|ICT, education and socio-economic development
Vis Naidoo is the CEO of Mindset Network, a non-profit organisation that creates, sources and distributes educational content on a mass scale across Southern Africa using satellite technology. Mindset provides content for the schooling, vocational and health sectors. Prior to joining Mindset, Mr Naidoo worked at the Commonwealth of Learning, COL, in Canada. Mr Naidoo, an education specialist, has long been involved in the development of educational technology policy options. He has worked with Commonwealth countries and institutions in Ghana, India, Kenya, Namibia, Trinidad and Tobago, Botswana, Guyana and Zambia to support the development of their Distance Learning Programmes and ICT in educational policy. Many of his papers have been published in scholarly journals. In 2004, Mr Naidoo was selected as a finalist in the Policy category of the World Technology Network Awards. Mr Naidooís qualifications include a BSc Degree, a Masters in Education and a BA Degree.
The relationship between ICT, education and regional development has long been noted. It is not a simple relationship, and it raises a series of questions. Is ICT bridging, or widening, the gaps between the regionís ëhavesí and ëhave notsí? Is it creating new gaps? Although the answer is probably ëyesí in both cases, it seems obvious that in the long-run ICTs will raise the quality and reach of educational programmes, and will raise the standard of living of Africaís people.
It is my contention that if we can put in place the necessary environment to encourage the use of ICT for learning and teaching, we will also provide the platform for development and improvement in our society and economy. There is substantial evidence that technology can be an effective tool for learning and teaching. However, it is critical to understand the ways in which technology can be used to address the challenges of the education system in many African countries and the policy and delivery environment necessary for this to happen. Considering this approach, we need to look at the nature of the relationship between ICT and education. There are important questions about this relationship: ï Can ICTs make a difference to development and education? ï Why and how are ICTs being used in teaching and learning – are they integrated into the system or simply added extras? ï How are they being used? ï Given the high costs and shrinking resources in education, are ICTs a wise investment? ï What is the investment in teachers and other roles necessary to support ICT applications? and, ï Are ICTs bridging or widening gaps, or are they creating new ones? It is in responding to these questions that the relationship between education and ICT becomes evident. Many African countries are unable to cater for all their learners, especially at the non-formal and adult education levels. Educational institutions often have limited financial resources, reduced numbers of teachers, poorly skilled teachers and insufficient and poor-quality learning resources. This has driven the world to support the clarion call, ëeducation for allí – which is part of the Millennium Development Goals, a set of goals that have been accepted by most countries and is the driver of development internationally. We know that ICT is not the panacea to these challenges but it has been demonstrated that ICT can contribute to implementing effective solutions. ICT supports learning, teaching and administrative/management processes within the education system. The next question is, how can ICT be integrated into the system? This requires a systemic approach, governed by clear policy, implementation processes and plans. However, some would argue that technological developments have, indeed, so increased the divide in the world that a new gap is emerging: a gap between those with access to information, generally the richer and smaller segment of society, and those with no access to information, generally the poorer, larger portion of society. On the other hand, others see technology as the opportunity for the developing countries of the world to enter into the Information Age by leapfrogging over the problematic transition stages that moredeveloped countries have experienced. No matter which end of the spectrum you place yourself, perhaps the questions to ask are these: ï What can be done to improve the education system in African countries so that we can increase access, improve quality and build a more skilled and informed citizenry? and, ï What can be done to encourage the marginalized sections of our society to enter into the education system – whether they are girls and women, displaced people, people in informal settlements, refugees or rural people? ICT offers opportunities for distance education to poor people who live in rural areas. ICT can also support teachers who lack adequate skills and knowledge, thus contributing to improving the quality of learning. Many teachers who are hesitant to sit in classrooms or feel they are too old for the formal education system would find the private, interactive nature of ICTbased training helpful for their professional development. Television and video/DVD have emerged as dominant mass media around the world. TV is no longer a luxury in the developing countries – in fact, colour TV sets are the highest selling consumer electronic item in the world today (followed by personal computers). The 1990s witnessed an unprecedented expansion of terrestrial, cable and satellite channels, as a result of which most Asians and increasingly more Africans have access to several channels. Surveys confirm that in many countries, people rely on television as a major source of information and entertainment. It uniquely combines audio and visual technology, and is more effective than audio media alone. TV can serve for entertainment, information and education. Research carried out by Bates, Salomon, and Olson and Bruner suggests the television differs from other media in the way it can