruction (IRI) 
Interactive radio instruction (IRI), developed in the early 1970s, turns a typically one-way technology into a tool for active learning inside and outside the classroom. It requires that the learners stop and react to questions and exercises through verbal response to radio characters, group work, and physical and intellectual activities while the program is on the air. For both teacher and student, the lesson becomes an immediate hands-on, experiential guide. Short pauses are provided throughout the lessons after questions and during exercises to ensure that students have the time to think and respond adequately. Interaction is also encouraged within the learning environment among the teacher and learners as they work together to conduct short experiments, do activities, and reach objectives using local resources and imaginative situations and stories.
IRI episodes guide learners through the learning process by means of a progression of activities related to measurable learning objectives. Educational content is organized and distributed across lessons so that learning builds on previous knowledge and new learners can construct an understanding of the subject being taught more easily. Activities and objectives are first modeled by radio characters so that the teacher and learners have an idea of the process they are undertaking and the skills and support that may be required. All of these elements are knit together through storylines, music, characterization, and other attributes available through the audio medium.
Advantages and disadvantages:
IRI has the same advantages and disadvantages as broadcast radio with one exception. Unlike broadcast radio, IRI allows for limited interaction between the scripted program and the learner and teacher. Also radio can be combined with other technologies, if available, to provide synchronous opportunities for interaction with tutors and students through e-mail and chat rooms.
For specific cases, see Resource 2.1.2 - Interactive Radio Instruction.
Television, like radio, is widely available in households. There is also an abundance of national, regional, and satellite TV stations on which to piggyback. TV educational programming enjoys the same benefits of radio programming with the additional benefit of video. TV programs can bring abstract concepts to life through clips, animations and simulations, visual effects, and dramatization. They can also bring the world into the classroom. However, TV broadcast shares with radio programs rigid scheduling and lack of interactivity.
Experience has shown that TV can be successful in expanding educational opportunities through:
- Targeting young adults who left primary or secondary schools before graduation, allowing them to follow the curricula by watching television. (See Telecurso in Brazil in Resource 2.1.3 - Television)
- Facilitating effective installation and implementation of lower secondary schools in sparsely settled rural areas, whereby a complete curriculum can be covered cost effectively because:
- most of the teaching is done through TV programs, and
- one teacher covers all of the subjects rather than having specialized teachers for each one (See Telesecundaria in Mexico in Resource 2.1.3 - Television)
22.214.171.124 Virtual High Schools
Virtual learning multimedia packages are excellent instructional aides to engage students in the learning process. They use the best specialists and experts who develop and make them available to learners anywhere, anytime; they provide opportunities for independent pursuit of knowledge on demand; they can connect learners with other learners to exchange information and perform collaborative programs; and they may be the most cost effective (and in some cases the only) means of bringing the whole world into the realm of the learner.
Potential and Characteristics
Virtual education covers a variety of approaches:
- Full self-study program provided via the Internet and may be supplemented by printed materials
- Full self-study program supplemented by interaction with a tutor and other students through e-mail and chat rooms.
- Structured program of Internet-based materials and tutors, plus physical study centers where students can meet with tutors and other students and use library facilities
A virtual school can serve many clienteles:
- Students who are unable to attend regular schools for a wide range of reasons, including travel, medical conditions, or careers
- Students who have been suspended from their regular schools for long periods because of serious violation of the rules
- Students who need remedial work during summer vacations as a condition for promotion to the next grade level
- High achievers and gifted students by offering them enriched courses and advanced self-study programs
Because of their nature and cost, virtual schools need a large clientele to achieve reasonable unit per student costs. In such case, a collective effort by many countries to establish and support virtual institutions has many advantages:
- The developmental upfront component of virtual education is high. Distributing the initial cost across countries achieves linear economies of scale. Moreover, serving all of the countries increases the size of the clientele and thus lowers the unit per student cost.
- The development of multimedia materials�the backbone of virtual programs�requires highly specialized expertise, equipment, and software. Working together, countries will need only one team of experts, spread among them, and will not duplicate the required physical facilities.
