ICT in Education/Key Challenges in Integrating ICTs in Education

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 ICT in Education 

PrefaceIntroductionDefinition of TermsThe Promise of ICTs in EducationThe Uses of ICTs in EducationIssues in the Use of ICTs in EducationKey Challenges in Integrating ICTs in EducationFor Further ReadingNotesAbout the Author

Key Challenges in Integrating ICTs in Education[edit]

Although valuable lessons may be learned from best practices around the world, there is no one formula for determining the optimal level of ICT integration in the educational system. Significant challenges that policymakers and planners, educators, education administrators, and other stakeholders need to consider include educational policy and planning, infrastructure, language and content, capacity building, and financing.

What are the implications of ICT-enhanced education for educational policy and planning?[edit]

Attempts to enhance and reform education through ICTs require clear and specific objectives, guidelines and time-bound targets, the mobilization of required resources, and the political commitment at all levels to see the initiative through. Some essential elements of planning for ICT are listed below.

  • A rigorous analysis of the present state of the educational system. ICT-based interventions must take into account current institutional practices and arrangements. Specifically, drivers and barriers to ICT use need to be identified, including those related to curriculum and pedagogy, infrastructure, capacity-building, language and content, and financing.
  • The specification of educational goals at different education and training levels as well as the different modalities of use of ICTs that can best be employed in pursuit of these goals. This requires of the policymaker an understanding of the potentials of different ICTs when applied in different contexts for different purposes, and an awareness of priority education needs and financial and human resource capacity and constraints within the country or locality, as well as best practices around the world and how these practices can be adapted for specific country requirements.
  • The identification of stakeholders and the harmonizing of efforts across different interest groups.
  • The piloting of the chosen ICT-based model. Even the best designed models or those that have already been proven to work in other contexts need to be tested on a small scale. Such pilots are essential to identify, and correct, potential glitches in instructional design, implementability, effectiveness, and the like.
  • The specification of existing sources of financing and the development of strategies for generating financial resources to support ICT use over the long term.

What are the infrastructure-related challenges in ICT-enhanced education?[edit]

A country’s educational technology infrastructure sits on top of the national telecommunications and information infrastructure. Before any ICT-based programme is launched, policymakers and planners must carefully consider the following:

  • In the first place, are appropriate rooms or buildings available to house the technology? In countries where there are many old school buildings, extensive retrofitting to ensure proper electrical wiring, heating/cooling and ventilation, and safety and security would be needed.
  • Another basic requirement is the availability of electricity and telephony. In developing countries large areas are still without a reliable supply of electricity and the nearest telephones are miles away. Experience in some countries in Africa point to wireless technologies (such as VSAT or Very Small Aperture Terminal) as possible levers for leapfrogging.. [74] Although this is currently an extremely costly approach, other developing countries with very poor telecommunications infrastructure should study this option.
  • Policymakers should also look at the ubiquity of different types of ICT in the country in general, and in the educational system (at all levels) in particular. For instance, a basic requirement for computer-based or online learning is access to computers in schools, communities, and households, as well as affordable Internet service.

In general, ICT use in education should follow use in society, not lead it. Education programs that use cutting-edge technologies rarely achieve long term success:

It is cheaper, and easier, to introduce a form of technology into education, and keep it working, where education is riding on the back of large-scale developments by governments or the private sector. Television works for education when it follows rather than precedes television for entertainment; computers in schools can be maintained once commercial and private use has expanded to the point where there is an established service industry. [75]

What are the challenges with respect to capacity-building?[edit]

Various competencies must be developed throughout the educational system for ICT integration to be successful.

Teachers.Teacher professional development should have five foci: 1) skills with particular applications; 2) integration into existing curricula; 3) curricular changes related to the use of IT (including changes in instructional design); 4) changes in teacher role( 5) underpinning educational theories. [76] Ideally, these should be addressed in pre-service teacher training and built on and enhanced in-service. In some countries, like Singapore, Malaysia, and the United Kingdom, teaching accreditation requirements include training in ICT use. ICTs are swiftly evolving technologies, however, and so even the most ICT fluent teachers need to continuously upgrade their skills and keep abreast of the latest developments and best practices.

