ICT in Education Toolkit
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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
  5.8 Advancing Community Linkages
 

5.8.1 The Objective

5.8.1.1 The ICT Gap

The spread and use of ICTs (telephone, radio, television, computers and the Internet) have grown exponentially. Radio broadcasts cover vast areas; satellite television encircles the globe; personal computers that were little known or used in the 1950s have, within a generation, become essential tools for work and communication; and Internet use has increased beyond imagination. Table 5.8.1.1 shows the growth over the last 13 years in telephone lines, cellular subscribers, PCs and Internet users.

Table 5.8.1.1 - Growth in ICT Access 

Source: Derived from data provided by International Telecommunications Union (ITU) http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/ict/statistics/ 

Despite this phenomenal growth, access varies significantly across the world. (Tables 5.8.1.2 and 5.8.1.3)

Table 5.8.1.2 - Telephones, Cellular Phones and PCs per 100 Inhabitants 

Source: Derived from data provided by International Telecommunications Union (ITU) http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/ict/statistics/

Table 5.8.1.3 - Internet Hosts and Users per 10,000 Inhabitants 

Source: Derived from data provided by International Telecommunications Union (ITU) http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/ict/statistics/

Cross-regional and cross-country differences manifest themselves in striking disparities within a country. Modern ICTs have not corrected the already existing divide between technology-rich and technology-poor areas. As before, ICT access is related positively to economic development—the higher the income, the greater the ICT access. But income is not the only variable that influences access to technology. There are documented inequities across and within countries by location, gender, and age. More recently, the limited access to ICTs by persons with disabilities and special needs has also been highlighted.

The technology gap is not the result of the choices made by individual households, rather, poor neighborhoods and rural communities lack the necessary infrastructure available in affluent and more populated areas. This leads to a vicious circle. Businesses and economic investments are not attracted to areas that are "underwired," thus maintaining the state of underdevelopment and poverty—which, in turn, is not conducive to the use of ICTs.

Should this vicious cycle be broken? Underdeveloped areas within a country lack access not only to ICTs but also to safe water, health services, and good education. Hunger and disease are rampant, and war and civil strife still deprive millions of people of their basic daily needs. In such a situation, is access to ICTs a necessity?

5.8.1.2 The Need for ICT Access

Although lack of ICTs does not constitute a dramatic component of poverty, access to ICTs is increasingly recognized as a significant contributor to efforts to escape poverty. 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 of society into the mainstream.

More specifically, community ICT linkages can contribute to a variety of objectives:

  • Income generation. There is documented evidence on the utility of broadcast media as a tool for improving incomes. The same is true of providing telephone centers. Small manufacturers of traditional handicrafts are also discovering how ICTs can assist in the marketing and distribution of their wares to a worldwide client base. In Kenya, for example, the Naushad Trading Company [11] (http://www.ntclimited.com), which sells local woodcarvings, pottery, and baskets, has seen revenue growth from US$10,000 to more than US$2 million in the two years since it went online. Consumers and shopkeepers can access constantly updated color pictures of NTC Limited's product line, place orders, and inquire about other types of handicrafts.
  • Education and lifelong learning. ICTs are an increasingly important means of providing educational opportunities to remote areas and offering a setting for lifelong learning (see specifically sections 5.1 and 5.6 above).
  • Improvement of health services. ICTs provide information about health issues and good preventive practices.
  • Reduction in the isolation of rural communities. ICTs offer opportunities for communication and information sharing.
  • Increased efficiency of management of government services in remote areas using networked computers and the Internet.
  • Encouragement of small businesses. Communities with ICT access provide incentives for individuals and companies to start small businesses, some of which may involve provision of ICT services, such as telecenters (see section 5.8.3.2 below) and cyber cafés.

5.8.1.3 The Gender Divide

Where there is a technological gap, a digital divide, there is also a gender divide. This divide cannot be attributed to inherent female characteristics, as evidenced by the high proportion 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 are men.

