ICT lies at the heart of modernising Asia’s education systems. However, technology alone will not be enough to bridge the digital divide, says Anita Dighe, Director, Directorate of Distance Learning, India. She went on to stress areas which governments need to focus on in order to deliver positive outcomes.
Research has shown that projects to promote life-long learning through technology within illiterate communities can strengthen inequalities rather than reduce them. The people who benefit from computers and internet access are generally younger people, instead of the intended people who are older, disabled or unemployed.
“ICT increases educational activity among those who are already learners rather than widening participation to include those who had previously not taken part in formal or informal learning,” said Dighe.
The key challenge is to introduce technology in a way which maximises outcomes for the community. Surveys by UNESCO show that technology can increase access to education, particularly in dispersed or remote schools. “The National Open School in India provides secondary level education to many people,” said Gwang-jo Kim, Director, UNESCO APAC Regional Bureau for Education.
With the view to illustrating the problem areas, Dighe took a closer look at the projects and highlighted what governments should work on.
While ICT provides access to knowledge and education, Dighe pointed out that the mere availability of technology does not ensure accessibility. Economic, organisational, and socio-cultural factors are barriers governments need to be aware of. Gender inequalities still persist in most developing countries, she added.
“There is a tendency to miss the social context in which ICT is embedded. You need to acknowledge that the technological and the social aspects of ICT-based projects are intertwined. Educational achievements are shaped not only by the way education is organised but also by the socio-economic background of the learners,” she said.
There are several areas governments and educators need to work on. First, they need to better understand and choose technologies which are best suited for each community. Radio, television, films and other traditional media are more likely to be effective in developing countries compared to computers and the internet.
In November, Mongolia launched an education television programme while schools were closed due to the H1N1 crisis. Students were encouraged to reflect on the lessons and respond by messaging their teachers using mobile phones. “Television is the best way to reach the community because every household has a television. Not all families have computers and fewer have internet access,” Enkhjargal Sukhbaatar, Executive Director, IT Education of Mongolia told FutureGov.
Second, there is a need for research on the reason behind the success or failure of ICT-based learning programmes. Evidence is sparse on why people engage or do not engage with technology.
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