While the first focus—skills with particular applications—is self-evident, the four other foci are of equal, if not ultimately greater, importance. Research on the use of ICTs in different educational settings over the years invariably identify as a barrier to success the inability of teachers to understand why they should use ICTs and how exactly they can use ICTs to help them teach better. Unfortunately, most teacher professional development in ICTs are heavy on “teaching the tools” and light on “using the tools to teach.”

Teacher anxiety over being replaced by technology or losing their authority in the classroom as the learning process becomes more learner-centered—an acknowledged barrier to ICT adoption—can be alleviated only if teachers have a keen understanding and appreciation of their changing role.

Education administrators. Leadership plays a key role in ICT integration in education. Many teacher- or student-initiated ICT projects have been undermined by lack of support from above. For ICT integration programs to be effective and sustainable, administrators themselves must be competent in the use of the technology, and they must have a broad understanding of the technical, curricular, administrative, financial, and social dimensions of ICT use in education.

Technical support specialists. Whether provided by in-school staff or external service providers, or both, technical support specialists are essential to the continued viability of ICT use in a given school. While the technical support requirements of an institution depend ultimately on what and how technology is deployed and used, general competencies that are required would be in the installation, operation, and maintenance of technical equipment (including software), network administration, and network security. Without on-site technical support, much time and money may be lost due to technical breakdowns.

In the Philippines, for example, one of the major obstacles to optimizing computer use in high schools has been the lack of timely technical support. In some extreme cases involving schools in remote areas, disabled computers take months to be repaired since no technician is available in the immediate vicinity and so the computers have to be sent to the nearest city hundreds of kilometers away. [80]

Content developers. Content development is a critical area that is too often overlooked. The bulk of existing ICT-based educational material is likely to be in English (see section on language and content below) or of little relevance to education in developing countries (especially at the primary and secondary levels). There is a need to develop original educational content (e.g., radio programs, interactive multimedia learning materials on CD-ROM or DVD, Web-based courses, etc.), adapt existing content, and convert print-based content to digital media. These are tasks for which content development specialists such as instructional designers, scriptwriters, audio and video production specialists, programmers, multimedia course authors, and web-developers are needed. Like technical support specialists, content developers are highly skilled professionals and are not, with the exception of instructional designers, historically employed by primary and secondary schools. Many universities with distance education programs, and those who otherwise make use of ICTs, have dedicated technical support and content development units.

What challenges need to be addressed in the areas of language and content?

English is the dominant language of the Internet. An estimated 80% of online content is in English.A large proportion of the educational software produced in the world market is in English. For developing countries in the Asia-Pacific where English language proficiency is not high, especially outside metropolitan areas, this represents a serious barrier to maximizing the educational benefits of the World Wide Web.

Even in countries where English is a second language (such as Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, and India) it is imperative that teaching and learning materials that match national curriculum requirements and have locally meaningful content, preferably in the local languages, be developed. (See Box 6.) This would ensure that the Web is a genuinely multicultural space and that peoples of different cultures have an equal stake and voice in the global communities of learning and practice online. Particularly vulnerable to exclusion of this sort are isolated, rural populations, cultural minorities, and women in general. Thus attention must be paid to their special needs.

One encouraging trend has been the emergence of national and regional school networks, or SchoolNets, that facilitate the sharing of content and information—curriculum guides, teaching and learning resources, telecollaborative project registries, school and teacher directories, training curricula and materials, research and policy papers, technology management guides, and start-up toolkits, among others. Countries like Australia, France, Finland, Japan, Canada, Thailand, Ghana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, to name a few, all have national SchoolNets. The Enlaces programme in Latin America has linked schools from Spanish-speaking countries like Chile, Paraguay, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Peru. In Southeast Asia, efforts are currently underway to pilot SchoolNets in the Philippines, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, and to link these to existing national SchoolNets to create a region-wide ASEAN SchoolNet.

In Web-based learning, technical standardization of content has also become a pressing issue. Standardization allows different applications to share content and learning systems. Specifications in content, structure, and test formats are proposed so that interoperability may exist between different management systems, resulting in some cost-efficiencies. Standards must be general enough to support all kinds of learning systems and content. Worth mentioning are initiatives conducted by the Instructional Management System (IMS), the Advanced Distributed Learning /Shareable Courseware Object Reference Model (ADL/SCORM) initiative, the Aviation Industry Computer Based Training Committee (AICC), and the European ARIADNE project, since some of the standards they have proposed are already being widely applied.

