Enabling the role of ICT’s in Distance Learning Education Programs

The need for ICTs in primary education is important as it creates educational opportunities on a wide scale for those students who are unable to afford traditional classroom teaching modules due to cost ineffectiveness, teacher unavailability, and some other factors.

In this respect, the Information Communication Technology plays a much broader role along with education modules such as the distance learning programs and education efforts for students unable to study in universities of their choice, which were earlier not possible. Since the introduction of long distance programs in 1950s, many universities in developing nations provide distance education schemes and provide free courseware content through print media, television, and audio visual contents, specifically for primary and higher education students.

Today, these distance learning programs have now been providing course materials in distance teacher training institutes. Notable examples of some Universities providing distance programs in the world include Mexico’s Telesecundaria, China’s Central Radio and TV University, Indonesia’s Universitas Terbuka, and India’s Indira Gandhi National Open University. However they receive thousands of applications every year and provide millions of educational content to the students, but programs like these disable the abilities of a teacher – student face to face interaction, enabling students with almost no opportunity to interact with the teacher or the fellow students. This low interactive session creates low completion rates of programs or courses thus adversely affecting the growth of distance education schemes.

Notable examples of some Universities providing distance programs in the world include Mexico’s Telesecundaria, China’s Central Radio and TV University, Indonesia’s Universitas Terbuka, and India’s Indira Gandhi National Open University. However they receive thousands of applications every year and provide millions of educational content to the students, but programs like these disable the abilities of a teacher – student face to face interaction, enabling students with almost no opportunity to interact with the teacher or the fellow students. This low interactive session creates low completion rates of programs or courses thus adversely affecting the growth of distance education schemes.

 Internet today provides a more interactive model of distance learning, although it must replace the older methods of communication with the new growing social media platforms like Skype and YouTube. Not along many students were seen rejoicing on the free availability of massive open online courses (MOOCs), in partnership with tier one American universities and some private companies. Such courses involve open and free enrolment, and provide video lectures, along with electronically assessed assignments and online discussion forum where students can ask doubts, clarify or discuss the topic freely. MOOC platforms are equipped with the ability to store large amount of data on student engagement , performance, followed by their analysis and student feedback which will not only help in achieving the student teacher interaction but also will make the courseware better. MOOCs are a recent development that came into the market to assist students in education, although they have received a huge attention along with large capital investment especially in higher education sectors in nations such as United States and Europe, however the similar response in the developing nations is difficult to say. Although a large number of students who enrolled in the beginning were from Asia and South America but, the success of this model will be measured only if it is widely accepted

MOOC platforms are equipped with the ability to store large amount of data on student engagement , performance, followed by their analysis and student feedback which will not only help in achieving the student teacher interaction but also will make the courseware better. MOOCs are a recent development that came into the market to assist students in education, although they have received a huge attention along with large capital investment especially in higher education sectors in nations such as United States and Europe, however the similar response in the developing nations is difficult to say. Although a large number of students who enrolled in the beginning were from Asia and South America but, the success of this model will be measured only if it is widely accepted specially in the developing world, where education costs more than a living for an individual; Many deep rooted questions and unwanted tough challenges will concern the authorities and the students applying, on a long run.

Discussion

There are numerous issues and unanswered questions surrounding the importance and role of ICTs in distance education especially for students of the developing world. The list is very large and exhaustive.

Traditional distance learning education methods Vs ICTs

Many experts will agree the need of Internet technologies to expand reach of education among students is a must, thus there is no doubt that internet technologies are the best suited cost effective mechanism to outreach the educational programs, hence the previous education mechanism will be globally replaced. As discussed above, many universities in Asia and Latin America have large scale distance learning programs which completely rely on radio, print and television. However programs focusing on Internet usage provide greater inactivity, thus creating a sense of dissatisfaction among the students, teachers and globally effecting the distance programs as radio and television are more in developing nations rather than regular internet connectivity.

Many under developing nations such as nations in the sub-Saharan Africa, lack the well developed distance learning infrastructure, hence investment in ICT is considered as a “risk taking” playing field which many Information Communication companies avoid to enter. Internet access is scarcely available in the region, especially the students seeking education in poorest areas, receives courseware in any available format, which brings challenge to this issue. Thus expanding the educational content should be addressed comprehensively through various support mechanisms.  As it is just not a technical resolution, it is moreover affecting the people of some poorest nations socially and economically, where cost of education is higher than cost of living. Hence a word of caution, the online educational education technologies provides easy access but also creates a new challenge in the development.

