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Strategy sessions I.1 > Technology
 
World Education Forum
Dakar, Senegal 26-28 April 2000
 
 Technology for Basic Education: A Luxury or a Necessity?
Issues Paper
 
Strategy Session I.1
 
Original : English
 
  Strategy session organized on behalf of the EFA Forum by: Knowledge Enterprise, Inc. in collaboration with UNESCO and the Commonwealth of Learning
 
  Purpose: This session is a forum to discuss (a) how and under what conditions different information and communication technologies can enhance the quality and expansion of basic education, in affordable and sustainable ways, and (b) what role the international community can play in helping countries harness these technologies.
 

Programme of the Session

 
Technologies for Basic Education: Opportunities and Issues. Introductory Remarks
Wadi D. Haddad, President, Knowledge Enterprise, Inc. - Session Moderator
 

Wiring with Wireless; Experiences with Low Cost Interactive Radio
G. Dhanarajan, CEO, Commonwealth of Learning , -- will demonstrate use of suitcase radio

 
Television for Basic Education - What Has Worked and Why
Claudio Castro, Chief education adviser, Inter-American Development Bank
 

Technology For Teacher Training And Support: The South African Experience
Claire Brown, Director, ShoMa Education Foundation

 
" High Tech" And "Grass-Roots" Education
Jonnie Akakpo, Community Learning Center (CLC) Coordinator, Ghana
 
The Choices To Make: The Case Of Costa Rica
Eduardo Doryan, Former Minister of Education and currently Vice-President, World Bank
 
General Discussion
 
 
Highlights and Issues
 
1. Opportunities and constraints
 
The World Conference on Education for All, 1990, has had a strong impact on the progress of education development worldwide. Ten years later, despite the progress, we are far from the attainment of the EFA goal and much remains to be done. The backlog in meeting the EFA targets, coupled with the new demands for education, places a formidable burden on countries. A linear projection of past progress indicates that business as usual will not achieve desired targets within a reasonable time. This may place some countries at risk of not developing their human capital to a threshold necessary for poverty alleviation, and economic and social development.
 
This dramatic challenge poses serious questions for the planning of education and training and forces a rethinking of the way education is perceived managed and delivered. The haunting issue is how to provide high quality basic education to all children, youth and adults within prevalent constraints -- physical, human and financial. Can information and communication technologies make the difference?
 
Certainly, technology has the potential to overcome geographical distances, empower teachers and learners through information, and bring the world into the classroom by the touch of buttons or the glare of a screen. Expectations that technology would revolutionize education are not new. In 1922, Thomas Edison predicted an educational revolution through the use of motion pictures (films). "In a few years, (motion pictures) will supplant largely, if not entirely, the use of textbooks," Edison predicted. Similar claims have been made about other technologies, including the radio, television, and computers. On the other side of the issue are those who claim that technologies are too expensive to be effectively integrated in struggling educational systems, or that they cause problems rather than offer solutions. Reality may be sought somewhere in-between these two extremes.
 
2. What technologies?
 
To "tech" or not to "tech" is NOT the question. The more useful question is what technology to use for what purposes and under what conditions? The possibilities and permutations are many, including radio, television and the Internet. However, for the effective utilization of these media, many questions are still to be answered. Radio, television and the Internet are fast becoming one delivery medium, and have the potential to serve not only local users but also communities of users around the world. With the convergence of these delivery systems, smaller nations may be able to organize themselves to share the costs of quality educational programming. They can also import programming from information-rich nations. With the globalization of educational programming, will the cultural norms of a society be maintained or transformed? How will digital radio and television systems impact on education and society? Can a nation maintain regulatory limitations on delivery systems, yet develop competitive knowledge workers in society? How can radio and television, as effective but under- utilized delivery systems, be employed for education to serve the disadvantaged? Will we be able to say in ten years that technology's potential for educational delivery to millions of disadvantaged groups has finally been realized?
 
2.1. Wiring with wireless: experiences with low cost interactive radio. Community radio is an immensely powerful technology for the delivery of education with enormous potential reach globally. Opening up opportunities for the intended beneficiaries of development to participate in the utilization of this powerful delivery system, will enable disadvantaged groups to engage in evolving a development agenda, which can appropriately and adequately respond to their needs and aspirations.
 
Radio can cut across geographic and cultural boundaries. Given its availability, accessibility, cost-effectiveness and power, radio represents a practical and creative medium for facilitating mass education in a rural setting. However, radio still continues to be an under-utilized technology in education. This is especially surprising because from a learner's point of view, radio is user friendly, accessible and a well-established medium. From an educational provider's point of view it is easy to set up, produce and broadcast programmes. After almost one hundred years of broadcasting history, most nations of the world have an adequate level of engineering skills and broadcasting talent to apply the technology in education. In the last ten years, radio has been greatly enhanced by the emergence of new technologies that have opened up new opportunities for a variety of forms of delivery and access for both broadcaster and listener. For example, portable, low-cost, FM transmitting stations have been developed, and digital radio systems that transmit via satellite and/or cellular are being implemented in many parts of the globe. Internet streaming audio software technology has emerged recently to allow a global audience to listen to the news from a distant country. In addition, the development of wind-up and solar radios utilizes inexpensive power sources.
 