The ease by which Web-based educational content can be stored, transmitted, duplicated, and modified has also raised concerns about the protection of intellectual property rights. For instance, are intellectual, property rights violated when lectures broadcast over the television or on the Web incorporate pre-existing materials, or when students record educational broadcast on tape for later viewing?

While schools and universities may already have agreements that expressly authorize the use of certain materials for classroom purposes, these agreements may not be broad enough to accommodate telecommunications transmission, videotape recording, or the distribution of course-related materials beyond the classroom setting.. [82]

The United Nations International World Intellectual Property Organization is leading international efforts in setting global standards for the protection of intellectual property rights that would not at the same time unduly curtail the accessing and sharing of information. For teachers and students, each of whom are potential publishers of multimedia materials that incorporate the works of others, information and training about the ethical use of intellectual property should be an important component of ICT-based programs. [83]

What are the challenges related to financing the cost of ICT use? One of the greatest challenges in ICT use in education is balancing educational goals with economic realities. ICTs in education programs require large capital investments and developing countries need to be prudent in making decisions about what models of ICT use will be introduced and to be conscious of maintaining economies of scale. Ultimately it is an issue of whether the value added of ICT use offsets the cost, relative to the cost of alternatives. Put another way, is ICT-based learning the most effective strategy for achieving the desired educational goals, and if so what is the modality and scale of implementation that can be supported given existing financial, human and other resources?

Whyte suggests the following potential sources of money and resources for ICT use programs:

1. Grants

2. Public subsidies

3. Private donations, fund-raising events

4. In-kind support (e.g., equipment, volunteers)

5. Community support (e.g. rent-free building)

6. Membership fees

7. Revenues earned from core business:

  • Connectivity (phone, fax, Internet, web pages)
  • Direct computer access to users
  • Office services (photocopying, scanning, audiovisual aids

8. Revenues earned from ancillary activities:

  • Business services (word-processing, spreadsheets, budget preparation, printing, reception services)
  • Educational services (distant education, training courses)
  • Community services (meeting rooms, social events, local information, remittances from migrant workers)
  • Telework and consulting
  • Specialized activities (telemedicine)
  • Sales (stationery, stamps, refreshments, etc.) [84]

Private sector-public sector partnerships to either pilot or fast track ICT-based projects is a strategy that has gained currency among Ministries of Education in developing countries. These partnerships take many forms, including private sector grants with government counterpart contributions, donations of equipment and education-related content by corporations to state-run schools, and the provision of technical assistance for planning, management, and strengthening human resources at the grassroots level. Multilateral organizations and international aid agencies have also driven many of the most significant ICT in education efforts in the developing world.

But the financial litmus test of ICT-based programs is survival after donor money has run out. Many ICT-based education programs funded by aid agencies or by corporations could not be sustained because government failed to step in with the necessary financing; nor were the local communities in a position to generate the resources needed to continue these programs.This was the case with some of the Interactive Radio Instruction projects initiated by USAID. Therefore, a two-fold strategy is key: government support and local community mobilization

Will ICT use be the silver bullet that will rid a developing country of all of its educational problems?[edit]

If there is one truism that has emerged in the relatively brief history of ICT use in education, it is this: It is not the technology but how you use it! Put another way: “How you use technology is more important than if you use it at all…[and] unless our thinking about schooling changes along with the continuing expansion of [ICTs] in the classroom then our technology investment will fail to live up to its potential.” [85]

Technology then should not drive education; rather, educational goals and needs, and careful economics, must drive technology use. Only in this way can educational institutions in developing countries effectively and equitably address the key needs of the population, to help the population as a whole respond to new challenges and opportunities created by an increasingly global economy. ICTs, therefore, cannot by themselves resolve educational problems in the developing world, as such problems are rooted in well entrenched issues of poverty,social inequality,and uneven development.What ICTs as educational tools can do, if they are used prudently, is enable developing countries to expand access to and raise the quality of education. Prudence requires careful consideration of the interacting issues that underpin ICT use in the school—policy and politics, infrastructure development, human capacity, language and content, culture, equity, cost, and not least, curriculum and pedagogy.

Figure 9.

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