represent knowledge. It motivates and helps foster discovery, learning and cognitive development of its viewers. Because of its better accessibility, it can bring learning materials to the masses in more direct, effective and personal ways than other educational media. A cautionary note – if there is a single word associated with using educational technology, it is ëpromiseí. For years the use of radio, TV, videos, computers and more recently the Internet have each been seen as the technology to change the education system and in doing so, support social and economic development. There have been over-ambitious promises made. In arguing for the use of ICTs, there has to be a sense of realism. It is essential to understand that although technology supports learning and teaching – teachers, policy, training, content, access, technical and pedagogical support are all vital for its effective use. Effective teachers use a variety of tools. Technology has given teachers the ability to adjust the relationship between time and space for students and themselves in support of the potential for highly engaged learning. There are numerous examples of how technology can support education: 1. Fiji Community TeleVision, CTV, is a noncommercial, non-denominational, registered charitable organisation that broadcasts educational and informational television programmes to a multi-ethnic community of around 95,000 people in three languages: Fijian, Hindustani and English; 2. The Farmer Health Education Project in China focuses on 900 million farmers using television ads and programmes, as well as a printed reader, to help rural and semi-rural populations become more self-reliant in areas related to their own and their familiesí health; 3. Lastly, one of the primary challenges in Brazil is to reach healthcare workers with information about pain control and palliative care. Satellite television brings access to a free medical channel to 215,000 physicians, 5,800 municipal health offices, all medical science faculties and 400 accredited hospitals considered centres of excellence. The programming for the weekly one-hour programme has been planned for five years. The beginning of the 21st century witnessed rapid technological changes, particularly in information and communication technology. As Peter Drucker said: ìThis is going to be a century of the knowledge society where knowledge is more essential to the wealth of nations than either capital or labor.î In this age of rapid globalization and spread of information technology – television, computers and access to the Internet is fast becoming the most popular, most powerful and most influential media with which to teach. When skillfully combined, pictures, words and sounds have the power to evoke emotions, change attitudes and motivate actions. Communications technology has promoted the concept of a global village. The opportunity to see programmes from all over the world helps us understand one another and the world we live in. Africa is quickly moving into this world through the rapid expansion of TV coverage and access to computers and the Internet resulting in increased access to information, entertainment and education. Another phenomenon on the continent is the proliferation of mobile telephony. The growth of this technology has increased the ability to stay in touch, access information and other services as more sophisticated services become available. The role of such devices is also being tested to support formal education. It is exciting for African institutions and countries to take the lead in using such technologies to support education. Educational technology does not replace the teachers in the classroom. In fact, the teacher is the essential factor in assuring the effectiveness of educational technology as a teaching tool. No matter how informative or how interesting any technology-based content may be, without the teachers to follow up, discuss and motivate the students, the learning outcome will not be achieved. Teachers can use a variety of technologies as tools in their classrooms. Given childrenís multiple intelligences, such technology can help support their visual, verbal and linguistic intelligence. Technology can bring distant worlds and times into the classroom and a wealth of cultural experiences otherwise inaccessible through first-hand experience. Technology can introduce lessons and topics to help motivate lively classroom discussion; such approaches also promote African cultures which are often oral based. These are vital experiences and skills to have if Africa is to become a leading participant in the modern global economy increasingly based on knowledge resources. The use of technology in classrooms has a proven positive impact on education. Studies conducted in the US, Canada and Japan revealed positive results, including not only better skills and improved attitudes among the students but also more effective teaching among the teachers. In particular, the students studied performed better in tests, assignments, class discussions and problem solving. They also changed their attitudes toward science and mathematics, and were able to find applications for these. All these findings proved to be significant and have encouraged more teachers and schools to use technology in their classrooms. Education is vital to the economic and social development of Africa. If Africa uses ICTs to build a high-quality education system that helps youth develop the skills and knowledge to support their country, this will revolutionise the African continent. Many countries already include ICT in their development policies and plans, and ICT plays a central role in their educational policies. There are many examples of innovative projects that support the use of ICTs in the education system. These examples offer insights on how ICTs can and cannot be used. The projects that have failed offer vital lessons for us on the African continent to ensure that the investment made in technology brings maximum return.