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Opening speech

The keynote speech of the opening session was presented by Sheldon Shaeffer, Director of the UNESCO Asia and Pacific Bureau of Education. This speech draws on the excellent 2002 UNESCO publication Technologies for Education - Potentials, Parameters and Prospects.

Global Challenges and Pressures

Education for All (EFA)
We have entered the 21st century with a huge basic education deficiency gap. An estimated 113 million children are out of school and about 875 million illiterate youths and adults – mostly girls and women - are deprived of the basic skill to communicate and participate in the social and economic life of the community and the nation.

But we know today that the problem of literacy is not limited to poor and marginal groups. Even in OECD countries, it is a much larger problem than previously assumed: a recent study showed that from one-quarter to more than one-half of the adult population fails to reach the threshold level of performance considered as a suitable minimum skill level for copping with the demands of modern life and work.

The backlog in meeting the target of basic education for all, coupled with new demands for education, places a formidable burden on countries. In addition, many countries face severe budget constraints and have little or no room for maneuvering. A linear projection of progress makes clear that business as usual will not achieve desired targets within reasonable time.

Exponential growth of knowledge
Knowledge, both basic and applied, is being generated very quickly and is growing exponentially. More new information has been produced within the last three decades than in the last five millennia. In fact, all facets of society are becoming knowledge-dependent. This applies to all areas of everyday living, from agricultural practice to marketplace processes. Without the ability to find the essential knowledge and acquire the essential skills for a constantly changing world, people are finding themselves disadvantaged and excluded.

The evasive future
Everything is changing faster than the life cycle of an education programme: sectoral needs, job definitions, skill requirements and training standards. The world is undergoing significant shifts in its economy, characterized by changing patterns of trade and competition and technological innovations.

Producers must operate in a global marketplace; production has to reflect more international demand. ICTs have revolutionized the world economy, for good and bad.

More and more jobs emerge, which necessitates an array of higher-order cognitive and social skills, such as problem solving, flexibility, agility, resourcefulness, collaboration and teamwork, “how to learn,” and entrepreneurship.

This has five far-reaching implications for education:

Implications for Education Systems

Education for everyone
Modern economic, social, political, and technological requirements demand that all members of society have a minimum level of basic education. The biggest challenge is to reach individuals and groups that are historically underserved:

  • girls and women, who face cultural and physical obstacles to educational institutions;
  • rural populations that are too thinly dispersed to populate “regular” schools with reasonable class sizes;
  • adult workers who have no time to attend regular courses.

Here we need to be innovative and think radically. In a few minutes we will see that ICTs can help to go “over” the hurdles and provide education where these potential learners are—anywhere and everywhere.

Education anywhere
Lifelong learning and training for the workplace cannot be confined to the traditional classroom. It is unrealistic and unaffordable to continue to ask learners to come to a designated place every time they have to engage in learning. To cope with the diversity, complexity, and changing demands for education services, delivery must extend beyond the face-to-face institutional modality. It needs to include distance education, enrichment mass media, and non-formal settings.

Education anytime
The need for continuous access to information and knowledge makes learning lifelong and the traditionally neat distinction between learning and work unreal. Learning throughout life is one of the keys to the 21st century because of rapid social and technological change. The alternative is exclusion.

Holistic education structure
The workforce of the future will need a whole spectrum of knowledge and skills to deal with technology and the globalization of knowledge. It also will need to be agile and flexible and to adjust to continuous change, both economic and social. This means that countries must embrace a holistic approach to education, investing concurrently in the whole pyramid of ECCD, primary education, secondary education, TVE, and higher education.

Teacher empowerment
Because of all these demands, teaching is one of the most challenging and crucial professions in the world. We know that teachers are critical in facilitating learning and in making it more efficient and effective, and they will continue to be so in the future. Modern developments may have eased some teaching burdens, but they have certainly not made life easier for teachers:

  • The objectives of education have become more complicated.
  • Knowledge is expanding rapidly, which puts an unavoidable burden on teachers to continue updating their knowledge and exposing themselves to modern channels of information.
  • Teachers’ authority is challenged.
  • Information and communication technologies have brought new possibilities into the education sector, but, at the same time, they have placed more demands on teachers.