Where access to ICTs is limited, there seem to be extra barriers that hinder women's access to and use of ICTs. Some of the barriers have to do with disadvantages that women have in terms of education, social value, and economic status; others include the following:

  • Psychological barriers, perhaps due to the perception of technology as a male domain, include ambivalence and even fear—technophobia—accompanied by a lack of information about the possibilities and potential of ICTs and a lack of confidence about mastering them, even among women who might have access. Of course, it is the most marginalized of women who are least likely to have access—minorities, the poor, non-speakers of mainstream languages, the elderly, and the disabled.
  • Training in the use of ICTs—by knowledgeable trainers—is a serious shortcoming. For the most part, women have little or no previous experience with technology, and many feel confused when confronted with the sudden appearance of computers and the Internet. Merely getting access to the hardware or connecting groups to the Internet without an adequate introduction to what it is and how it works - and in the absence of policies or guidance about usage, etiquette or communication techniques—is proving insufficient to promote intelligent usage.

Outside of urban areas, women in developing countries are far less likely to come into contact with ICTs and tend not to perceive a need for them. In some places, this is due to a lack of telephones, electricity and infrastructure. In others, it is because women often control indigenous, traditional and popular forms of media which, many caution, should not be ignored in the rush to embrace computer facilitated communication." [12]

5.8.2 The Potential

The vision of ICTs for all communities is easy to justify but hard to achieve. An implementation strategy must recognize the constraints and devise sustainable mechanisms to overcome them.

  • The first and obvious constraint is infrastructure. Until recently, most ICTs depended on electric power and telephone lines. Other sources of energy (e.g., solar) and technologies (wireless, radio, and satellite) offer new opportunities for access, bypassing the traditional technologies.
  • Cost is another obvious constraint, despite reduction in unit costs of ICT investments and services. ICT projects require start-up investments that may challenge the limited resources of poor countries or locales. However, technologies also offer solutions that help to defray costs without jeopardizing the quality of the projects. Creativity is essential to overcome potential barriers. Also, public-private partnerships should be explored and encouraged.
  • Attention must be paid to laws and regulations that could facilitate or hinder ICT plans. ICTs, with their ability to reach beyond political boundaries, defy many of the national and international legal frameworks that were created for a world with frontiers. Solutions, albeit necessary, are difficult to find and slow to implement. The balance among national and global interests, rights of individuals, and freedom of information is a challenge that must be faced if the potential of ICTs is to be fulfilled.
  • Ensuring access to ICTs is just one step; securing acceptance and use is equally important. Cultural and political factors may promote or create obstacles to the use of ICTs or limit their use to certain subgroups of society. Likewise, the structure and organization of local educational systems may favor integration of technology, or it may create a technophobe atmosphere that hinders efforts to change.

Despite these constraints, the potential to secure community linkages to ICTs is feasible and attainable. Among the reasons for optimism are:

  • Acceptance: ICTs have been well received worldwide, and it appears that older technologies have opened the door for the more recent ones. To reach 50 million users, the telephone took 74 years, the radio 38 years, the PC 16 years, the television 13 years, and the WWW only four years. In India, places that did not have a telephone now have Internet kiosks where families can e-mail their relatives abroad. Likewise, homeless children in Asunción, Paraguay, are learning to read and surf the Web at telecenters where commuters send e-mail messages while waiting for buses on their way to or from work.
  • Reduced costs: Increased use of ICTs is associated with reduced costs and improved technology. Computer hardware prices have fallen, despite significant increases in memory and speed. Likewise, Internet access growth has been accompanied by some cost reduction.
  • Simplification: ICTs strive for simplicity of use, even when the technology becomes gradually more complex. The first disk operating system (DOS)-operated PCs required some training for simple tasks. Nowadays, children have no problems dealing with modern PCs. This concern with the user may explain, at least partially, the rapid popularity of the medium.
  • Efficiency: Perhaps more than any other technology, ICTs strive for efficiency: they are getting faster, simpler, less costly, more user-friendly, and more productive. Auto industries have relied on one source of fuel for the past 100 years, despite warnings ranging from potential depletion of this sole source to environmental disasters. In less than 50 years, telecommunications has experimented with simple telephone lines, fiber optic cables, satellites, and wireless technologies, and the search continues.

