ICT in Education Toolkit Version 2.0a
September 2006
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ICTs for Education: Analytical Review
1 Introduction
2 Myths and Realities
3 Challenges
4 The Role and Nature of ICTs
5 The Potential of ICTs
  Expanding Educational Opportunities
  Increasing Efficiency
  Enhancing Quality of Learning
  Enhancing Quality of Teaching
  Faciliating Skill Formulation
  Sustaining Lifelong Learning
  Improving Policy Planning and Management
  Advancing Community Linkages
6 From Potential to Effectiveness
7 Conclusion

ICTs for Education: A Reference Handbook
1 Decision Makers Essentials
2 Analytical Review
3 Resources
4 PowerPoint Presentation
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View ICT for Education Handbook
  5.1 Expanding Educational Opportunities

5.1.1 The Objective

There is now a solid recognition among decision-makers and beneficiaries alike 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 will be 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 at the post-basic levels.  Moreover, the fast changes in knowledge and skills will 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 solution 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 provide education for 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

Computer-related technologies began to make inroads 30 years ago and 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  Radio

In the age of computers and Internet we tend to forget about simpler and less expensive technologies. Radio has the potential to expand access to education. It is almost universally available: 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 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 again without additional development costs
  • Radio breaks the isolation of schools by offering educational news, directives, pedagogical guidelines, etc.

There are however some drawbacks:

  • Radio programs are restricted to the audio dimension of knowledge.
  • Radio programs follow a prearranged schedule. Learners have to adjust to it.
  • 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 below) 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 under-qualified 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 Interactive Radio Instruction (IRI) [2]

Interactive radio instruction (IRI) is a methodology developed in the early 1970s to turn a typically one way technology into a tool for active learning inside and outside of 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 the teacher and student, the lesson becomes an immediate hands-on and experiential guide. Short pauses are provided throughout the lessons after questions and during exercises to ensure that students have the time to adequately think and respond. Interaction is also encouraged within the learning environment among the teacher and learners as they work together to conduct short experiments, do activities, and solve 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 is built upon previous knowledge and new learners can more easily construct an understanding of the subject being taught. 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 asynchronous opportunities for interaction with tutors and other students through e-mail and chat rooms.

For specific cases, see Resource 2.1.2 - Interactive Radio Instruction. Television

Television, like radio, is widely available in households. There is also an abundance of national, regional and satellite TV stations to piggyback on. 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 the objectives of 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 could be covered cost-effectively because:
    • most of the teaching was done through TV programs, and
    • one teacher would cover all the subjects rather than having specialized teachers

(See Telesecundaria in Mexico in Resource 2.1.3 - Television) Virtual High Schools

Virtual learning multimedia packages are excellent instructional aides to engage students in the learning process. They make use of the best specialists and experts who develop them 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. They may be the most cost-effective (and in some cases the only) means of bringing the wide 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 email 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 make use of library facilities.

A virtual school can serve many clienteles:

  • Students who are unable to attend regular schools because of 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 up-front component of virtual education is high.  Distributing the initial cost across countries achieves linear economies of scale. Moreover, serving all the countries increases the size of the clientele and thus lowers the unit per student cost.
  • The development of multi-media materials - the backbone of virtual programs - requires highly specialized expertise, equipment and software. Countries, working together, will need only one team of experts, spread over the countries, and will not duplicate the required physical facilities.
  • Students served by a regional virtual institution will interact and collaborate across country boarders, and thus strengthen their regional ties.

General characteristics of virtual schools

Virtual schools generally provide all the services that a conventional school provides except for physical facilities. Students enroll in courses, have teachers, do homework and interact with 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 US, but also in Canada, Australia and UK. They are run by states, colleges and universities, and profit and non-profit entities. It is important to distinguish between web sites 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 that are offered at particular times. These schools use new technologies to provide real time interaction between the teacher and students.
  • Most virtual schools offer unscheduled asynchronous courses that are available on the web for students to access. In these classes exchange between students and teacher and among students takes place through email, in a chat room or on a dedicated listserv.

Issues with Virtual Schools

Virtual schools have great potential but there are basic issues that must be faced and treated during planning and implementation.

  • Online courses require high expertise to develop. To fully exploit the potential of ICTs, 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. This includes an understanding of the technology that supports the course and the various tools that the teacher can use 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 schools, they still cost money to create a virtual platform, develop and test courses, train teacher and pay their salaries, manage and maintain the system, and continue updating the content, the human resources and the technology.

For examples of virtual schools, see Resource 2.1.4 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 with teachers in a good on-site institution is incomparable in its richness.  Libraries still serve as an unmatched resource for investigation and learning.  Virtual learning, on the other hand, provides opportunities for those who could not attend courses on campus because of cost and time constraints.  Virtual learning increasingly provides rapid and personal interaction; it can provide more reliable learning materials than inferior institutions; it 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 on a joint basis. This model offers many advantages to the local partner institution. 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 must be taken into consideration during the planning and implementation phases.

For some examples that demonstrate distinctive characteristics of different models of virtual universities, see Resource 2.1.5.

2 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



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