Obviously, teachers cannot be prepared for these unfolding challenges at one sitting. Oneshot training, no matter how effective and successful, will not suffice. A new paradigm must emerge that replaces training with lifelong professional preparedness and development of teachers, along the following continuum:

  • Initial preparation/training that provides teachers with a solid foundation of knowledge;
  • Structured opportunities for retraining, upgrading and acquisition of new knowledge and skills.
  • Continuous support for teachers as they tackle their day-to-day responsibilities.

A new paradigm? These five, far-reaching implications pose a daunting challenge for the education strategist and policy maker. On the one hand, there is great uncertainty about the labour market, an avalanche of new knowledge, and new demands on education in both traditional and uncharted territories. On the other is the need to provide the whole spectrum of education services to everyone, anywhere, anytime with a focus on learning acquisition and teacher empowerment—all under conditions of an ever-expanding base of learners and limited physical and human resources.

But can ICTs help the education strategist face the challenges above? Educators have been told many times before that technologies from filmstrips to radio to television would remake their world. Is it any different this time?

The demands and concerns facing the education enterprise were not created by ICTs and will not be resolved by ICTs either. It is going to be very difficult—if not impossible—for countries to meet the objective of effective learning, for all, anywhere, anytime.

The demands and concerns facing the education enterprise were not created by ICTs and will not be resolved by ICTs. It is going to be very difficult- if not impossible – for countries to meet the objective of effective learning, for all, anywhere, anytime. Our inability to meet this challenge, however, is self-inflicted because we tend to think of linear scaling, that is, using the same model of education (- for example, a school constrained by space and time) but more of it and on a larger scale.

What we really need is to think differently and radically.
The education model developed for the Industrial Age cannot achieve educational empowerment effectively in the Information Age. With ICT tools, we should be able to evolve the components of the conventional model into the corresponding components of the new model.

Evolution of the new paradigm
From To
A school building A knowledge infrastructure (schools, labs, radio, television, Internet, museums…)
Classrooms Individual learners
A teacher (as provider of knowledge) A teacher (as a tutor and facilitator)
A set of textbooks and some audiovisual aids Multimedia materials (print, audio, video, digital...)

 

 

Education will not be a location anymore, but an activity: a teaching-learning activity. This is the ultimate raison d'être of ICTs for education.
In this new paradigm, ICTs are not a substitute for schooling. They supplement and enrich traditional institutions, delivery systems, and instructional materials. In this sense, ICTs contribute to the whole system of knowledge dissemination and learning.

Technology or technologies?
The potential of different technologies depends on what we use them for. There are at least five hierarchical levels at which technologies may be used: presentation, demonstration, drill and practice – including basic computer skills, interaction, and collaboration.
If technology is to be used for representation and demonstration only, investment in computers and connectivity may not be justifiable. On the other hand, the potential for interactive and collaborative learning can best be achieved by networked computers and connectivity to the World Wide Web.
Therefore, technology should not be equated with computers and Internet. There is still an important place for other technologies, such as interactive radio, broadcast TV, and correspondence courses, which can be more cost effective.

How Can ICTs Help?

Different ICTs have the potential to contribute to different facets of educational development and effective learning: these include expanding access, promoting efficiency, improving the quality of learning, enhancing the quality of teaching, and improving management systems. ICTs also offer possibilities in lifelong learning, adult training, and e-training for the workplace.

Planning for the effective use of ICTs in education necessitates an understanding of the potential of technologies to meet different educational objectives and, consequently, to decide which of these objectives will be pursued. This decision affects the choice of technologies and the modalities used. We can see five potential benefits of ICTs:

  • Expanding educational opportunities
    Distance and open learning offers benefits for all education levels. The Mongolian Gobi`s Women project showed how it can be used in non-formal learning environments and to train for life skills. But distance learning can also provide opportunities for those who can not attend courses on campuses because of cost and time constraints. Distance learning increasingly provides rapid and personal interaction; it can provide more reliable learning materials than inferior institutions can; it is generally far lower in terms of cost to the student; and it often offers more for lower capital and recurrent costs. Well conceived, it can increase access, improve quality, and reduce the cost of learning.
  • Promoting efficiency
    ICTs can promote efficiency of delivery of educational services by supplementing conventional delivery mechanisms for example:

-Technology’s capacity to reach learners in any place and at any time has the potential to promote revolutionary changes in the educational paradigm. Learning time does not need to equal classroom time. To avoid overcrowded classrooms, a school may adopt a dual-shift system without cutting actual study time for its students. The students attend school for half a day and spend the other half involved in independent, technology-enhanced education activities at home, in a library, at work, or in another unconventional setting.