As the national education systems in some of the developing nations unable to invest in ICTs and educational mechanisms, students who have the access to internet technologies use this globalized internet access mediums in courses designed by universities, private companies, and NGOs. Now, students irrespective of their counterparts studying in top notch universities like Stanford and MIT, can now access the courseware from anywhere in the world, online. Although a question arises, whether the students living in the third world nations understand the way of teachings by the professors from the west. Cultural specific learning process and diverse needs of students from the developing world will create difficulty in understanding the not-so-specifically-designed courseware. It is not necessarily true that students from the South Asian nations such as Philippines and Sri Lanka, with poor primary and higher education

Although a question arises, whether the students living in the third world nations understand the way of teachings by the professors from the west. Cultural specific learning process and diverse needs of students from the developing world will create difficulty in understanding the not-so-specifically-designed courseware. It is not necessarily true that students from the South Asian nations such as Philippines and Sri Lanka, with poor primary and higher education methodologies will understand the courseware designed by teachers with excellent know hows from Harvard or Cambridge.

Hence, I believe that United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development should look into the circumstances of students specifically in the Asian and African regions. Thus, the use of ICTs should be taken practically into account before designing any courseware, and how these technologies can provide a comprehensive and interactive education programs for the students benefitting them in making their future secure, is important.

Use of ICTs in Primary, Secondary and Higher education

 Distance education irrespective to technology needs, receives massive enrolment especially in secondary and higher education, where students have the basic know how of primary skills and have become self efficient and capable of online learning. The distance learning programs are also widely available in specialized disciplines like science and engineering, where teachers are inadequate in supply in international, national and regional capacity. However most investment in distance education has been recorded in the higher level, the growing demand of MOOCs being an apt example.

Hence the need for large scale, cost effective expansion of educational opportunity in primary as well as secondary education gives distance education programs the ability to create variant dynamic learning methods and promotes e-learning means. With the modernization in technology new means such as education tablets, provides the students even younger and illiterate, to join this virtual classroom. Although some NGOs have experimented this process by distributing hand held educational devices to children, research pointed that ICT enabled learning at both primary and secondary level was most effective in a blended or hybrid approach where teachers were trained to overcome the traditional classroom model . However the need for education for underprivileged children in nations like Philippines and Sudan will empower the development in educational methodologies which will one day reduce the traditional training methods.

Although some NGOs have experimented this process by distributing hand held educational devices to children, research pointed that ICT enabled learning at both primary and secondary level was most effective in a blended or hybrid approach where teachers were trained to overcome the traditional classroom model . However the need for education for underprivileged children in nations like Philippines and Sudan will empower the development in educational methodologies which will one day reduce the traditional training methods.

Although some NGOs have experimented this process by distributing hand held educational devices to children, research pointed that ICT enabled learning at both primary and secondary level was most effective in a blended or hybrid approach where teachers were trained to overcome the traditional classroom model . However the need for education for underprivileged children in nations like Philippines and Sudan will empower the development in educational methodologies which will one day reduce the traditional training methods.

Hence, I believe that the United Nations Commission Science, Technology and Development will consider the use of ICTs in educational programs and will one day overcome the challenges faced in primary, secondary, and higher education in the developing world.

Using the Model: Blended Vs Standalone....Continued on the next page.


Using the Model: Blended Vs Standalone

As I said previously, there are large numbers of opportunities in interactive learning which is making internet technologies essential to the success of educational programs. Many experts still believe that information technology creates a series of inactivity among students, as they believe that best results can only be obtained in a face to face student teacher interaction. There are various ways to implement a hybrid model. But implementing a hybrid model will require unanimous assistance from universities and course providers. Universities can combine courses along with programs offered online and these courses can be taught on a physical campus. Higher education school students can watch the lectures uploaded by subject experts and then they can complete their assignments in a physical classroom. Universities can upload online resources to train local teachers practical training can be done on a physical campus.

There are various ways to implement a hybrid model. But implementing a hybrid model will require unanimous assistance from universities and course providers. Universities can combine courses along with programs offered online and these courses can be taught on a physical campus. Higher education school students can watch the lectures uploaded by subject experts and then they can complete their assignments in a physical classroom. Universities can upload online resources to train local teachers practical training can be done on a physical campus.

The major disadvantage of the hybrid model is the cost. It requires additional personals along with supplement teachers and subject matter experts to train students from senior secondary to the ones new in the education timeline followed by the use of infrastructure. Integrating ICTs into top notch institutions also increases the cost, although improving the quality of education but decreasing its outreach which is the primary objective. Experts in support of MOOCs suggest that such courses require technological means, allow automatic feedback and virtual interaction among students which helps them to understand the course followed by student interaction with the course administrator. Depending upon the financial stability of the student administrators can waive certain amount of fee for the education which will promote and encourage students to study more as well as the administrators can provide free education courses to the ones brighter. However it is still to understand how the MOOCs will survive the one on one interaction, without the requirement of additional tutoring support.

Experts in support of MOOCs suggest that such courses require technological means, allow automatic feedback and virtual interaction among students which helps them to understand the course followed by student interaction with the course administrator. Depending upon the financial stability of the student administrators can waive certain amount of fee for the education which will promote and encourage students to study more as well as the administrators can provide free education courses to the ones brighter. However it is still to understand how the MOOCs will survive the one on one interaction, without the requirement of additional tutoring support.

