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ICT and Education - Key Issues


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Over the past decade large investments have been made in ICTs in education. Some of the key issues facing educators and policymakers today include the following:
(Source: Knowledge Maps: ICTs in Education, InfoDev)


Impact on learning and achievement
It is generally believed that ICTs can empower teachers and learners, making significant contributions to learning and achievement. However, current research on the impacts of ICTs on student achievement yields few conclusive statements, pro or con, about the use of ICTs in education. Studies have shown that even in the most advanced schools in industrialized countries, ICTs are generally not considered central to the teaching and learning process. Moreover, there appears to be a mismatch between methods used to measure effects and the type of learning promoted. Standardized testing, for example, tends to measure the results of traditional teaching practices, rather than new knowledge and skills related to the use of ICTs. It is clear that more research needs to be conducted to understand the complex links between ICTs, learning, and achievement.

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Monitoring and evaluation
Many of the issues and challenges associated with ICTs in education initiatives are known by policymakers, donor staff, and educators. However, data on the nature and complexity of these issues remains limited because of the lack of good monitoring and evaluation tools and processes. Where evaluation data is available much of the work is seen to suffer from important biases. Another problem in this area is the lack of a common set of indicators for ICTs in education. And, where data has been collected, it is often quantitative data related to infrastructure (number of computers, for example) rather than data that can help policymakers gauge the impact of ICT interventions on student learning.

If ICTs are to become effective and integral tools in education, and if accountability is to be demonstrated to donors and stakeholders, monitoring and evaluation must be a priority area of focus.

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Equity
It is clear that there are equity issues related to the uses of ICTs in education. There is a real danger that uses of ICTs can further marginalize groups already excluded or on the edge of educational practices and innovations. On the other hand, with supportive policies and careful planning and monitoring, ICTs hold out the promise of facilitating greater inclusion of such groups.

While there is much research on the impact of ICTs and marginalized groups in industrialized countries, there has been limited research into these issues in developing countries. There seems to be little question, however, that ICTs generally give preference to schools and learners in urban areas and in areas where existing infrastructure is the best. Research related to equity and ICTs to date has focused primarily on access to particular technologies. Much less attention has been given to how specific types and uses of ICTs are related to equity issues.

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Costs
Little is known about the true costs of ICTs in education. There have been few rigorous costs studies, particularly in developing countries. Given current budgetary and resource constraints, a widespread investment in ICTs in education is probably not possible in most developing countries. It is, therefore, critically important to better understand the costs and benefits associated with ICT types and uses in various educational situations in order to effectively target scarce resources. There is some evidence, for instance, that computers may be most cost-effective when placed in common areas such as libraries and teacher-training institutes. One of the most cost-effective uses of ICTs in education may be their role in improving organizational and systemic efficiencies, including combating corruption.

Distance education is often cited as a cost-saving investment. Indeed, economics of scale are achievable in distance education, although such programs typically require large up-front investments. Some of these costs may be shifted from the public sector to the individual users, but this in itself raises significant equity and access issues. Again, a thorough examination of the true costs and benefits of distance education is required.

Financing mechanisms for ICTs in education initiatives are quite varied. Due to the high up-front costs and large recurrent costs, countries and communities typically employ a great variety of financing and cost recovery mechanisms. Public-private partnerships and user fees are important components of financing ICTs in education in many countries, although more research is needed to determine the impact and effectiveness of these mechanisms.

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ICT projects and practices
Globalization and innovations in technology have led to an increased used of ICTs in all sectors - and education is no exception. Uses of ICTs in education are widespread and are continually growing worldwide.

In large scale, donor-supported projects that utilize ICTs to benefit education, the ICT components typically assist in

  • supplying computers and connectivity and building school computer labs
  • enabling instruction in computer programming and computer literacy,
  • developing and disseminating new curricula in electronic format
  • distance learning, and
  • enabling better administration in the education sector, particularly through the development of education management information systems.

Where ICTs are used for learning, evidence suggests that they are chiefly used to present and disseminate information, as tools for presentation rather than the often cited promotion of “21st century skills.” It is clear that much more information is needed on the ICT components of donor-supported projects, including how ICTs are actually being used to support educational objectives. In addition, this information needs to be better incorporated into the planning and delivery of new ICT projects.

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Tools
Technology changes rapidly – and so do the specific tools available for education. As new technologies are introduced, it is critical that their cost and impact in various educational situations is thoroughly examined. While evidence shows that it is the actual application of the ICT tool that is the most important determinant of its effectiveness for educational purposes, the choice of tools is quite large, and each tool has its own advantages and disadvantages. Policymakers and donor groups are often bombarded with information and studies from vendors on the suitability of their particular products or services. As a result, there is a great need for independent research on the appropriateness of specific ICT tools to help meet educational goals.

Radio and TV have been providing educational programming in some countries for many years. Many related new technologies, including satellite broadcasting and multi-channel learning, have the potential to greatly increase access to education. Today, the Internet is not widely available in most developing countries, but new Internet technologies and mobile Internet centers hold promise for “connecting” teachers, learners, and communities.

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Teachers and Teaching
The use of ICTs in the classroom or in distance education does not diminish the role of the teacher; neither does it automatically change teaching practices. Experience has shown that a variety of support and enabling mechanisms must be implemented to optimize teacher use of ICTs. While traditional teacher leadership skills and practices are still important, teachers must also have access to relevant, timely, and on-going professional development. They must have the time and resources to explore this new knowledge base and develop new skills.

Support of school administrators and, in some cases, the community, is critical if ICTs are to be used effectively. In addition, teachers must have adequate access to functioning computers (or other technologies) and sufficient technical support. Shifting pedagogies, redesigning curriculum and assessment tools, and providing more autonomy to local schools all contribute to the optimal use of ICTs in education.

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Content and Curriculum
Accessing information is the main use of ICTs in education. While ICTs, and the Internet in particular, provide access to a world of educational resources, those resources are rarely in a format that makes them easily accessible and relevant to most teachers and learners in developing countries. Simply importing educational content through ICTs is fraught with difficulties, as well as questions of relevance to local needs. Experience shows that unless electronic educational resources are directly related to the curriculum, and to the assessment methods used to evaluate educational outcomes (especially standardized testing), ICT interventions may not have positive educational impacts.

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Policy
ICTs can be important drivers for educational reform. They can help in anti-corruption efforts, aid in decentralization, and play a key role in data collection and analysis. Still, there are many policy questions around the use of ICTs in education, not the least of which revolves around which part of the government is responsible for such policies. Some of the key policy questions revolve around access, equity, finance, and best practices in scaling-up.

As a relatively new field, there is no standard repository for existing ICTs in education-related national policies. And, it is clear that successful policy formulation requires consultation with a diverse group of stakeholders, many of which may be outside of the traditional educational system. Furthermore, innovations in technology and new products are introduced in the global marketplace at a much faster pace than most educational systems are able to use them effectively. This issue of timing is an important one as educators and policymakers operate with an eye to longer term educational goals.

For more information about these issues see: Knowledge Maps: ICTs in Education, InfoDev

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