- Students served by a regional virtual institution will interact and collaborate across country boarders, thus strengthening their regional ties.
General Characteristics of Virtual Schools
Virtual schools generally provide all the services that a conventional school provides except physical facilities. Students enroll in courses, have teachers, do homework, and interact with other students and teachers. Teachers manage the learning process through a learning management system, address questions, give feedback, evaluate homework, tutor, confer with parents, etc.
There are presently hundreds of virtual schools, predominantly in the U.S., but also in Canada, Australia, and the UK. They are run by states, colleges and universities, and profit and nonprofit entities. It is important to distinguish between Websites that provide individual courses and entities that offer a complete online program through which a student can obtain a diploma.
Existing virtual schools vary in terms of scheduling and interaction.
- Some schools offer scheduled synchronous courses at particular times. These schools use new technologies to provide real-time interaction between teacher and students.
- Most virtual schools offer unscheduled asynchronous courses that are available on the Web. In these classes, exchanges between students and teacher and among students take place through e-mail, in a chat room, or on a dedicated listserv.
Issues with Virtual Schools
Virtual schools have great potential, but basic issues must be faced and dealt with during planning and implementation.
- Online courses require high expertise to develop. To exploit the potential of ICTs fully, online courses must combine good instructional design, multimedia tools, and interactive techniques. They must be developed by highly trained and specialized teams to achieve economies of scale and expertise.
- Online instruction requires special skills. Teachers who are effective in face-to-face teaching are not automatically capable of facilitating an online course. They need to be trained in the specialized area of online teaching, which includes understanding the technology that supports the course and the various tools that can to enhance it, such as video, audio, use of online chats and discussion spaces, groupware for common work on documents, etc.
- Online learning requires self-discipline. Without the physical environment of the classroom, students should be intrinsically motivated and able to exercise self-discipline and time management. Many may have difficulty functioning without face-to-face peer interaction and teacher feedback.
- Virtual schools require management and support systems. Virtual schools have management needs similar to those of conventional schools, with the exception of management of physical facilities. But they require additional management and support systems to develop and run the online environment. Above all, they need to maintain and support the technical infrastructure needed for instruction, interactivity, and management of the learning portfolios.
- Virtual schools cost money. Although virtual schools may be less costly than campus-based ones, they still require money to create a virtual platform, develop and test courses, train teachers and pay their salaries, manage and maintain the system, and continue updating the content, the human resources, and technology.
For examples of virtual schools, see Resource 2.1.4
126.96.36.199 Virtual Universities
A virtual university provides a significant supplement to the existing campus institutions by broadening learning opportunities, offering more flexible options, and serving a clientele whose needs are difficult or impossible to meet through on-site learning. Virtual universities are not a substitute for on-site, campus-based institutions. On-site institutions that are vibrant with research, exploration, and intellectual discourse are irreplaceable. The personal contact with peers and teachers in a good on-site institution is incomparable in its richness. Libraries also still serve as an unmatched resource for investigation and learning. Virtual learning, on the other hand, provides opportunities for those who cannot attend courses on campus because of cost and time constraints. Virtual learning increasingly provides rapid and personal interaction; can offer more reliable learning materials than inferior institutions; is generally far lower in terms of cost to the student; and often offers more for lower capital and recurrent costs.
There are at least three institutional models to explore:
- dual-mode, which offers both classroom instruction and virtual education programs;
- single-mode, which is a wholly dedicated virtual learning institution; and
- international partnership mode, under which an external provider of virtual education programs enters into partnership with local tertiary institutions to offer these programs jointly. This model offers many advantages to the local partner institution, among them it starts with a set of already developed courses and with the experience and expertise of the external partner.
Virtual universities face similar issues that virtual high schools face, and these must be taken into consideration during planning and implementation.
For some examples that demonstrate distinctive characteristics of different models of virtual universities, see Resource 2.1.5.
| Excerpted from: Andrea Bosch. March/April 2001. "Interactive Radio Instruction for Mathematics: Applications and Adaptations from Around the World." TechKnowLogia. Available at: www.TechKnowLogia.org