Using ICTs to Increase the Effectiveness of Education

Using ICTs to Increase the Effectiveness of Education

Introduction to ICTs

Information communication technologies (ICTs) are akin to information technology (IT), but more comprehensive.

Where IT refers to acquiring, processing, and storing digital information with computers, ICT refers more broadly to audio, visual, and interactive mediums working in a unified manner to accomplish the sharing and presentation of information. 

ICTs are playing an increasingly large role in education as globalization ensues and the classroom is becoming more tech savvy. Access to communication technology is constantly growing. Global cell phone penetration sits at 96% (and is only slightly lower in developing countries, at 89%). The cost for broadband internet has decreased 82%, making it more accessible worldwide. The processing capability of computers is increasing exponentially; Cisco predicts that by 2050, a $1,000 computer will equal the processing power of all the human brains on Earth. With the prominence of technology, two issues rise regarding education: how can classrooms ride the tech wave to more effectively teach students, and how can we insure that the gap in student experience between more and less developed countries does not widen as a result? 

IT such as laptops, cell phones, projectors, and data management databases all contribute to the educational experience. ICTs, however, are more concerned with the specific technology which provides access to the wealth of information and opportunities available on the internet. E-books, smart boards, video conferencing, and interactive interfaces are all methods used to this end. Also, online education expects to harness adaptive artificial intelligence to individualize and streamline educational processes. 

United Nations Work on Education

The Dakar World Education Forum produced the Dakar Framework for Action to promote education for all. Acknowledging that opportunity to benefit from education is a basic human right, goals were set regarding gender equality, free and compulsory primary education, and the teaching of life skills. Led by UNESCO Institute for Education, UNESCO Institute of Statistics, and Regional/Sub regional Education for All Forums, the Framework calls for the international community as a whole to join in the effort and hold each other accountable. 

A/RES/55/2, which outlines the UN Millennium Development Goals created in an effort to promote quantifiable global development, places priority on education. Under this initiative, the UN and its member states aim for universal primary education by 2015. 90% enrolment was achieved in 2010 and the number continues to grow, but over 60 million children are estimated to still be out of school. The global rate of non-participation in primary schooling has been cut in half since the 1990s. The gender gap seems to be improving as well; only 53% of out of school children are girls. In fact, the parity level between girls’ and boys’ enrolment is currently at an acceptable point according to the goals set. While most countries have reached levels significantly above 80% primary enrolment, countries such as Djibouti (59%) and Eritrea (47%) are still facing major struggles. However, even those countries with low enrolment rates have experienced strong improvement; Djibouti's enrolment rate has risen 30% since 2000. As participation improves, the focus must shift to secondary school, tertiary education opportunities, and the overall quality of the education. Secondary school participation shows poor numbers in Africa in particular. Likewise tertiary school enrolment in some countries in Africa is almost nonexistent: 3% in the Central African Republic and 2% in Chad. The gender gap appears much more prevalent in secondary school and continues to degrade in tertiary schooling in developing and less developed countries. For instance, 47% of children participating in Guinea’s primary schooling are females, but that number drops to 39% in secondary education and degrades further to 26% in tertiary education.

Case study- South Sudan:           

Again, participation is not all that must be considered. An estimated 250 million children in school are not even learning basic skills. One reason for this lack of quality learning is that the growth in participation has not been matched with a growth in material capacity. Prior to the Peace Agreement in South Sudan being signed, only 2% of the population had completed primary school. Post agreement, the completion rate rose to 21%. However, this growth had limited actual effect because the schools lacked educational materials. South Sudan maintains the largest class sizes in Africa due to the resource shortages as a result. 

This is an issue ICTs show great promise in solving. One proposed solution to this resource deficiency is education by MP3. Life player MP3s are solar powered information storage devices that play audio files containing educational instruction, partially offsetting the need for teachers. Life player Energy supplements these audio files with solar powered radio broadcast systems. These systems broadcast lessons to the devices, which also come preloaded with lessons. Students can stay up to date with school without needing to be in the classroom. Furthermore, students that are nomadic due to conflicts and natural disasters can maintain their lessons as long as they hold on to the small MP3 device. 

This case study presents an opportunity for expanding education throughout the developing world. Virtual classrooms would allow any student with access to a network to take lessons online whenever they can and from the best professors available. As such, the cost of education would entail only network access costs. However, there are tradeoffs that must be considered, namely the need for person-to-person contact and the potentially negative impact that ICTs could have on employment prospects for teachers. 

Past UN Action

The Information and Communication Technology Task Force was created through resolution E/2000/INF/2/Add.2 in 2000.This task force is focused on integrating private-sector companies, such as IBM and Cisco Systems, with NGOs and governments to pursue growth in the technology across variable economies. Sweden and Ireland, members of the task force, joined Canada and Switzerland to create the Global E-Schools & Communities Initiative (GeSCI). Then Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted that the initiative had “not only the potential to improve education, but also empower people, strengthen government, open up new markets, and galvanize our efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.” The GeSCI is still being enacted by the task force, who has activated Fast Track Initiatives in regions experiencing particular difficulty in meeting their goals as the deadline for MDG’s approach. Those regions are Sub-Sahara Africa, West Asia, and the Arab State. 

