|Issue:||Africa and the Middle East 2007|
|Topic:||Re-engineering education through ICTs|
|Author:||Dr Abdul Waheed Khan|
|Title:||Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information|
|Organisation:||United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)|
Dr Abdul Waheed Khan is the Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); he leads UNESCOís Communication and Information Sector and coordinated UNESCOís contribution to the World Summit on the Information Society. Dr Khan has worked for several United Nations agencies, including the UNFPA, the UNDP, the FAO and UNESCAP, at the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank. Dr Khan has served as President and CEO (Vice-Chancellor) of the Indira Gandhi National Open University; was Chairman of the Distance Education Council of India and was a Director of the Commonwealth of Learning in Canada. Dr Khan is a member of several boards of directors, including the Wawasan Open University (Malaysia), the Digital Opportunities Trust (DOT) (Canada) and many others. Dr Khan has received many awards, such as the 2006 Dayawati Modi Award for Art, Culture and Education, an Honorary Doctorate of Hamdard University, New Delhi, India (2005), the India 2000 Millennium Award for Education and World Peace, the 2000 Super Brain of India Gold Award, the 1998 Distinguished Service Award of the Commonwealth of Learning, and the 1998 Rajiv Gandhi National Integration Award. Dr Khan is the author of a number of books and articles on development communication, distance education and multi-media technology applications. Dr Abdul Waheed Khan holds a PhD in Mass Communication, a Masterís degree in Agricultural Journalism from the University of Wisconsin, Madison (USA) and a Masterís degree in Agricultural Extension (1965) from Agra University (India).
Today, we have better tools than at any time in our history to offer a first-class education, even in the worldís remotest regions. It will not be easy but it is through eduction that the world can do the most to raise the standard of living of its inhabitants. Cooperation between governments and private enterprise is vitally important to implement ICT-based programmes that can deliver cost-effective, first-class education that meets local needs to students anywhere in the world.
Knowledge is critical for the survival of human beings and to ensure sustainable development. Since the dawn of human civilization, the creation and application of new knowledge, in every sphere of human activities, has contributed to the evolution of societies and the economic welfare of people. Knowledge of how to do things, how to communicate and how to work with other people has therefore been regarded, since ancient times, as the most precious ëwealthí that humans possess. Almost all the major religions and cultural groups have laid emphasis on teaching, learning and acquisition of knowledge for cultural enrichment and socioeconomic progress of societies. The growth of knowledge and dissemination of information has accelerated over time, greatly helping those who have it and hurting those who do not. Knowledge provides the backdrop for major societal trends and will play a central role in shaping economic growth, social development, cultural enrichment and political empowerment. Education and the Knowledge Society When UNESCO was founded in 1945, no one in the world of education could have foreseen how radically this field would change by the beginning of the 21st century. The process of globalization, the rise in student mobility, the increasing emphasis on lifelong learning, the proliferation of open universities, the growing role of private sector providers, the advent of the Internet, e-learning and virtual classrooms – all these developments have profoundly altered the nature of education over the past few decades, and the future undoubtedly holds further radical changes. Since its founding, UNESCO has upheld the fundamental human right to education and the principle that education should be accessible to all and throughout their life span. It was largely through the advocacy of UNESCO that the concept of lifelong learning came into widespread use from the 1970s onwards. UNESCO also remains committed to the free exchange of ideas and knowledge, to the development of a learning culture and to the promotion of knowledge as a global public good. In the perspective of these aims, the new world of education that is now unfolding offers both immense promise and great challenges. On the one hand, advances in information and communication technologies are enabling education to reach out on a hitherto unprecedented scale, both to geographical areas and to sections of the population previously unreached. On the other hand, this vision will remain unattained as long as there is a gap between those who have access to technology and those who do not. This knowledge divide that largely results from the technological divide will continue to widen unless urgent steps are taken to close it. The world leaders attending the World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva in 2003 and in Tunis, 2005, clearly recognized this dilemma but also expressed great confidence in the contribution that ICT can make to achieve universal education worldwide. Education is a conditio sine qua non for the creation of knowledge societies, which cannot exist without highly educated citizens and a well-trained workforce, social cohesion and the competitiveness that depends upon our ability to exploit the potentials of ICTs for learning. There is no doubt that education is the main driver of development. Various studies converge in concluding that the quality of human resources is directly related to individual earnings, productivity and economic growth. A more educated society translates into higher rates of innovation, higher overall productivity and faster introduction of technology. Better education enables individuals to make informed choices on matters important to their health, nutrition and welfare. In short, education is the foundation for access to the benefits of the information revolution that is opening up new vistas worldwide. ICTs, re-engineering education While we recognize the key role of education in development and the emerging knowledge societies, we also realize that traditional or conventional educational systems no longer suffice. Many existing educational systems worldwide were designed to suit the requirements of the passing industrial revolution. Worse, some still fit the agrarian society. The traditional approach