ICT in Education/Issues in the Use of ICTs in Education
Issues in the Use of ICTs in Education
Effectiveness, cost, equity, and sustainability are four broad intertwined issues which must be addressed when considering the overall impact of the use of ICTs in education.
Does ICT-enhanced learning really work?
The educational effectiveness of ICTs depends on how they are used and for what purpose. And like any other educational tool or mode of educational delivery, ICTs do not work for everyone, everywhere in the same way.
Enhancing access. It is difficult to quantify the degree to which ICTs have helped expand access to basic education since most of the interventions for this purpose have been small-scale and under-reported. One exception is the television-based project Telesecundaria (discussed in a previous section), which in 1997-98 was serving over 750,000 junior secondary students in 12,000 centres in Mexico. In Asia and Africa, assessments of distance learning projects at the junior secondary level using a combination of print, taped, and broadcast technologies have been less conclusive, while at the primary level there is little evidence that ICT-based models have thrived.  In higher education and adult training, there is some evidence that educational opportunities are being opened to individuals and groups who are constrained from attending traditional universities. Each of the 11 so-called mega-universities, the biggest and most well-established open and distance institutions in the world (which include the Open University of the United Kingdom, the Indira Gandhi National Open University of India, the China TV University System, the Universitas Terbuka of Indonesia, and the University of South Africa, among others) has an annual enrollment of more than 100,000, and together they serve approximately 2.8 million. Compare that with the 14 million combined enrollment of the 3,500 colleges and universities in the United States. 
Raising quality.The impact of educational radio and television broadcasts on the quality of basic education remains an under-researched area, but what little research there is suggests that these interventions are as effective as traditional classroom instruction.  Of the many educational broadcast projects, the Interactive Radio Instruction project has been the most comprehensively analyzed. Findings provide strong evidence of the project’s effectiveness in raising the quality of education as demonstrated by increased scores on standardized tests as well as improved attendance. 
In contrast, assessments of the use of computers, the Internet and related technologies for distance learning have been equivocal. Russell, in his comprehensive review of research, claims that there is “no significant difference” between the test scores of learners taking ICT-based distance learning courses and those receiving face-to-face instruction.  However, others claim that such generalizations are inconclusive, pointing out that the large number of articles on ICT-based distance learning does not include original experimental research or case studies.  Other critics argue that dropout rates are much higher when instruction is delivered at a distance via ICTs.
There have also been many studies that seem to support the claim that the use of computers enhances and amplifies existing curricula, as measured through standardized testing. Specifically, research shows that the use of computers as tutors, for drill and practice, and for instructional delivery, combined with traditional instruction, results in increases in learning in the traditional curriculum and basic skills areas, as well as higher test scores in some subjects compared to traditional instruction alone. Students also learn more quickly, demonstrate greater retention, and are better motivated to learn when they work with computers.  But there are those who claim that these represent modest gains and, in any case, much of the research on which these claims are based are methodologically flawed.
Research likewise suggests that the use of computers, the Internet, and related technologies, given adequate teacher training and support, can indeed facilitate the transformation of the learning environment into a learner-centered one. But these studies are criticized for being mostly exploratory and descriptive in nature and lacking in empirical rigor. There is as yet no strong evidence that this new learning environment fosters improved learning outcomes. What does exist are qualitative data based on observations and analysis of student and teacher perceptions that suggest a positive impact on learning. 
One of the most critical problems in trying to assess the effectiveness of computers and the Internet as transformational tools is that standardized tests cannot capture the kinds of benefits that are expected to be gained in a learner-centered environment. Moreover, since technology use is fully integrated into the larger learning system, it is very difficult to isolate the technology variable and determine whether any observed gains are due to technology use or to some other factor or combination of factors.
How much does it cost?
Broadly speaking, educational television broadcasts and computer-based and online learning are more expensive than radio broadcasts.  There is disagreement, however, over whether television broadcasts are cheaper than computer-based and online learning.  That said, categorical assessments of cost-effectiveness are difficult to make because of lack of data, differences in programs, problems of generalization, and problems of quantification of educational outcomes and opportunity costs.  Speaking specifically of computers and the Internet, Blurton argues that “[w]hen considering whether ICT is “cost-effective” in educational settings, a definitive conclusion may not be possible for a variety of reasons. However, when considering the alternative of building more physical infrastructure, the cost savings to be realized from sharing resources, and the societal price of not providing access, ICT as a means of enabling teaching and learning appears to be an attractive and necessary alternative.” 