These trends encourage us not to think in terms of linear projections. Also, countries and communities can leapfrog from pretechnology stages (e.g., the absence of telephone lines) to state-of-the-art strategies (e.g., wireless technologies), thus bypassing less efficient and generally more expensive alternatives.  

5.8.3 Specific Solutions

5.8.3.1 Radio

In the rush to wire villages to the Internet, we sometimes forget that already well-established and simple technologies, such as the radio, can be very effective and efficient in connecting communities to the outside world. Broadcast radio has its limitations but it also its advantages in terms of its coverage, simplicity, acceptance, and availability.

Despite radio's many advantages, many communities cannot use it because of lack of sufficient access to electricity, and batteries are expensive. Alternatives in solar and windup technology have been developed and are gradually making their way to the village level (see Resource 2.7.1). Also, new technologies are making radio a truly two-way system (see Resource 2.7.2).

There is a distinct radio broadcasting gap to the rural corners of many countries resulting from the lack of service by national broadcasters who in some cases have weak or non-existent signal coverage. The Commonwealth of Learning has sponsored the development of a portable FM radio system. The station configurations range in price from three to five thousand dollars US including all elements: antenna, transmitter, console, mixer, microphones and CD and tape decks The stations can be powered by 12 V DC or 120/240 AC. Where electricity is not available, the station can be powered by solar energy. (See Resource 2.7.3)

5.8.3.2 Community Telecenters

5.8.3.2.1 What are Telecenters?

Despite the importance of access to ICTs, achieving it at the home or individual levels in poverty-stricken areas is untenable because of barriers of infrastructure, ICT literacy, and costs. The community telecenters, one answer to this problem, 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.

A telecenter may offer a combination of the following tools and services:

  • Telephoning and faxing
  • Basic computer applications, including word processing and spreadsheets
  • Internet access
  • E-mail accounts to allow in-country and international linkages
  • Printing, copying, and scanning
  • A digital camera and/or a video camera
  • A television with VCR and/or DVD player
  • Meeting rooms

Also, some centers provide training in the use of ICTs, and others offer educational opportunities through the use of ICTs.

Figure 5.8.3.2.1 below, depicts what a telecenter may look like in Thailand.

Source: Royboon Rassameethes. Community Telecenter. NECTEC, Thailand. Available at:

http://www.hpcc.nectec.or.th/PNC/presentation/Telecenter.pdf

5.8.3.2.2 Types of Telecenters

Public ICT access centers are diverse, varying in the clientele they serve and the services they provide. Types of telecenters include NGO-sponsored, municipal, commercial, school-based, and university-related. Each type has advantages and disadvantages when considering attempts to link communities with ICTs and to bridge the digital divide.

  • NGO-sponsored telecenters are hosted by an NGO, which manages the center and integrates it, to one degree or another, into the organization's core business;
  • Municipally sponsored telecenters seek to further local development; they often disseminate information, decentralize services, and encourage civic participation, in addition to providing public ICT access.
  • Commercial telecenters, launched by entrepreneurs for profit, with "social good" services offered as well, have limited capacity to benefit low-income populations with little education.
  • School-based telecenters can be structured to involve community members during off-school hours, but costs need to be shared by the school system and the community.
  • University-related telecenters can offer social outreach to disadvantaged and community groups, provide training, develop locally relevant content, and establish and facilitate virtual networks. 

For examples of telecenters of different types, see Resource 2.7.4.

Telecenters now exist in most parts of the world. There are several efforts to capture experience with telecenters and offer suggestions for the establishment and evaluation of such centers; see Resource 2.7.5.

5.8.3.2.3 Participation in Telecenters: Obstacles and Strategies [13]

Providing telecenters is not sufficient; participation of individuals and communities is crucial to their success; therefore, it is important to identify obstacles to participation and devise strategies to encourage community and individual involvement in these centers.

What are the obstacles to use of telecenters?