The two models are distinct to their methods. The use of online resources available to traditional teachings and supplement support will vary from context. The UNCSTD should also keep in mind the vast availability of courses followed by increasing educational opportunities for students hence ensuring them a long term educational support is a must.

Availability of Infrastructure

Limited internet connectivity and access to Internet-enabled devices is a major obstacle to the educational potential of ICTs in the developing world. As of 2011, internet access was available to only 13.5% of the population in Africa, 35.6% in the Middle East, 26.2% in Asia, and 39.5% in Latin America. Moreover, within countries access is typically most extensive in cities and coastal areas, whereas access to education is often sparsest in rural areas.

The potential of ICTs in education provides further evidence for the development importance of broader efforts to expand Internet connectivity, but in the meantime governments and NGOs are exploring how various technological adaptations can make online resources more accessible to remote and impoverished populations. Small changes like making online lectures available for download rather than streaming can expand access to those who do not have at-home internet connectivity, as can expanding access to internet cafes and computer centres. Hardware manufacturers and NGOs have worked to devise low cost laptops and tablets and solar-powered charging equipment for remote areas. Mobile phone ownership and connectivity is often far more widespread in parts of the developing world than access to broad band or computers (for instance, over 50% of Africans have mobile phones), and thus some have suggested that basic curricula be adapted to mobile technology, although the lack of interactivity and slow data speeds probably limit the effectiveness of such an approach in most cases. In the medium term, there is also some optimism about the potential of next-generation wireless Internet technologies that could cover large areas with a single transmitter.

Hardware manufacturers and NGOs have worked to devise low cost laptops and tablets and solar-powered charging equipment for remote areas. Mobile phone ownership and connectivity is often far more widespread in parts of the developing world than access to broad band or computers (for instance, over 50% of Africans have mobile phones), and thus some have suggested that basic curricula be adapted to mobile technology, although the lack of interactivity and slow data speeds probably limit the effectiveness of such an approach in most cases. In the medium term, there is also some optimism about the potential of next-generation wireless Internet technologies that could cover large areas with a single transmitter.

Educational Inequality

It is fair to say that the primary attraction of ICTs in education in the developing world lies in their perceived potential to reduce the enormous disparities in educational opportunity, both between more and less privileged citizens of developing nations and between such citizens and their counterparts in developed nations. Some observers, however, fear that, without broad-based investment and carful policy-making, ICT-based educational initiatives could actually further exacerbate educational inequality. These fears are motivated by two major concerns. The first is that, while ICT-based educational programs may offer substantial benefits to those who can access them, such access will largely be confined to already privileged students in particular developing nations. Students from urban areas with better Internet connectivity, students whose families or schools can afford investments Internet-enabled devices, students with the language skills necessary to take advantage of foreign courses- such group will accrue additional benefits, while their isolated and impoverished peers will fall further behind.

The first is that, while ICT-based educational programs may offer substantial benefits to those who can access them, such access will largely be confined to already privileged students in particular developing nations. Students from urban areas with better Internet connectivity, students whose families or schools can afford investments Internet-enabled devices, students with the language skills necessary to take advantage of foreign courses- such group will accrue additional benefits, while their isolated and impoverished peers will fall further behind.

The second concern is perhaps of greater relevance to middle- and higher-income nations than to their poorest counterparts, but nevertheless merits attention. Some critics contend that educational schemes that include a significant online component, while preferable to an alternative of n organized educational opportunities, are a poor substitute for the traditional classroom-based learning that will continue to be enjoyed by the elite. Such critics not the value of spontaneous, direct interaction between small groups of students and skilled instructors, as well as the ancillary benefits of the social interactions that traditional schooling, especially at the university level, facilitates. They fear that, due to the economic factors discussed above, online education will shrink the ranks of traditional institutions and thus confine the benefits of the traditional model to an even smaller, and consequently even more privileged, minority.

Increasing Educational Globalization

One of the advantages of ICTs in education is often thought to be their capacity to eliminate geographical barriers to educational access. However, the most recent major trend in ICT-enabled education- the rise of MOOCs- has exemplified this capacity in what for some is a distressingly familiar form. So far, the major producers of MOOCs have been consortia of elite American universities, and the conversation surrounding the potential of online education in developing nations often centres on the use of curricula and resources imported from the West. Some observers fear that this homogeneous sourcing could both discourage cultural diversity and limit the effectiveness of online education efforts. Curricula conceived for Western students may not be well adapted to the prior backgrounds, language skills, learning styles and pedagogical needs of students elsewhere in the world. Some ICT advocates respond by pointing out that the technology behind the new wave of online courses in the West, some of which is open source, can also be used by universities in the developing world to construct their own interactive online courses.

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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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