2.2. Television for basic education - what has worked and why. Television is another powerful communications medium that, in half a century, has expanded to many remote villages across the globe. Many countries, rich and poor, have attempted to incorporate television in their classroom with mixed success. In some countries, the programmes developed are not particularly innovative or inspiring. However, two countries have demonstrated that television can be a powerful tool to reach even the more distant or hard-to-reach students: Mexico and Brazil. The experiences of these countries are worth exploring.
 
Mexico and Brazil both use a technology that they have mastered. They have also maintained the quality level of commercial programming when moving to the educational arena. They dealt with cost issues by reaching out to large masses of students. Can these models be replicated in countries that do not have such an advanced commercial television sector? Or applied in smaller, less populated countries? How costly would it be? What is the viability of partnerships between commercial television networks and the public sector to bring education to hard-to-reach areas?
 
2.3. Technology for teacher training and development: the South African experience. Among the information and communications technologies, the computer and the Internet have the most potential to reach distant populations and provide a one-on-one relationship between teacher and student. However, the costs in implementing these technologies can be overwhelming for the fragile economies of developing countries. In South Africa, the challenge for all education service providers is to implement the principle of equal access to quality education to all South Africans. This challenge is compounded by inequalities in different provinces and within provinces. Is technology the answer? Multichoice, a company involved in the use of satellite technology for broadcast and Internet provision, offered the use of its technology. This resulted in the formation of the ShoMa Education Foundation.
 
Many countries are establishing partnerships between the public and private sectors to attain the required levels of investment, but such partnerships are not without trade-offs. How will the partners negotiate their priorities and differences? What is the role of corporations in this process and how will their roles shape the information transmitted? Will these new partnerships dilute the current sharp divide between formal and nonformal education?
 
2.4. "High tech" and "grass-root" education. Community-based organizations may be instrumental to reach the more distant and disadvantaged groups. Community Learning Centers is an attempt to use the expertise of grass-roots groups to enhance basic education, train teachers, develop local businesses, strength municipal administration and civil society organizations, and provide health care information for populations in small villages. These centers provide connectivity and computers, but emphasize the learning functions of the communication technologies that are made available.
 
Community Learning Centers may be a model for many developing countries to follow. The community is empowered with improved access to information and skills necessary to make the move into the modern, technology-driven world. At the same time, the grass-root aspect eases the fears traditionally linked to any change process. However, most of these centers are being developed with international funding. How will they be sustainable when the initial funding expires? Will they continue to be adjuncts to the formal educational system, or can they establish a complementary relationship that will empower both systems?
 
3. The choices to make
 
The reality is that no technology can fix bad educational philosophy and practice. The decisions about what to use, how and when, are educational decisions that must be made with the educational duet - the teacher and the student - as the central focus. Is the educational philosophy right? Are those involved well oriented and trained? Is the technology appropriate to meet the proposed goals? Has it been tested before with a similar population? Is it affordable to ensure sustainability? How is it being implemented? The integration of technology in education is not automatic. It requires strategic choices, careful planning, and often courageous decisions.
 
The case of Costa Rica is a good example of the trade-offs to be made, and the choices that must be confronted when a country decides to introduce technology into its education system. A twelve-year-old success story about the introduction of computers in primary schools in Costa Rica, starting in rural and urban poor sectors, and the trade-offs presented in the late 1980s to decision makers provides a good roadmap of what is at stake in bridging the digital divide. What were the key issues in defining the characteristics of, and the mix between hardware, software and human-ware, in designing an "educational informatics" programme? What were the types of epistemological approaches to deal with learning and education technology in schools? What were the different alternatives to the role of teachers and the role of students in the new learning context? What institutional arrangements were chosen and did they work?
 
After more that a decade, half of the country's primary school students and four in every five junior and high schools are participating in the programme. We can now answer the following questions: what are the key results, and what are the general lessons that can help in the conceptualization of new programs?
 
The Costa Rica case raises some critical questions: Is technology in education an expensive proposition? Should a programme of this nature start as a pilot or as a national programme? What are the lessons that countries at different levels of development can draw from each other's experiences? What should or could be the role for the international development community in bridging the digital divide?
 
4. Into the Future...
 
Education for All is critically important. Attaining it is a human need, a societal must and an economic necessity. With the proper harnessing of information and communication technologies, the goal of basic education for all, anywhere and anytime, IS within our reach. As we look into the future we should keep in mind that these technologies will be further developing in a phenomenal manner, and their costs will be dropping drastically. They are not the panacea for EFA, but can we attain EFA without them? They may not be affordable in the poor countries, but can those countries afford not to make full use of them?
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