-For places with low population density, multigrade schools become viable alternatives with the injection of high quality programs prepared by the best teachers, miles away, and transmitted or transferred electronically to these schools.

-Multimedia modules, the product of a few instructional designers and master teachers, may be shared with many schools. Since expertise in instructional design and multimedia materials development is scarce, technological networking allows for economies of expertise and economies of scale.

  • Improving quality
    In many schools, teachers are not well qualified to translate the curriculum into teaching/learning activities or to be the chief mediators between knowledge and learners. ICTs and properly developed multimedia materials can enhance initial preparation by providing good training materials, facilitating simulations, etc.
    ICTs open a whole world of lifelong upgrading and professional development by providing courses at a distance, asynchronous learning, and training on demand.
    Equally important, research and experience have shown that ICTs, used well in classrooms, enhance the learning process, in many ways. For example, they have the potential to:

-allow materials to be presented in multiple media for multichannel learning;
-motivate and engage students in the learning process;
bring abstract concepts to life;
-enhance critical thinking and other higher levels of cognitive skills and processes;
-provide opportunities for students to practice basic skills on their own time and at their own pace;
-allow students to use the information acquired to solve problems, formulate new problems, and explain the world around them;
-provide for access to worldwide information resources;
-offer (via the Internet) teachers and students a platform through which they can communicate with colleagues from distant places, exchange work, develop research, and function as if there were no geographical boundaries.

  • Enhancing training for the workplace
    Network technologies have the potential to deliver timely and appropriate knowledge and skills to the right people, at a suitable time, in a convenient place. This is what e-training is about. If it is well conceived, it allows for personalized, just-in-time, up-to-date, and user-centered educational activities.
  • Improving management
    By any business measure, the education enterprise is enormous to manage and maintain. But one can say that any business that is even a fraction of the size and complexity of a country’s educational enterprise and uses the management techniques of most educational systems will go out of business in no time.

Many educational institutions and systems have introduced simple educational management and statistical information systems (EMIS); but this should be only the beginning.
At the system wide level, technologies provide critical support in domains such as school mapping; automated personnel and payroll systems; management information systems; communications; and information gathering, analysis, and use. Most countries could use ICTs to streamline operations, monitor performance, and improve use of physical and human resources.

 

ICTs for Education - Key Parameters

But if ICTs possess all the potential, cited above, to improve the teaching/learning process significantly and revolutionize the education enterprise, in the same manner that they have revolutionized business and entertainment, why have we not experienced such drastic effects?

No ICT potential is realized automatically. Placing a radio and TV in every school, putting a computer in every classroom, and wiring every building to the Internet will not inevitably solve the problem.

The problem is not strictly technological; it is educational and contextual- even psychological.
Constraints must be alleviated and conditions met. Experience points to seven parameters necessary for the potential of ICTs to be realized in effective learning and teaching, and efficient education services.

Parameter 1: Educational Policy
Technology is only a tool: no technology can fix a bad educational philosophy or compensate for bad practice. In fact, if we are going in the wrong direction, technology will get us there faster.
Therefore, educational choices have to be made first in terms of objectives, methodologies, and roles of teachers and students before decisions can be made about the appropriate technologies. You will hear much more about this issue over the next 3 days.

Parameter 2: Approach
Classrooms are constrained environments, and conventional instructional materials are static. If technology enhanced education programmes mean only digital texts and PowerPoint presentations, then we are missing out on the tremendous potential of technologies. Movies and TV programmes are also not replicas of theatre—packaged theatres; they tell the same story in a more dramatic and multifaceted manner. So should ICT enhanced education.

Perhaps the most profound shift is from systems of teaching and supervision of learning to systems of learning and facilitation of learning.

There is also a basic difference between using technology as an add-on to make the current model of education more efficient, more equitable, and cheaper, and integrating technology into the entire education system to realize structural rethinking and reengineering.

