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
  5.2 Increasing Efficiency

5.2.1 The Objective [3]

The internal efficiency of an educational system is measured by its ability to deliver quality education in cost-effective ways. The traditional model for providing primary through tertiary education, adopted across the world, relies on three basic principles. 

  • Learners must congregate in a building where the teaching/learning process takes place. 
  • There must be a predetermined path, divided into grades, that leads to a diploma, and students must follow this path.
  • There must be a hierarchic structure where the instructor is the provider of knowledge and the students are the recipients.

The traditional school is, therefore, a physical entity organized into classrooms where learners congregate according to a grade structure and constrained by the limits of space and time.  If a school serves students from grades 1 through 12, it must have at least 12 classrooms to accommodate each grade separately.  Each classroom must have at least one teacher. A certain number of teachers require a principal and, often, administrative and teaching support.  If the number of students or grades increases, so must the number of needed classrooms, teachers, and support personnel.  Generally, beginning in the seventh grade, another dimension is added to the classroom/grade framework:  specialization.  From then on, the number of teachers is related to both the number of classrooms and the number of specialties offered.  Each school must have at least one mathematics teacher, a science teacher, a social studies teacher, and so on.  As the educational level advances, classroom organizations will rely more on specialization than grades, but the framework is maintained. 

To be cost-effective within this structure, the learning place must have a critical number of students that justifies school construction and maintenance, particularly personnel costs.  In areas of low population density, building and maintaining schools to serve the traditional paradigm is economically prohibitive.  The requirement of one specialist per specialty makes secondary schools an even more expensive venture.  Some countries sidestep the objective by leaving the solution to individual families, with catastrophic results.  If the families choose to move to urban areas and ensure their children's education, they jeopardize their country's fragile economic balance and further deplete the economy of their native regions.  If they decide to remain, they jeopardize the children's future.

Areas of high population density but weak economy are not free of objectives.  In this case, the traditional model encourages administrators to accommodate as many students as possible in one classroom to control personnel costs, which leads to overcrowded and unsafe environments that unfit for learning.

In addition, conventional educational systems, to achieve efficiency offer limited flexibility.  For bright students, these systems offer little in way of motivation.  Eventually, a few extraordinary students will be able to skip a grade, but rushing through the system is not encouraged, and early graduates may find obstacles when they attempt to gain access to the next level. 

For low-income students, the schools offer even less:  the wealthier schools lure the best teachers, leaving the least prepared for schools in poor and remote areas.  When the need to work interferes with schools' requirements, the student sees no reason to stay in school.  As a result, these systems perpetuate social inequalities, lose many excellent students to boredom, increase the costs of education through high dropout rates and grade retention, and pass on to employers or other systems the costs of retraining their graduates. 

5.2.2 The Potential

The capacity of ICTs to reach students in any place and at any time has the potential to promote revolutionary changes in the traditional educational model.

  • First, ICTs eliminate the premise that learning time equals classroom time. To avoid overcrowded classrooms, a school may adopt a dual-shift system without reducing its students' actual study time.  Students may attend school for half a day and spend the other half involved in educational activities at home, in a library, at work, or in another unconventional setting.  They may be required to watch an educational radio/television program and complete related activities, or work on an online lesson at the school technology lab or in a community learning center.
  • Second, ICTs can make multigrade schools, in areas with low population density, viable institutions rather than a necessary evil.  While the teacher attends to certain students who need individual attention, other students may listen to an educational program on the radio, watch a television broadcast, or interact with multimedia computer software.
  • Third, ICTs can provide courses that small rural or urban schools cannot offer to their students because it is difficult for them to recruit and retain specialized teachers, particularly to teach mathematics, science, and foreign languages. Schools that do not need a full-time physics or English teacher can use radio, TV, or online instruction, utilizing already developed multimedia materials and sharing one  "teacher" among several schools. Alternatively, retired or part-time teachers who live hundreds of miles away can be used to teach the online courses.

ICTs have the potential to bring the products of the best teachers to classrooms anywhere in the world.  For self-motivated, disciplined students, ICTs can speed the path toward a degree and expand their learning options through self-study.  Students can "shop" courses on the Internet and choose their own program of study and schedules.  Students in virtual schools can take extra online courses to graduate earlier or fulfill specific interests and curiosity.  For those who need to balance studies with work and family obligations-full- or part-time workers, parents of small children, homebound individuals-this flexibility may be most cost-effective for them.

5.2.3 Specific Solutions

The same solutions discussed at length for the expansion of educational opportunities apply here. Broadcast radio, Interactive Radio Instruction, Educational TV and Virtual Online Courses provide the necessary supplements for dual-shift schools, multigrade schools, remedial offerings, accelerated programs and flexible scheduling.

3 This Section and the next contain excerpts from: W. Haddad and S. Jurich. 2002. " ICT for Education: Potential and Potency." In Wadi D. Haddad and Alexandra Draxler (Eds.) Technologies for Education: Potential, Parameters, and Prospects. Paris: UNESCO, and Washington, DC: Academy for Educational Development.


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