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The Role of ICT in Achieving Lifelong Learning for All

(by UNESCO Bangkok, ICT in Education)

© Flickr/Stephen Downes

On 21 May 2015, Ministers of education, heads of development agencies, and representatives from civil society and private sectors, together with the other key stakeholders from more than 100 Member States gathered at the World Education Forum (WEF) in Incheon, Republic of Korea and marked yet another historic movement towards a new vision for education in development. Succeeding the Education for All movement that has contributed a great deal to placing education at the centre of the development agenda since 2000, the Incheon Declaration  aims to achieve inclusive, equitable, quality education and life-long learning opportunities for all by 2030. This new education goal for development will be adjusted and adapted as one of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in UN Special Summit on Sustainable Development in September 2015 (New York) for the international community to follow and implement until 2030. In this Declaration, the integration of ICT in education has, for the first time, emerged as one of the key areas, recognized as an essential tool to enabling the fulfilment of the new education goals.

Without any doubt, this new broader and more extensive education agenda cannot be achieved without leveraging the full potential of ICT, especially in the quest of providing quality learning for everyone. However, we also have to acknowledge the enormous and persisting gap between the impressive potential of ICT and the actual less promising, often challenging reality, especially in the developing contexts.

For example, in contrast to the long-held hopes for ICT to provide extended and flexible access to education for difficult-to-reach areas, we are witnessing that populations who cannot afford to attend school seldom have access to the technologies. Data shows that the highest dropout rates persist in the least developed countries in South and West Asia (with 40% of children dropping out before the end of primary education (UNESCO, 2015), thus creating hope for leveraging ICT to provide the drop-outs better access to lifelong learning and quality education. Yet, if one looks at the fact that only less than 5% of households in these countries have Internet access at home (ITU, 2014), while virtually everyone in the Republic of Korea and Singapore has access to the wired world (98% and 86% penetration, respectively), we cannot help but be concerned about the worsening of the digital divide, and thus the knowledge divide between the less and the more privileged. This is a conflicting effect of what ICT innovation is desired to mediate and what the post-2015 education agenda pursues. For more information on the status of each of the Asia Pacific sub-regions, please see the overarching overview provided in this issue's Sub-Regional Corner.

Equipping these areas with the appropriate infrastructure and providing equal access to ICT for everyone are important factors, but are not exhaustive in and of themselves. In order for ICT to play a real role in achieving quality lifelong learning for all, knowledge and skills acquired through online and open learning should be as legitimately and equally recognized as those acquired in more traditional and formal settings. The equal credibility of online and flexible learning has yet to be widely accepted, despite the massive expansion of online and open learning. For example, with the latest boom and developments of MOOCs and learning through informal and non-formal education, such pathways and tools are still very much undervalued when it comes to formal recognition, credibility or employability. Well-organized online learning courses have the potential to add to the variety and quality of the learning process and provide another opportunity towards tertiary education and lifelong learning. As formal and non-formal learning are essentially two sides of the same educational coin, and as systematic measures for OER/ODL quality assurance are as important as the recognition of learning through these means, proper measures should be taken to ensure the quality of online courses and related assessment procedures in order for them to be able to compete equally with the formal learning institutions.

Another notable gap is the pedagogical dearth that has not caught up to the current advancement of ICT infrastructure. Most ICTs in schools are still utilized in ways that reinforce teacher-centred information transmitting to the learners, rather than support new and innovative approaches to teaching 21st century skills. This underlines the important argument of the urgent need for more quality teachers and teacher training to match the new pedagogical structures and strategies necessary to effectively utilize ICT infrastructure in learning environments. The reality is that teachers need more than just incremental ICT training --  a comprehensive support system (e.g. quality preservice training, continuous inservice training, incentives, leadership support, etc.) should be in place for teachers to be able to teach students deep fundamental skills for the 21st century lifelong learning (i.e. critical thinking, creative thinking, thinking interdisciplinarily, and communication/collaboration skills). The seven interwoven factors featured in Jerome Morrissey's article in this issue depicts the complexity of the eco system for the successful integration of ICT in a pedagogically innovative way. 

More rigorous monitoring and evaluation is also necessary in order to realize ICT as a key enabler of equitable lifelong learning for all. A lack of such a mechanism may result in a supply-driven premature roll-out of ICT-based projects, which eventually leads to a waste of resources and further expansion of the digital divides. To help governments and schools make informed decisions on effectively using ICT, the current model of measuring infrastructure and related access is not enough. It is important to identify indicators to accurately measure all three factors, namely inputs (e.g. hardware, content), process (e.g. how they are being used) and outputs (e.g. learning outcomes and behavioural changes). This is not an easy task, and calls for multi-level stakeholder collaboration, including national governments, international organisations, private sector and NGOs.

In light of this, much needs to be done to highlight the vital role of ICTs in driving the 2030 education agenda. To this end, UNESCO, together with the Government of China, has held the International Conference on ICT and Post 2015 Education in Qingdao, People's Republic of China, immediately after the WEF. The Conference was designed to collectively deliberate on potentials of ICT in underpinning the achievements of the 2030 education targets, including the issues identified above. Through the Qingdao Declaration, which was adopted by 518 delegates from 82 Member States upon the conclusion of the Conference, the high-level participants from multiple sectors made a commitment to explore the feasibility of three concrete activities to harness ICT for the 2030 education agenda:

1) seeking international funds to assist developing countries in using ICT to achieve their national goals in education;

2) building a global network of expertise on ICT in education to serve three user communities, namely policy makers, researchers and teachers; and

3) creating a clearing house on ICT-supported innovative practices in education. The full text of the Qingdao Declaration is available at:

To mark the historic milestone in the global education agenda, this month's Newsletter is a special edition focused on ICT in the Post-2015 Development Agenda, featuring an expert article from Mr. Jerome Morrissey, Chief Executive Officer at Global e-Schools and Community Initiative, as well as a special analysis of Asia-Pacific ICT and Education Indicators in the Sub-Regional Corner. Programmes and projects section centers around the Qingdao Declaration priority areas, such as open educational resources, quality learning, big data, and more. Additionally, the 'Cultivating a Community of Practice for Teacher Professional Development' article features the importance of ICT-based communities of practice, describes ways they can be formed, providing an example of The Creating, Collaborating, and Computing in Mathematics project. News and events section features some of the latest UNESCO Bangkok events, such as the upcoming CASIE 2015 to take place in Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic (July 7-9) on the theme of "Fostering an Enabling Environment for Teacher Innovation: From Policy to Practice". In Resources, readers can find information on open access journals or e-learning courseware, while new publications provide a few of the latest reads from international development organizations, such UNESCO and OECD. 


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