in teaching relies on information delivered by a teacher, a radio or a video programme. With new technologies, education and learning can be entirely re-engineered to meet the distinct educational needs and requirements of a variety of individuals and communities, including the most marginalized, especially the rural poor, children and women and the physically disadvantaged. The following features of computer-based learning help resolve problems that teaching faces today. ï Interactivity – In classrooms, the student rarely interacts with the teacher except when asking questions, especially in classrooms with large numbers of students. Ideally, a classroom environment should stimulate debate and shared analysis, but this is not usual. Hence, the ability to test skills and the efficiency with which new information is absorbed and adapted is also lost. With computer-based approaches some interactivity can be regained; students can learn new skills and test them interactively, and review the course material whenever needed. ï Self-paced learning – One of the most common teaching problems is the difficulty to teach a classroom at a pace that satisfies all students. Students often complain that the teacher is either too slow or too fast and teachers know that weaker students often have difficulties keeping up with the rest of the class. Interactive and self-paced educational software products resolve this problem, since students can learn at their own pace by stopping or repeating the course material at their convenience and test their acquired skills. ï Autonomous teaching – Every student has a different learning pace and style, hence some students may not understand the material presented because it does not fit their individual learning needs. Autonomous learning allows those students to learn at their own pace and reinforces their independence by encouraging them to study and understand on their own. Moreover, adult learners do not have to depend on others to teach them. This improves the studentís self-confidence and self-esteem. ï Updating information – Students do not have to wait for the updated edition of a textbook; information on a computer can be updated easily and continuously. ï Distance learning – Distance learning, e-learning at a distance, is an added advantage of computer-based teaching, especially for handicapped people and people in remote areas. ICTs not only offer innovative and effective ways to deliver educational material, they also greatly reduce the cost of education. One can even create virtual worlds to simulate real world experiences. The expense of implementing ICT-based learning is often counterbalanced by its low operational costs. Projects such as virtual campuses and simulations may be very cost-effective, since the costs of the traditional infrastructure (buildings, furniture, laboratories, supplies, etc.) are eliminated. Still, these projects face many obstacles in countries that lack resources or the know-how and expertise to implement them. These high risks hinder the start of ICT-based educational enterprises. Reaching the un-reached We have the tools, but we have not yet learned how to exploit them fully. Certain factors are critical for the success of distance education in marginalized communities. These include: ï Clear vision – Distance education programmes call for a humanistic approach that focuses on people rather than on technology. ï Holistic and integrated approach – Distance education programmes should be aligned with national and regional policy objectives to optimize benefits. This way, they can take advantage of significant economies of scale to lower the costs of services and technologies (eg bulk purchases of bandwidth, resource pooling for similar initiatives, common repositories for computerised learning materials, a centralised shared capacity platform for education, public services, entertainment, business and other applications), while responding to the specific needs of local communities. ï Local ownership and community participation – Distance education programmes must involve local communities to get their commitment, build local entrepreneurship and enhance local know-how, such as on crafts. Volunteers and the NGO community should also be involved in distance education programmes to provide expertise in the delivery of practical activities and local knowledge and networks. ï Develop not only skills but also state of mind and attitude – Distance education programmes should seek to create dynamic interaction among all actors involved to develop imagination, motivation and the desire to be productive, and to build a culture of innovation based on the familiar and friendly use of technology. Inspiring youth is essential in building this cultural identity. ï Government support – Governments need to think and act innovatively (eg broadband models, solar energy, wireless, PDAs, mixed technologies), and identify as principal priorities the development of basic infrastructure required (energy supplies, telecommunications using bundling demand models, eg satellite platforms and the like) for multiple applications and services. ï Multi-stakeholder partnerships – Multi-stakeholder partnerships based on trust and a shared vision are essential to create impact and to build scale so that knowledge can be leveraged around the globe. Networks for distance education programmes should be built with the active participation of the private sector. ï Flexibility to enable innovative solutions – Flexibility and innovation to meet the needs of all types of users at all levels requires changes in stakeholdersí and developersí attitudes, approaches and states of mind. ï Technological environment – Innovative solutions need flexibility in the choice of technology and an open regulatory environment (eg open standards, facilitating access to licences and mixed technology approaches).The technology used should be easy to deploy and maintain, and be continuously upgraded to make use of more sophisticated technologies as they arise. ï Localization – Distance education programmes must be adapted to local communities and contextualized, taking into account local competencies, language, curricula and content. ï Sustainability – Distance education programmes should be integrated in to the life of the community to be sustainable. ï Monitoring and evaluation – Distance education programmes should make use of continuous monitoring, measurement and evaluation mechanisms to identify intermediary and final outcomes and continuously revise the material to improve its effectiveness.