Parameter 3: Infrastructure
There is a temptation these days to equate technology with computers and the Internet. As pointed out earlier, there is still an important place for other technologies, depending on how they will be used. It is important, therefore, to identify the most appropriate, cost-effective, and sustainable technology and level of application for the different educational objectives. The seminar will also address more practical questions of:

  • Where and how should computers be distributed, connected, and used in schools? Or:
  • Are wireless connected computers on wheels viable alternatives to classical computer labs?

Parameter 4: Contentware
Contentware is one of the most forgotten areas, but evidently the most crucial component. Introducing TVs, radios, computers, and connectivity into schools without sufficient curriculum related contentware is like building roads without enough cars to use them. Development of content software that is integral to the teaching/learning process is a must.

Should countries or institutions acquire or create contentware?

This is one of the most difficult questions to answer. Ideally the aim should be to:

  • acquire, as is, when suitable and cost-effective;
  • acquire and adapt when not exactly suitable but cost-effective;
  • create when no suitable or cost-effective materials are available.


Parameter 5: Committed and Trained Personnel
People involved in integrating technologies into the teaching learning process have to be convinced of the value of the technologies, comfortable with them, and skilled in using
them. Therefore, orientation and training for all concerned staff in the strategic, technical, and pedagogical dimensions of the process is a necessary condition for success.
Many reports examine the history of attempts to use technology to promote reform of schools.
In short, most of these attempts failed to adequately address the real needs of teachers in classrooms. Instead, the efforts too often attempted to impose a technologist’s or policymaker’s vision of the appropriate use of the technology in schools. Teachers were provided inadequate assistance in using the technology, and the technology itself was often unreliable. As a consequence, the technology was not used by teachers or became very marginal to the schools’ instructional activities.

Parameter 6: Financial Resources
Acquiring the technologies themselves, no matter how expensive, may be the easiest and cheapest element in a series of elements that ultimately could make these technologies sustainable or beneficial. For computers it is estimated that the annual costs of maintenance and support for a healthy education computer system can range between 30% and 50% of the initial investment in computer hardware and software.
The most overlooked elements are:

  • installation and configuration, connectivity and maintenance costs.
  • support, including supplies, utilities, and computer training, and
  • replacement costs (in five to seven years).

Parameter 7: Integration
The success of ICTs in education depends on how they are introduced into the system. Here are some strategic options:

  • ICTs may be used as an additional layer of educational input, which leaves the current system intact but adds hardware and software for enrichment. The problem here is that both students and teachers may not take the additional materials seriously or relate to them in the current programme.
  • ICTs may be treated as an integral part of the existing instructional system. ICTs enhance subject teaching through specific softwares. The role of the teacher is the one of a facilitator: the student will learn to use ICTs as tools for information retrieval, communication and creation.
  • ICTs may be introduced through a parallel system such as distance education or e-learning. This option may be used in situations where schools are not available or cannot be provided, or where individuals cannot enroll in regular schools because of lack of availability or for personal reasons, as in the case of working youth and adults.


Final Remark

To “tech” or not to “tech” education is not the question. The real question is how to harvest the power of technology to meet the challenges of the 21st century and make education relevant, responsive, and effective for anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Technologies have great potential for knowledge dissemination, effective learning, and efficient education services. Yet, if the educational policies and strategies are not right, and if the prerequisite conditions for using these technologies are not met concurrently, this potential will not be realized.

The strong belief in the potential of technology, market push, and enthusiasm for introducing technology into schools creates the temptation to implement new technologies immediately and full scale.

But integrating technologies into education is a very sophisticated, multifaceted process, and, just like any other innovation, it should not be introduced without piloting its different components on a smaller scale. Even the technologies we are sure about need to be piloted in new contexts.

Important parameters are the appropriateness of technologies, the suitability of instructional materials, classroom implementability, learning effectiveness, and the cost benefit ratio. But most important, the appropriate and effective use of technologies involves competent, committed people and the continued development of their capacity. Such capacity-building cannot be inserted into a project as an afterthought, but must be built into conception and design from the beginning.

The most successful technologies are those that become unnoticed. We do not think anymore of the process of printing every time we read a book, the phenomenon of photography every time we watch a movie, or the miracle of the telephone every time we make a call.

The ultimate success of ICTs for learning will be attained when we stop marveling about ICTs and instead apply our minds and emotions to the wonders of learning.