Research and experience have demonstrated that different ICTs have the potential to contribute to different facets of educational development and effective learning: expanding access, increasing efficiency, enhancing quality of learning and teaching, and improving policy planning and management. ICTs also offer possibilities in facilitating skill formation, sustaining lifelong learning, and advancing community linkages. Planning for effective use of ICTs for education necessitates an understanding of the potential of technologies to meet different educational objectives and, consequently, to decide which of these objectives will be pursued. This decision affects the choice of technologies and modalities of usage.
4.1 Expanding Educational Opportunities
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 includes:
Radio has the potential to expand access to education. It is almost universally available, inexpensive, reliable, easy to use and maintain, and usable where there is no electricity infrastructure. Radio can offer many educational advantages but has 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 last issue, such as Interactive Radio Instruction (IRI). IRI is a methodology that requires learners to 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. Short pauses are provided throughout the lessons after questions and during exercises to ensure that students have the time to adequately think and respond.
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 at a national large scale through:
- Targeting young adults who left primary or secondary schools before graduation, allowing them to follow the curricula by watching television.
- Facilitating effective installation and implementation of schools in sparsely settled rural areas.
Virtual High Schools and Universities
Virtual institutions generally provide all the services that a conventional institution provides except for physical facilities. It is important, though, 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.
4.2 Increasing Efficiency
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
4.3 Enhancing Quality of Learning
Research and experience have shown that ICTs, well utilized in classrooms, enhance the learning process, in the following ways:
- Motivate and engage students in the learning process. Students are motivated only when the learning activities are authentic, challenging, multidisciplinary and multi-sensorial. Videos, television, and computer multimedia software can be excellent instructional aides to engage students in the learning process. In addition, sound, color and movements stimulate the students' sensorial apparatus and bring a sense of enjoyment to the learning process.
- Bring abstract concepts to life. Teachers have a hard time teaching and students have a hard time learning abstract concepts particularly when they go against immediate intuition and common knowledge. Images, sounds, movements, animations and simulations may demonstrate an abstract concept in a real manner.
- Foster inquiry and exploration. The inquiry process is a source of affective and intellectual enjoyment. This sense of adventure is taken away in a traditional classroom, where questions and answers are established a priori and are unrelated to students' interests, and where research is reduced to a word in the textbook. ICTs have the potential to let students explore the world in cost-effective and safe ways. Videos and computer animations can bring movement to static textbook lessons. Using these tools, students can initiate their own inquiry process, develop hypotheses and test them
- Provide opportunities for students to practice basic skills on their own time and pace.
- Allow students to utilize the information acquired to solve problems, formulate new problems, and explain the world around them.
- Provide for access to worldwide information resources.
- Offer the most cost-effective (and in some cases the only) means for bringing the world into the classroom.
- Supply (via Internet) students with a platform through which they can communicate with colleagues from distant places, exchange work, develop research, and function as if there were no geographical boundaries.
4.4 Enhancing Quality of Teaching
Teaching is one of the most challenging and crucial professions in the world. Teachers are critical in facilitating learning and in making it more efficient and effective; they hold the key to the success of any educational reform; and they are accountable for successful human development of the nation and for preparing the foundation for social and economic development. Obviously, teachers cannot be prepared for these unfolding challenges once and for all. One-shot training, no matter how effective and successful, will not suffice. A new paradigm must emerge that replaces training with lifelong continuum of professional preparedness and development of teachers.
ICTs can contribute significantly to the main components of this continuum:
- First, ICTs and properly developed multi-media materials can enhance the initial preparation of teachers by providing good training materials, facilitating simulations, capturing and analyzing practice-teaching, bringing into the training institution world experience, familiarizing trainees with sources of materials and support, and training potential teachers in the use of technologies for teaching/learning.
- Second, ICTs open a whole world of lifelong upgrading and professional development for teachers by providing courses at a distance, asynchronous learning, and training on demand. ICTs have the advantage of ease of revisions and introduction of new courses in response to emerging demands.
- Finally, ICTs break the professional isolation from which many teachers suffer. With ICTs, they can easily connect with headquarters, with colleagues and mentors, with universities and centers of expertise and with sources of teaching materials.
4.5 Facilitating Skill Formation
There was a time when planning for vocational and technical training was a straightforward exercise, but this is not the case anymore. Sectoral needs, job definitions, skill requirements and training standards are changing faster than the life cycle of a training program. Traditional training programs cannot adequately address these new realities; they are costly in terms of travel and lost time on the job, disruptive, slow to be modified, and incapable of responding to new needs and provisions in a timely fashion.
ICTs have the potential to contribute to the area of skill formation in the same way that they enhance the quality of learning and teaching in general). Additionally, network technologies have the potential to deliver the most timely and appropriate knowledge and skills to the right people, at the most suitable time, in the most convenient place. E-training allows for personalized, just-in-time, up-to-date, and user-centric educational activities.
