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The findings > Applying new technologies in basic education > Part 2
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World education was in a worse state in 1990 than we realised. While the Jomtien report recognised that the 1980s had been a bad decade for education, the time-lag in getting figures meant that the scale of deprivation was not then clear. At that time we thought that 130 million children were out of school; by 1995 the reported figure for 6 to 11 year olds had risen to 145 million (Colclough 1993: 1, UNESCO 1998: 18). We can also now see that, in real terms, developing country expenditure fell, in constant 1998 US$$, from $192.7 billion in 1980 to $149.5 billion in 1985 and had only crept up to $194.0 billion by 1990 (UNESCO 1998: 110, with figures deflated using US CPI). The figures for sub-Saharan Africa, and for expenditure per student or per head of population are worse than this. There is a mood of optimism about the Jomtien documents that sits oddly with the figures, at least as we now see them.

In terms of technology, the mood was of hope unfulfilled. Ministries of education were using most of their budget and much of their energy seeking to keep schools staffed and open, using conventional approaches, with little time or money left over to explore the new. In consequence, the record of using distance education and communications technology to support basic education was patchy. The Jomtien background document said, 'It can be argued that the literacy and basic education potential of the new communication technologies (and educational innovations) has never been fully realized' (Inter-Agency Commission 1990: 63).

With hindsight, we can distinguish five kinds of initiative: alternative secondary institutions, programmes for raising school quality, adult education and extension, teacher education and the work of open universities in relation to basic education. Two more were coming over the horizon: the use of computers in schools and the creation of two new international agencies, the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) and the Centre International Francophone de Formation à Distance (CIFFAD). This is a wider set of categories than those used in the Jomtien roundtable paper which concentrated on interactive radio, radio for out-of-school learners, and inservice teacher training (Nielsen 1990: 5-7).

We look at each of these areas in turn.


Both governments and NGOs have been attracted by the idea of using technology to create an alternative to schooling usually to reach remote children, who could not get to school. The Latin American radio schools, stimulated by the Roman Catholic church, the Mexican Telesecundaria, set up by government to offer television-based secondary education, and the correspondence study centres for junior secondary education of the governments of Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe are all variants of the model. (In the 1990s they were joined by the open schools of India and Indonesia.)

Nielsen (1990: 6-7) reported on this work, mainly in Latin America, and distinguished between programmes leading to a primary-school qualification and those that provided 'basic education in the form of literacy and numeracy (often in combination with training in livelihood skills and consciousness raising activities).' He noticed that the programmes were under-documented but suggested that there were at least 15 programmes of the former type and more of the latter. The radio schools combined a concern for basic education with programmes of political and social mobilisation. With hindsight it looks as if the radio schools may in fact have played a more dominant role in the 1970s than the 1980s. The effect of the depression in Latin America in the 1980s seems to have been to leave campesino families with too few resources even to meet the modest demands in finance and time of the radio school system (cf. Kay 1989: 202; Schmelkes 1994). Their work also tended to bring them into conflict with both church and state authorities. The first radio school Acción Cultural Popular of Colombia, which had enrolments of over 150 000 in the 1970s, fell foul of both and closed in 1989 (Gallego 1993, Fraser and Restrepo-Estrada 1998:159).

The work of the radio schools was significant both socially and methodologically. Their existence demonstrated that, within some jurisdictions, it might be possible to create a parallel system of education, reaching both children and adults, and working where the state was unable or unwilling to do so. The decline of the radio schools, and the fact that they have few equivalents in other parts of the world, suggest that the model is fragile and difficult to transplant. The methods they used demonstrated the potential strength of radio, with its relatively modest costs and its power for change when linked with some kind of face-to-face study.

Africa by 1990 had experimented with out-of-school education mainly for the growing number of primary-school leavers who could not get into secondary schools. Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe ran study centres that widened access to junior secondary education, using some radio, but relying predominantly on correspondence lessons. They were not particularly efficient (offering what was seen as a worse method of teaching, run with minimal resources, for the children who had performed worse at the end of primary education) but, with modest costs per student, were able to offer some educational opportunities to children who might otherwise have had none. By 1990 study centres in Malawi were attracting more students than the regular secondary schools: enrolments were around 28 000 in Malawi, 11 000 in Zambia and 31 000 in Zimbabwe (cf. Perraton 2000: 41-5). Again the model looks fragile: all three systems were to come under strong pressure in the 1990s to move from being an alternative kind of school towards being a regular secondary school.


Up to 1990 the most ambitious attempt to use technology to raise the quality of basic education and widen access was the television project in Côte d'Ivoire. The programme was launched in 1971, with the intention of reaching 21 000 1st grade children in the first year and with the other 5 grades added every year. By 1975 it was reaching 235 000 children but, while long-term forecasts suggested that eventual costs per student would fall to a level lower than those of the conventional system, the actual costs falling on the government reached a level that it could not sustain. The programme also failed to attract the support of teachers, parents and politicians that might have acted as a counterbalance to its unhappy economics. In 1981 the government of Côte d'Ivoire closed it down. Its shadow fell upon subsequent proposals to use technologies, or distance education, within schools. The funding agencies that had financed the early stages of the project now showed the deepest scepticism. A review of World Bank experience in 1987 referred to the 'apparently disastrous Ivory Coast educational television experiment. Although evaluation studies showed some positive outcomes, the project has "sunk without trace" and educators say that never was so much wasted, including Bank funds, on such poor television broadcasts with so little effect. This project coloured attitudes towards distance education throughout the international aid and lending community' (Hawkridge 1987: 2).

