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The findings > Applying new technologies in basic education > Part 1
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For many centuries education meant people talking and listening: teachers talking to students, students listening to teachers, sometimes teachers listening to students. The invention of the world's first alphabet in Greece, followed after a millennium and a half by the development of printing in China, Korea, and later Germany, mean that fortunate students can now also use blackboards and books. Over the last 150 years new communication technologies have brought new opportunities. Railways and cars meant that teachers could travel, allowing the walls of the university to stretch to the borders of the state. Cheap rapid mail and lowered paper costs made correspondence education possible. Educational broadcasting followed. Computers have come into the classroom. A rich variety of experience has been matched by a baffling coining of new terminology: telematics, educational technology, new information and communication technologies, open learning, distance education, computer-based learning, and more. This paper sets out and assesses the record of using these technologies to support basic education.


We start from three principles. First, there is no substitute for school. Children need to learn within a social environment and there is ample evidence that those who do not get to school are at a disadvantage when compared with those who do. It follows that the major role of the various technologies is to strengthen school, not to provide an alternative to it. Care must be taken not to compromise existing school provision by the diversion of much-needed resources. But, second, many adults and some children cannot get to school; technologies may have a role to play in meeting their needs. Third, it makes sense to look at the technologies together - from print to radio to computers - both because of the blurring of the engineering distinctions between them and because of the need to make allocation decisions in which the decision-maker often asks whether to bother with any of these technologies - and if so which - or to stick with salaries, chalk and a few books. That said, there is a useful practical distinction between the production of books for schools (the subject of a different thematic study) and these other technologies. The book industry is well established, well understood, and occupies a well-illuminated niche in the educational system. The other technologies are newer and more complex and marked by sharp divisions of opinion between sceptics and enthusiasts.


The following definitions come from various sources and have got some acceptability from use.

Educational technology is the systematic planning of teaching and learning within a process that compares the appropriateness of alternative methodologies as means of achieving defined learning outcomes.

Distance education is an educational process in which a significant proportion of the teaching is conducted by someone removed in space and/or time from the learner.

Open learning is an organised educational activity, based on the use of teaching materials, in which constraints on study are minimised in terms either of access, or of time and place, pace, method of study, or any combination of these.

Computer-based learning is the use of computers in education either to provide programs that deliver instruction, or to facilitate communication between learner and tutor, or to enable students to have access to remote sources of information.

Telematics is the combined use of telecommunication and computer technology.

New information technologies, and information and communication technologies, are synonyms for telematics.

Open and distance learning is an umbrella term covering distance education, open learning, and the use of telematics in education.

In practice, the choice of terminology is shaped by geography. In North America the words 'distance education' are likely to be used mainly for video-conferencing or computer-conferencing while in Africa, Asia and Europe they are more likely to refer to the use of print or broadcasting. 'Open learning', with its implicit value judgements about opening access, is used more in industrialised than developing countries. 'Open and distance learning' has been adopted by the European Commission as a marker for projects that may attract funding; the term has, understandably, gained currency in Europe.

The Jomtien reported defined basic learning needs; we use the term 'basic education' to cover any educational service that aims to meet them.

Basic learning needs comprise both essential learning tools (such as literacy, oral expression, numeracy, and problem solving) and the basic learning content (such as knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes) required by human beings to be able to survive, to develop their full capacities, to live and work in dignity, to participate fully in development, to improve the quality of their lives, to make informed decisions, and to continue learning. The scope of basic learning needs and how they should be met varies with individual countries and cultures, and inevitably, changes with the passage of time.

We are taking basic education to include the primary cycle, together with the junior-secondary cycle at least where this is becoming part of universal education, and equivalence programmes out of school. A broad definition of basic education will also include nonformal activities for adult from literacy work to some of the activities of extension agencies.


Limits have to be drawn in a report of this scale and we have excluded from discussion the use of technology in the management of basic education (either at ministry of education or at school level) and private out-of-school teaching.

Data for the thematic analysis of developments from 1990-2000 are drawn from variety of sources. The main ones are:

information provided by some of the UNESCO Regional Technical Advisory Groups

literature and web-based searches of specialist databases, including the International Centre for Distance Learning (ICDL), the International Extension College specialist collection, ERIC, the International Development Information Network (IDIN)

UN agencies, including UNESCO, UNICEF, FAO, WHO, ILO, IIEP and the World Bank

bilateral donor agencies, including DFID, USAID, CIDA and SIDA

research and development think-tanks, and agencies, including AED, IIR, EDC, ADEA

contact with professional organisations in basic education, open and distance learning, communication technologies and broadcasting agencies

discussions and meetings with professionals in the field

other basic education research project reports and publications at the International Research Foundation for Open Learning (IRFOL)

intergovernment agencies, including the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Commonwealth of Learning

Throughout the report we consider questions of gender and of access to technology for different groups within society. While our main concern is with developing-country experience we have also taken some account of industrialised country experience both for breadth of coverage and because of the relevance of some northern experience to the solution of southern problems.


This report reviews the use of open and distance learning to support basic education ten years ago (section two), examines and assesses the current state of play (section three and four), considers costs and conditions of success (section five), and then proposes lines of development for the next decade (section six).

In order to set these discussions in context we can distinguish a number of different uses of open and distance learning to support basic education.

These can be classified into eight groups which are set out in table 1.1. Computers have been used to provide part of the curriculum, although on only a limited scale at primary level, for more than ten years. More recently they have been used as a means of communication, allowing access to databases and links between schools. School broadcasting is older and has been attracting little research interest. Interactive Radio Instruction is a variant, sponsored by USAID, which has proved effective but not always sustainable. Open-learning techniques, many of them mainly dependent on print and/or broadcasting, have been widely used at this level on a modest scale and, in a handful of countries, on a much larger scale, although there is more experience at secondary than at primary level. Distance education has been applied to teacher training, and there are the beginnings of the use of Internet technologies to support teacher training. Finally, extension agencies and non-government organisations are using the technologies for a wide range of non-formal programmes.

Table 1.1: Some uses of information and communication technology (Not available)


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