A common mistake in estimating the cost of a particular ICT educational application is to focus too much on initial fixed costs—purchase of equipment, construction or retrofitting of physical facilities, initial materials production, and the like. But studies of the use of computers in classrooms, for example, show that installation of hardware and retrofitting of physical facilities account for only between 40% to 60% of the full cost of using the computers over their lifetime, or its total cost of ownership.  In fact, while at first glance it may seem that the initial purchase of hardware and software is the costliest part of the process, the bulk of the total cost of ownership is spread out over time, with annual maintenance and support costs (known as variable or recurrent costs) constituting between 30% to 50% of the total cost of hardware and software. The cost of professional development, another variable cost, also accumulates over time. For computer-based approaches the total cost of ownership therefore includes:
- Retrofitting of physical facilities
- Hardware and networking
- Upgrades and replacement (in about five years)
VARIABLE OR RECURRENT COSTS
- Professional development
- Connectivity, including Internet access and telephone time
- Maintenance and support, including utilities and supplies
In order to determine cost efficiencies, fixed costs must be distinguished from variable costs, and the balance between the two understood. If the fixed costs of a technology project are high and its variable costs are low, then there will be cost advantages to scaling up. This is the case with general educational radio and television broadcasting. Programs such as Sesame Street and Discovery are more cost-efficient the larger their audience since the high cost of production is distributed over a larger viewer base while no staff expenditures are made for learner support.
On the other hand, the case of Telesecundaria in Mexico demonstrates that the impact of higher variable costs related to learner support may be offset if the scale of the project is sufficiently large to the point where per student costs compare favorably with those of traditional schools. Similarly, with the Interactive Radio Instruction project annual cost per student is estimated to fall from US$8.25 with 100,000 students to US$3.12 with 1,000,000.  Obviously, these economies of scale may be achieved only in countries with large populations.
Open and distance learning institutions have also achieved cost-effectiveness through economies of scale. Per student costs of the 11 mega-universities range from only 5% to 50% of the average of the traditional universities in their respective countries. 
The introduction of computers represents additional costs for schools but without short-term cost advantages. Data on cost of computer use per student in both primary and secondary schools in fact suggest cost-ineffectiveness. In Chile, for example, cost per primary school student is between US$22 and US$83, with expenditures for computer use requiring 10% to 37% of the national primary school budget..  In the U.S., computer investments accounted for 1.3% of total expenditure on schools, with annual cost per student at US$70. 
Perraton and Creed suggest that these levels of cost support the argument against putting computers in every classroom, particularly in primary schools where there are no strong curricular arguments for investment in computers. In secondary schools, spending money on computers may be justified by the curriculum but this will come with significant increases in total school expenditure. 
Another dimension of cost is location, or who will pay for what. In projects that involve computers connected to the Internet, either the school or student or both bear the variable costs related to operations such as maintenance, Internet service charges, and telephone line charges. In contrast, with radio programming the learner has to pay only for a radio and a set of batteries.
Is there equity of access to ICTs in education?
Given the wide disparities in access to ICTs between rich and poor countries and between different groups within countries, there are serious concerns that the use of ICTs in education will widen existing divisions drawn along economic, social, cultural, geographic, and gender lines.
Ideally, one wishes for equal opportunity to participate. But access for different actors—both as users and producers—is weighted by their resources. Hence, initial differences are often reproduced, reinforced, and even magnified….A formidable challenge, therefore, continues to face planners of international education: how to define the problem and provide assistance for development. 
The introduction of ICTs in education, when done without careful deliberation, can result in the further marginalization of those who are already underserved and/or disadvantaged. For example, women have less access to ICTs and fewer opportunities for ICT-related training compared to men because of illiteracy and lack of education, lack of time, lack of mobility, and poverty.  Boys are more likely than girls to have access to computers in school and at home. Not surprisingly, boys tend to enjoy working with computers more than girls.  As the American Association of University Women reports, “Girls have narrowed some significant gender gaps, but technology is now the new ‘boys’ club’ in our nation’s public schools. While boys programme and problem solve with computers, girls use computers for word processing…”. 
In an evaluation of its programme in four African countries, Worldlinks,.  an organization that promotes project-based, international telecollaboration activities among secondary school teachers and students from developing countries, it was found that despite efforts to make the programme gender neutral, gender inequalities in access persist in Uganda and Ghana. Furthermore, while girls benefited more from the programme in terms of improved academic performance and communication skills, boys were able to hone their technological skills more. A complex of economic, organizational, and sociocultural factors account for these differences: “High student-to-computer ratios and first come-first serve policies do not favour girls (typically heavily outnumbered by boys at the secondary level), girls have earlier curfew hours and domestic chore responsibilities which limit their access time, and local patriarchal beliefs tend to allow boys to dominate the computer lab environment.”.  Measures proposed to address this gender bias include encouraging schools to develop “fair use” policies in computer labs, conducting gender sensitivity sessions, and advocating for reducing the after-school duties of girls to give them more time to use the computer lab.  Girls also need to have female role models to inspire them to participate in technology-related activities. 