Another organization was created in 2006 for promoting the integration of technology and education: the United Nations Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technology Development .This organization’s mission is to foster dialogue between stakeholders to innovate and create solutions for education problems using technology. UN GAID established a flagship advocacy program called the Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technology (G3ict). This initiative focuses specifically on “facilitating and supporting the implementation of the dispositions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on the accessibility of ICTs and assistive technology.” Since its enactment in 2006, this initiative claims to have benefited an estimated one billion persons living with disabilities by making ICTs accessibly as measure of assistance. 

The World Bank has also played a prominent role in supporting the evolution of education through ICTs. The bank’s flagship program, the Systems Approach for Better Education Results (SABER), is currently in the works. SABER collects and analyzes data regarding the use of ICTs and other educational methods worldwide. By comparing different policies and institutions in different regions, the initiative aims to disseminate the most effective strategies for learning. AusAid, CIFF, DFID, JICA, MEST, the New Zealand Ministry of Education, TALIS, READ, UNESCO, and UNICEF all stand behind SABER as it attempts to gain momentum and acceptance by the international community.

ITU is a specialized United Nation agency responsible for providing the technology statistics that make the aforementioned missions possible and quantifiable. ITU originally stood for International Telegraph Union, which was founded in Paris, 1865. In 1932 it was changed to International Telecommunications Union and was adopted as a specialized agency of the United Nations in 1947 comprised of 193 countries and 700 private-sector entities.  

Private Sector

The private sector both recognizes the need for ICTs in education and the opportunity. The Education World Forum is one testament to its recognition of the present need. The conference is well attended and boasts representatives for 70% of the world’s population. A recent initiative developed at the forum is Assessment & Teaching of 21Century Skills (ATC21S). The purpose of ATC21S is to create assessment mechanisms adequate to discover the level of learning students are obtaining concerning 21 century skills such as digital literacy and collaboration. In light of the results of such assessments curriculum may be shaped to properly prepare students for the current job market. 

Furthermore, the necessary evolution of the classroom presents vast opportunities for corporations. At the Education World Forum, Pauline Rose, director of the Education for All Global Monitoring Report, discussed the need for leaders like Bill Gates to prioritize education. The Gates Foundation alone raised US$ 4.3 billion for vaccinations against HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. In order to put all the out of school children in classrooms, the cost is an estimated US$ 16 billion per year. Currently, the private sector only spends $683 million annually in support of education in developing countries. Private aid to developing countries’ education accounts for just 5% of total education aid and less than .5% of only the world’s ten largest companies’ annual profits.

The support of the private sector is necessary to retain students by ensuring their efforts create real value. 

What is the incentive for private sector involvement? Rose’s report estimates that “if all children in low-income countries left school with basic reading skills, poverty would fall by 12%.” Such a significant decrease in the poverty level by such a simple improvement would create entire new markets for business. Moreover, technology revolution opens doors for innovation. There is now the largely unexplored territory of making existing technology cheaper and more efficient to provide education to the masses in developing countries. With support from governments and international agencies, these companies could not only support the provision of a fundamental human right, but also garner substantial profits. 

Samsung is spearheading the effort to provide education and is very active in Africa as well as Brazil. Its Blue Education initiative is aiming to provide Internet via solar powered ICT infrastructure that will reach 2.5 million students in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sudan by 2015. Samsung also understands the need for sustainability by empowering educators and entrepreneurs. The company has recently opened its second Engineering Academy in Nigeria to facilitate the advanced education of students. Dell has approached the education challenge by forming an NGO that provides awards to tech innovations that solve problems in developing nations, incentivizing social entrepreneurship. 

Issues to Consider Looking Forward

The push to utilize ICT in education, especially regarding developing nations, is centrally to reform industrial economies and create knowledge economies. A knowledge economy places less emphasis on physical labour and more emphasis on research, discovery, and applying minds to create effective processes. The newness of this issue provides some difficulties. The largest current problem is the lack of a complete knowledgebase. While gaps in technology access and ability are clear, the usefulness of ICT in pursuit of knowledge-based economies has yet to be consistently and clearly affirmed. Also, the efficacy of currently applications of ICTs is questionable. For instance, the United States is the number one investor in ICT research, but is only ranked 15 in capability and use. Enlaces, a Chilean project to spread the use of ICT in school, has successfully proliferated the technology through their school systems. However, as that phase of the projected was only completed in 2007 with 95% of students having access to computers, there is not yet enough evidence to judge the effectiveness of the program. 

A large barrier to overcome for successful implementation of ICT in classrooms is training teachers. While ICT in now prevalent in Chile, only half of the teachers are adequately trained. The education level of teachers is a limiting factor for the usefulness of ICT as students cannot take advantage of the technology without instruction. Also, there must be support systems in place to problem solve difficulties, both technical and otherwise. Additionally, the potential of ICTs to train teachers in general education practices is yet to be fully explored.  

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About the Author
Author: Anant Mishra
Anant Mishra is a former youth representative United Nations.Almost 4 years of experience, he has served in number of committees including United Nations Conference for Trade and Development and Economic and Social Council primarily focusing on international trade, finance, economics. food crisis and disputes. Currently he is serving as a Mentor & a Member for the organising committee of Global Entrepreneurship Summit 2014. He is also the state convener, chhattisgarh for a nation wide think tank, Centre for Education Growth and Research, New Delhi. Beside this he is an editor, foreign affairs for political mirror, columnist for business digest and iReporter for the CNN. He is also an author for the Indian Economic Review, an yearly journal for Delhi School of Economics.

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