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 is pursued. This decision affects the choice of technologies and modalities of use.
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 help reach this objective. They can overcome geographic, social, and infrastructure barriers to reach populations that cannot normally be served by conventional delivery systems. Additionally they provide feasible, efficient, and quick educational opportunities. The potential of ICTs to reach large audiences includes the following mechanisms.
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 it also has some drawbacks, including:
- Radio programs are restricted to the audio dimension of knowledge.
- Radio programs follow a prearranged schedule, to which listeners 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 mechanisms to deal with this last issue, however, 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, all while the program is on the air. Short pauses are provided throughout the lessons after questions and during exercises to ensure that students have adequate time to 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' rigid scheduling and lack of interactivity.
Experience has shown that TV can be successful in expanding educational opportunities at a national large scale by:
- targeting young adults who have left primary or secondary schools before graduation, allowing them to follow the curricula by watching television, and
- 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 does except for physical facilities. It is important, though, to distinguish between Websites that provide individual courses and those 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 can 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 those institutions 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, using already developed multimedia materials and sharing one "teacher" among several schools. Alternatively, retired or part-time teachers who live hundreds of miles away can teach the online courses.
4.3 Enhancing Quality of Learning
Research and experience have shown that ICTs, used well in classrooms, enhance the learning process, in the following ways:
- They motivate and engage students in the learning process. Students are motivated only when the learning activities are authentic, challenging, multidisciplinary, and multisensorial. Videos, television, and computer multimedia software can be excellent instructional aids to engage students in the learning process. In addition, sound, color, and movement stimulate the students' sensorial apparatus and bring enjoyment to the learning process.
- They bring abstract concepts to life. Teachers have a hard time teaching, and students have a hard time learning, abstract concepts, particularly when they contradict immediate intuition and common knowledge. Images, sounds, movements, animations, and simulations may demonstrate an abstract concept in a real manner.
- The 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 then test them.
- They provide opportunities for students to practice basic skills on their own time and at their own pace.
- They allow students to use the information they acquire to solve problems, formulate new problems, and explain the world around them.
- They provide access to worldwide information resources.
- They offer the most cost-effective (and in some cases the only) means for bringing the world into the classroom.
- The supply (via the 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 a 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 multimedia materials can enhance the initial preparation of teachers by providing good training materials, facilitating simulations, capturing and analyzing practice-teaching, bringing world experience into the training institution, 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' advantages include 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 connect easily with headquarters, colleagues and mentors, universities and centers of expertise, and 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 no longer the case. Sectoral needs, job definitions, skill requirements, and training standards are changing faster than the life cycle of a training program. Traditional training programs cannot address these new realities adequately; 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 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 include 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 individuals necessitate lifelong learning for all, anywhere and anytime. Some of the reasons for such a need are:
The fast–changing, technology-based economy requires worker 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 of 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 many 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. Above all, if well prepared, they can pack a wealth of expertise and experience in efficient packages that can be modified and updated 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. Two additional solutions are increasingly adopted:
- Open universities provide opportunities for lifelong learning, not only through degree programs but also through nondegree 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 important, they can assist in constructing and assessing policy scenarios around different intended policy options to determine requirements and consequences and to help select those that are the most appropriate. 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 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 is also a gender divide. This divide cannot be attributed to inherent female characteristics, as evidenced by the high percentage of female ICT users 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 hindering 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. Other barriers include ambivalence, technophobia, lack of training opportunities, and uninviting ICT environments for women.
Despite the importance of access to ICTs, achieving such access at the home or individual levels in poverty-stricken areas is untenable because of barriers of infrastructure, ICT literacy, and costs. The community telecenter, 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. 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. 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.