Providing access to ICTs is only one facet of efforts to address equity issues. Equal attention must be paid to ensuring that the technology is actually being used by the target learners and in ways that truly serve their needs. An ICT-supported educational programme that illustrates this wholistic approach is the Enlace Quiché:Bilingual Education in Guatemala Through Teacher Training programme..  The programme seeks to establish and maintain bilingual education technology centres for educators, students, teachers, parents, and community members in Quiché and neighboring areas. The technical teams for each centre are composed of three students, two teachers, and the centre administrator, with at least one female student and one female teacher. Another objective of Enlace Quiché is the creation of multimedia bilingual educational materials that are anchored on the Mayan culture and that reflect a constructivist approach to learning. As the project website notes, this “demonstrate[s] that the technology can be used to know, to conserve, to disclose and to value local knowledge.” The project thus illustrates a model for bridging the digital divide arising from the monopoly in Internet content provision by Western and English-speaking groups and from uneven capacities to make purposeful, relevant and critical use of digital resources (see section on language and content below).
Another example of a wholistic approach to ICT integration in education is a radio instruction project in Mongolia called the Gobi Women’s Project. It seeks to provide literacy and numeracy instruction built around lessons of interest to around 15,000 nomadic women, and to create income opportunities for them. Among the programme topics are livestock rearing techniques; family care (family planning, health, nutrition and hygiene); income generation using locally available raw materials; and basic business skills for a new market economy. 
Are ICT-enhanced educational projects sustainable?
One aspect of development programs that is often neglected is sustainability. The long history of development aid has shown that too many projects and programs start with a bang but all too soon fade out with a whimper, to be quickly forgotten. This is true for many ICT-based educational projects as well. In many instances, these projects are initiated by third party donors—such as international aid agencies or corporations—and not enough attention is paid to establishing a mechanism by which the educational institution or community involved can pursue the project on its own or in partnership with other stakeholders after the initiating donor exits. But cost and financing are not the only barriers to sustainability. According to Cisler, the sustainability of ICT-enabled programs has four components: social, political, technological, and economic. 
Economic sustainability refers to the ability of a school and community to finance an ICT-enabled programme over the long term. Cost-effectiveness is key, as technology investments typically run high and in many cases divert funds from other equally pressing needs. Planners should look to the total cost of ownership (see preceding discussion on cost) and build lucrative partnerships with the community to be able to defray all expenses over the long term. The need to develop multiple channels of financing through community participation ties economic sustainability closely to social and political sustainability.
Social sustainability is a function of community involvement. The school does not exist in a vacuum, and for an ICT-enabled project to succeed the buy-in of parents, political leaders, business leaders and other stakeholders is essential. Innovation can happen only when all those who will be affected by it, whether directly or indirectly, know exactly why such an innovation is being introduced, what the implications are on their lives, and what part they can play in ensuring its success. ICT-enabled programs must ultimately serve the needs of the community. Thus community-wide consultation and mobilization are processes critical to sustainability. In short, a sense of ownership for the project must be developed among all stakeholders for sustainability to be achieved.
Political sustainability refers to issues of policy and leadership. One of the biggest threats to ICT-enabled projects is resistance to change. If, for instance, teachers refuse to use ICTs in their classrooms, then use of ICTs can hardly take off, much less be sustained over the long term. Because of the innovative nature of ICT-enabled projects, leaders must have a keen understanding of the innovation process, identify the corresponding requirements for successful adoption, and harmonize plans and actions accordingly.
Technological sustainability involves choosing technology that will be effective over the long term. In a rapidly changing technology environment, this becomes a particularly tricky issue as planners must contend with the threat of technological obsolescence. At the same time, there is the tendency to acquire only the latest technologies (which is understandable in part because these are the models which vendors are likely to push aggressively) Generally, however, planners should go with tried and tested systems; stability issues plague many of the latest technologies. Again, the rule of thumb is to let the learning objectives drive the technology choice and not vice versa—the latest technologies may not be the most appropriate tools for achieving the desired educational goals.When making technology decisions, planners should also factor in not just costs but also the availability of spare parts and technical support.