  • Economic obstacles. Can the community pay for the services? If we are considering a business model for a telecenter, for projects targeted at the most disadvantaged areas, it is important that the planners have in mind poverty demographics: are the villagers able to pay for the services offered? If not, is the community at large, or are other groups, willing to pay?
  • Physical obstacles. Do community members have problems in accessing the center? Where is the telecenter located? It is clear that if the telecenter is away from the usual community meeting points, it might hinder participation.
  • Social obstacles. Are there any social (including gender and age) or ethnic reasons that impede the participation of some community members in telecenter activities? How can we identify these differences, and how can we deal with them?
  • Political obstacles. Are there political reasons hindering the participation of some people? If a telecenter is politicized, it can create power struggles.
  • Educational obstacles. Are we going to deal with technophobia and literacy problems? Technophobia is one of the obstacles that prevent the community from getting involved in the activities offered by telecenters. Beyond technology (because technology is just a tool) and fear of technology, what strategies do we use to reach illiterate people and nonusers?
  • Does the community know about the telecenter? The obstacle to participation here is very straightforward: simple ignorance of the existence of the telecenter. This question is seemingly superfluous because it is often taken for granted that the community knows what a telecenter is, where it is, and what it offers. But we need to ask ourselves this question, too. Active marketing and awareness creation are possible responses to this threat. A related question is, do community members feel that what the telecenter offers is relevant and useful to them?

How can these obstacles be overcome?

  • Develop an explicit participation strategy in the planning stages.
  • Make a commitment to training and have a comprehensive training program regarding the role of information and accessing it through ICTs.
  • Build research and monitoring into startup and ongoing operations. In efforts to get the Internet hooked up and computers operational, often relatively little attention is given to assessing community information needs, including the felt needs of the people and normative needs (those seen, for example, by professionals). A continuous program also needs to monitor ongoing telecenter services to the community (and its perceptions about them), and try to measure the telecenters' impact.

5.8.3.2.4 Women and Telecenters [14]

Many telecenter projects have crafted outreach efforts carefully and creatively to attract women to the centers. Dr. Eva Rathgeber, Joint Chair of Women's Studies at the University of Ottawa and a leading telecenter researcher, states, "Preliminary evidence suggests that telecentres in developing countries are not particularly effective in helping women…gain access to better economic, educational and other opportunities. Women use telecentres much less than men, and when they do use them, it is usually for non-Internet related purposes."  Reasons she cites for this failure include a focus on machines that women find "unfriendly," cramped premises with little privacy and no child care facilities, male managers and technical assistants, an inconvenient location with unsuitable hours of operation, fees beyond the financial reach of poor women, and, perhaps most important, content that is perceived as irrelevant. In short, Dr. Rathgeber suggests that, like other technological innovations before them, telecenters often are designed without adequate attention to the needs, capacities, and preferences of local communities in general and of women in particular. [15]

A hypothetical telecenter mini-model illustrates the elements that are conducive to women's participation. The Canadian International Development Research Center (IDRC) produced a wonderful drawing of a telecenter, a comfortable, convivial place with men, women, and children and goats and chickens wandering about, each taking care of his or her or its own business. The center is rich with personality and community spirit, one of those welcoming public square-type places where people congregate to meet friends and exchange news while accomplishing some information or communication task. One gets the feeling that almost everyone stops by the center almost every day, if not to conduct specific business, then just to see what's new.

Several features of this telecenter stand out as particularly important for women.

