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Digital Equity as an Imperative for the ICT Ecosystem

(by UNESCO Bangkok, ICT in Education)

© Flickr/Asian Development Bank

The key role of ICT in development has been widely accepted in the inception of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), where Target 8 states that “in cooperation with the private sector, make available the benefits of new technologies, especially information and communications” (United Nations, 2000; 2012).  Similarly, the use of ICT in education can “help individuals to compete in a global economy by creating a skilled work force and facilitating social mobility” (UNESCO UIS, 2014).  In 2005, the Plan of Action of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) included two targets which are related to education:  connecting all primary and secondary schools to ICT (Target 2), and adapting all primary and secondary curricula to meet the challenges of the information society (Target 7).

Significant progress has been made towards achieving the abovementioned targets, as reflected in the exponential growth of the number of people connected to the Internet.  From 400 million in the year 2000, the number of Internet users will balloon to an estimated 3.2 billion by the end of 2015 (ITU, 2015).  Advancements in telecommunications have made it possible to extend Internet coverage rapidly and even into the rural areas.  However, despite the rapid growth of the online population across the world from 2000 to 2015 as shown in Figure 1, only 41% of total population in developing countries are connected in 2015, while 83% in developed countries are connected, let alone the striking fact that the mere 9.5% are connected in LDCs.  

Figure 1Source: ITU, (2015)

The UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) also came up with an analysis of e-readiness of 30 Asian countries, examining e-readiness in terms of policy, curriculum, and basic infrastructure (electrical and telecommunication capacity; numbers of computers, computer laboratories, ICT support services and Internet).  The report reveals that the levels of ICT use in education remain uneven in the region; while some countries excel in ICT-assisted instruction and have the latest ICT infrastructure, the same cannot be said for majority of Asia-Pacific countries, where ICT in education is limited to the privileged few.  The ‘internal digital divide’ is also a cause for concern, where only urban centers “quickly adopt ICT while it remains out of reach for rural and remote regions” (UNESCO UIS, 2014).  It is also notable how there is a ‘divide’ when it comes to deploying ICTs to schools between developed and developing countries, as developed countries have moved away from computer laboratories and on to technology enhanced classrooms, while developing countries still stick to the laboratory model.

Digital equity has become all the more imperative in the Qingdao Declaration, the outcome document of the International Conference on ICT and post-2015 Education, where countries in Asia and the Pacific have articulated the need to use ICT in education, particularly in “strengthening dissemination, information access, quality and effective learning, and more efficient service provision.”  The same Declaration also includes the renewal of the commitment to “unleash the full potential of ICT for education and for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).” 

As much as setting up basic ICT infrastructure and equipment is essential for digital equity, it is only part of the entire ICT ecosystem that requires attention.  ICT can only truly contribute to education if a solid foundation on technology, content, and pedagogy has been laid, without which unprepared teachers and learners would be further marginalized.  Additionally, cooperation among countries in the region can contribute towards bridging the digital divide.  As the Incheon Declaration of the World Education Forum 2015 calls for “strong global and regional collaboration, cooperation, coordination”, countries in the region have an opportunity to work together for digital equity.  Leading countries in ICT in education can provide support to countries who are lagging behind, not just in the form of funding for infrastructure, but also in sharing experiences and lessons learned in developing as well as in implementing policies that maximize the power of ICT in enhancing teaching and learning without posing digital inequity within and between countries.

As this newsletter aims to highlight the importance of addressing the digital gap and the persisting inequalities, this issue will feature an article of the Thematic Working Group 3 for the EDUsummIT 2015, a scholarly meeting to be co-organized with UNESCO Bangkok in September 2015. The article focuses on the essential conditions for technology-based learning through various case studies, addressing gaps and promoting equity in education. Additionally, the Programmes and Projects section will share the recent training events that UNESCO Bangkok organized in Nepal and Philippines on competency-based ICT teacher training reforms. The eBilim Mobile Digital Library project article highlights innovative ways that rural and remote communities can be reached and provided with educational and digital resources in the mountainous regions of the Kyrgyz Republic. The News and Events offers a few of the upcoming conferences in Thailand and Singapore, such as EDUsummIT, or the OECD-Singapore Conference on Higher Education Futures, as well as a conference on e-Learning. The Resources section offers some innovative projects and approaches to addressing the issue of the “information-poor” youth and communities by focusing on the importance of libraries as well as hands on experience through technology and mentors. Additionally, a resource site of best practices is featured with the shared approaches on how to improve and disseminate good practices about digital literacy. Finally, in the new publications, UNESCO Bangkok reports share the country case studies from the Asia-Pacific region on the achievements and challenges in light of the EFA goals, as well as the ITU ICT Facts & Figures for 2015 on the remaining gaps, achievements and the digital divide.

 

References

United Nations (2000). United Nations Millennium Declaration. United Nations General Assembly, Resolution A/RES/55/2, 18 September 2000.

United Nations (2012). Millennium Development Goals. Retrieved from www.un.org/millenniumgoals/global.shtml

ITU (2015). ICT Facts & Figures: The World in 2015. Retrieved from www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Documents/facts/ICTFactsFigures2015.pdf 

UNESCO UIS (2014). Information and Communication Technology in Education in Asia: A comparative analysis of ICT integration and e - readiness in schools across Asia. Retrieved from www.uis.unesco.org/Communication/Documents/ICT-asia-en.pdf  

 

Contact info: Avelino Jr. Mejia, a.mejia@unesco.org; Auken Tungatarova, a.tungatarova@unesco.org 

 



28.08.2015