ICT-enhanced solutions that advance educational opportunities, efficiency, quality of learning, and quality of teaching, are also applicable for improving skill formation. Certain solutions, however, have been particularly effective in this area. Examples are: simulations, competency-based multimedia, video and interactive media, and workplace e-training - providing synchronous and asynchronous opportunities through the Internet, video conferencing, videos, CDs, television, etc
4.6 Sustaining Lifelong Learning
The modern demands on countries, societies and individual necessitate lifelong learning for all, anywhere and anytime. Some of the reasons for such a need are:
- The fast changing technology-based economy requires from workers the flexibility to adjust to new demands and the ability to learn new skills
- The increasing sophistication of modern societies demands constant updating of the knowledge and skills of their citizens.
- The escalating knowledge makes the "educated" obsolete unless they continuously update their knowledge.
- As society evolves, we are unlikely to continue the present life-cycle pattern of prolonged education at the beginning of life and an extended retirement period at the end.
- Lifelong learning provides opportunities for those who are unemployed to reenter the workforce.
Certainly, formal traditional systems cannot cope with this demand, even if they are well financed, run, and maintained. It is not possible to bring learning opportunities to all the places where adult learners are. Likewise, it is not feasible to accommodate all learners in adult education centers, and offer them programs that meet their multitude of needs. The diversity of requirements and settings calls for a diversity of means.
ICTs may provide their most valuable contribution in this domain. They are flexible, unconstrained by time and place, can be used on demand, and provide just-in-time education. They have the potential to offer synchronous as well as asynchronous learning opportunities. But, above all, if well prepared, they can pack a wealth of expertise and experience in efficient packages that can be modified and updated all the time in response to feedback, new demands and varied contexts. Possibilities fall in a wide range of technologies, including videos, correspondence, Internet, and e-learning superstructure.
Many of the specific solutions cited for expanding education opportunities and for skill formation are equally relevant for providing and sustaining lifelong learning. There are two additional solutions that are increasingly adopted:
- Open universities provide opportunities for lifelong learning not only through degree programs but also through non-degree offerings to enhance knowledge and skills for occupational, family and personal purposes.
- "Third Age" universities for persons aged 60 and over. . The University of the Third Age in China has been one of the most successful programs in promoting lifelong learning.
4.7 Improving Policy Planning and Management
Many educational institutions and systems have introduced simple management and statistical information systems. But this should be only the beginning. More specifically, technology for management can be the underpinnings of reform in two areas:
- Management of Institutions and Systems: At the school/institution level, technologies are crucial in such areas as admissions, student flow, personnel, staff development and facilities. At the system-wide level, technologies provide critical support in domains such as: school mapping, automated personnel and payroll systems, management information systems, communications, and information gathering, analysis and use.
- Management of Policy Making: Here ICTs can be valuable in storing and analyzing data on education indicators, student assessment, educational physical and human infrastructure, cost and finance. More importantly, they can assist in constructing and assessing policy scenarios around different intended policy options to determine requirements and consequences, and to help select the most appropriate one. During policy implementation, ICTs can facilitate tracer studies and tracking systems as well as summative and formative evaluation.
4.8 Advancing Community Linkages
Every country experiences disparities in the spread and use of ICTs. Modern ICTs have not corrected the already existing divide between technology-rich and technology-poor areas. The technology gap is not the result of the choices made by individual households, but poor neighborhoods and rural communities lack the necessary infrastructure available in affluent and more populated areas. Access to ICTs opens vast opportunities for individuals and communities to improve their economic and social well-being, and to bring them from the margins into the mainstream of society.
Where there is a technological gap, a digital divide, there exists also a gender divide. This divide cannot be attributed to inherent female characteristics, as evidenced by the high percentage of female users of ICTs in the industrialized world and by the thousands of offices around the world where women are frequently more competent in dealing with computers and the Internet than men. Where access to ICTs is limited, there seems to be extra barriers that hinder women's access to and usage of ICTs. Some of the barriers have to do with disadvantages that women have in terms of education, social value, and economic status. Other barriers include ambivalence, technophobia, lack of training opportunities, and uninviting ICT environments for women.
Despite the importance of access to ICTs, achieving that at the home or individual levels in poverty stricken areas is untenable because of barriers of infrastructure, ICT literacy, and costs. The community telecenter is one answer to this problem. It is a public facility that allows individuals within the served community to have access to ICTs on demand for free or at low cost to the user. Also some centers provide training in the use of ICTs and others provide educational opportunities via ICTs.
Women and Telecenters
Many telecenter projects have carefully and creatively crafted outreach efforts to attract women to the centers. The most successful are those designed with adequate attention to the needs, capacities, and preferences of local communities in general and of women in particular.