  • Contrary to the notion of ICTs as intimidating and inappropriate in a "low-tech" village setting, the center presented in the drawing appears to be integrated seamlessly into its surroundings. Rather than appearing sophisticated, high-tech, and out of place, the telecenter seems to be a natural extension of life, combining computers with more traditional ICTs, such as photocopiers, telephones, and a meeting room. The relaxed atmosphere blends in beautifully with the palm trees, grazing goats, and napping dogs outside, and men, women, and children of all ages are clearly comfortable inside, working, chatting, and learning together. The telecenter has been set up to harmonize with the village, building on tradition and accepted cultural norms and fostering a sense of familiarity among people of both genders.
  • With a house, a car, and a woman carrying a basket on her head, the physical location of the center appears to be at a community crossroads, not in an isolated spot that is difficult for women to reach. It seems that women do not have to travel far to use this telecenter but can walk there in the course of their daily activities. Moreover, while studies suggest that many people in communities with telecenters do not even know where they are located, one senses that the entire community knows where to find the center in the drawing.
  • One also gets the sense that what is going on in this telecenter is relevant to the lives of the visitors. Just as people frequent the market to find the necessities of life, here, too, they obviously are engaged in meaningful activities—perhaps researching a topic for a school assignment, sending an e-mail to a loved one, or checking market prices. The people seem to be aware of what can be accomplished with ICTs, and to understand and appreciate ICT applications, and the community as a whole is taking advantage of the opportunities ICTs present. Clearly, the information and communication needs of the community have been ascertained, and the telecenter has been set up to meet the priorities and interests of both male and female users. These are not just machines for men.
  • Child care seems not to be an issue or problem. Indeed, children are clearly welcome, whether outside playing or inside with their mothers. While no organized child care is apparent—an addition that, if designed properly and affordably, would likely enhance the female friendliness of the telecenter—children seem not to be a deterrent to women's use of the center. The "open door" atmosphere appears to extend to all age groups.
  • At this particular moment, the center in the drawing is accommodating approximately 20 people, some working alone and others in a group, even though the center has only 10 or so computers, which seems to be sufficient. No one is waiting, and the space is roomy enough to provide people with adequate privacy to do their work.
  • Most important, women appear to be comfortable engaging in telecenter activities alongside men. While research suggests that women sometimes do not feel at ease with male technical assistants, the center depicted in the drawing reveals no such difficulty. Indeed, the staff is so integrated into the telecenter activities that, aside from two men who appear to be employees—one at the back with outstretched arms and another at the front door welcoming a women who is entering—differentiating between clients and staff members is not easy.

Of the several approaches to introducing ICTs in developing countries—access, awareness, and diffusion—only the last is likely to reach women effectively. Diffusion involves a preplanned, systematic program of activities designed to spread the message broadly. (The message includes "What are ICTs?" and "How can ICTs help you?")  Diffusion is time-consuming and resource-intensive, but it is how disadvantaged groups are reached. Effective diffusion programs should focus on local needs and priorities, in terms of both the message conveyed and the method used for conveyance. What works in one environment may not work in another.

A new survey undertaken by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the UN agency dealing with telecommunications, indicated that "women from all regions of the world showed a striking solidarity in the belief that ICTs are critical to them in meeting their personal and professional goals." More specifically, "99% of the women surveyed said that access to ICTs is important to women entrepreneurs, with 97% agreeing that ICTs helped them to meet their professional goals." [16] Even women who lack a specific understanding of how ICTs can benefit them seem to know, almost intrinsically, that computers represent a hope for the future—if not for themselves, then for their children. And they are right. What is needed now is for development planners, donors, and practitioners to build on this hope by addressing the same old issues that have confounded development for women for years—to approach development, finally, as if women really mattered. In truth, we know what needs to be done; it is merely a matter of doing it.

11 Charles Kenny. July/August 2001. "Information and Communication Technologies and Poverty." TechKnowLogia. Available at: www.TechKnowLogia.org
12 Excerpted from: Mary Fontaine. March/April 2000. "A High-Tech Twist: ICT Access and the Gender Divide." TechKnowLogia. Available at: www.TechKnowLogia.org
13 Excerpted from: Raul Roman & Royal D. Colle. May/June 2001. "Digital Divide or Digital Bridge? Exploring Threats and Opportunities to Participation in Telecenter Initiatives." TechKnowLogia. Available at: http://www.TechKnowLogia.org
14 Excerpted from: Mary Fontaine. March/April 2000. "A High-Tech Twist: ICT Access and the Gender Divide." TechKnowLogia. Available at: www.TechKnowLogia.org
15 Eva M. Rathgeber. 2002. "Gender and Telecentres: What Have We Learned." Delivered at the Gender and the Digital Divide Seminar on "Assessing the Impacts of Telecenters." World Bank. Available at: http://www.worldbank.org/gender/digitaldivide/telecenterpanel.htm
16 ITU. May 20, 2002."ICT for all: Empowering People to Cross the Digital Divide." http://www.ictdevagenda.org/frame.php?dir=07&sd=10&id=187

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