The collapse of instructional television led to a new interest in radio. Nielsen (1990: 2) notes that almost all countries were already using radio to support primary schools but that there was no comprehensive review of the field and that documentation was sketchy. It still is. In contrast, investment by the United States Agency for International Development into Interactive Radio Instruction has led to well-documented research on this particular variant. By 1990 it had been tried out in six locations in Latin America, two in Africa and two in Asia. There was evidence of effectiveness in terms of learning gains and it was hoped that, by encouraging success among children, the projects would do something to raise completion rates at primary level. The costs were additional to the costs of regular schooling but were then estimated at $0.25-$1.00 per student (roughly equivalent to 1998 $0.35 to $1.30 if we assume the earlier figures were at 1989 prices) (ibid: 5-9). More recent information on costs is in chapter 5, below.


We can distinguish three main approaches to the use of information and communication technology to adult education. One is to press mass media into service in support of state literacy campaigns. Short-term advances in literacy have been claimed (e.g. in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Tanzania) but longer-term maintenance of adult literacy has proved more difficult. As a variant of this approach, Kenya used distance-teaching methods to train literacy teachers. In 1990, as in 1999, powerful national literacy campaigns were the exception rather than the rule. For the most part their costs, in terms of adults made literate, had been too high to be sustainable. Second, as we have seen above, mass-communications methods have been used to offer equivalence to schooling, both for adults and for disadvantaged children. Third, extension agencies and public-education programmes, especially in agriculture and health, have used mass media to reach their scattered audiences. By 1990 there was widespread international experience of farm broadcasting and of health education through mass media, often by public agencies and sometimes by NGOs. Practical experience and theory together demonstrated that the combination of broadcasting with group study could be an effective way of providing nonformal education for adults.

As with school broadcasting this work was under-documented. One important review of world experience concluded in 1988 that 'most efforts to use communication technology do not do what they are meant to' (Hornik 1988: ix). He went on, however, to demonstrate that there was sufficient experience of running mass-media public-education programmes for the world to know how to do so successfully. There was, however, then - and now - little political will to put the lessons into practice. The 1970s and 1980s had seen radio forums in India and Ghana, intensive radio campaigns in Botswana, Tanzania and Zambia, but by 1990 all were in retreat. The conclusion of the MacBride Commission, ten years earlier, can stand as an assessment of the position in 1990:

In recent years the importance of communications for development has been constantly stressed both at the political and technical levels, in many United Nations forums and above all in Unesco. … Nevertheless this recognition has not been reflected in assistance to communication projects. … Neither the legislators nor the managers of development assistance have followed in the path mapped out by the policy-makers. (MacBride et al. 1980: 221)


By 1990 distance education had been widely used for teacher education where its strengths, in reaching remote students and allowing them to work on the job, had attracted the support of ministries of education. In Nigeria, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, large projects had been set up to educate the increased number of teachers required as each country announced a target of universal primary education. There was gradually growing experience of attempts to link learning at a distance with guided supervision of classroom practice, the nub of successful distance education for teachers. Nielsen notes that the numerical imperative to recruit and provide some training to trainee teachers had taken precedence over studies of effectiveness, but identified 16, out of some 40 projects, where there was some evidence of effectiveness. He found the evidence on cost-effectiveness moderately encouraging, with costs per student generally between one-eighth and two-thirds of conventional alternatives but noted the shortage of studies on the classroom effectiveness of trainees. There was some evidence that student teachers trained at a distance gained prestige within their communities and were more likely to stay in their communities than those who went away to study (Nielsen 1990: 10-11).

Distance education for teacher training still faced problems of acceptance and integration. While it had been used, in most continents, as a way of providing either initial training or upgrading, it was seldom integrated into the regular structures for teacher education, curriculum development, and teacher support. Much more often it had been adopted as an apparent way of eliminating untrained teachers from the system, to be abandoned once that job was done. Botswana, Malawi and Swaziland, for example, had run projects of this kind only to find that untrained teachers remained obstinately in the system. Radical and imaginative programmes of teacher support - like the establishment of District Education and Training Centres (DIETs) in India - often explored other ways of raising teacher quality but did not embrace distance education which remained under a different jurisdiction.


Open universities were playing two roles in relation to basic education. First, their rapid growth had given distance education a new legitimacy. Second, through outreach and teacher education programmes they were directly affecting basic education.

Distance education, had been transformed between 1975 and 1990 by the establishment of large open universities, especially in Asia. China, India, Indonesia, Iran, the Republic of Korea, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Turkey had all set up national open universities by 1990; by this date most of these institutions had more than 100 000 students with 400 000 at the China Radio and TV University and 480 000 in the correspondence departments of Indian universities. They joined well-established open universities in the industrialised world and gave a new impetus to basic, as to higher, education. Allama Iqbal Open University in Pakistan, for example, was running experimental projects of adult, nonformal education (and was to be followed, in its concern for basic education, by open universities in Bangladesh and India in the next decade.) In Indonesia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka the open universities had taken on major responsibilities for the inservice training of teachers. China was using distance-teaching methods for the initial training of a large proportion of its teachers.

But the major significance of the open universities was existential: open and distance learning was no longer an educational distraction, dominated by shabby institutions of no prestige and within the private sector, but part of the mainstream of world education.


Computers were playing a minimal role in basic education in 1990. They were, however, at the time on their way into the classroom, with experimental projects completed or under way in countries as varied as Britain, Fiji, India and Kenya. They were being used within the curriculum, to support the teaching of existing subject matter and to introduce computer studies of various kinds as a new element in the curriculum. But, at this stage, they were not being used, as they came to be a decade later, as a means of communication or for access to data banks of information.


Both the Commonwealth of Learning and the Centre International Francophone de Formation à Distance were set up in the late 1980s to promote educational cooperation in and through distance education, within the Commonwealth and la francophonie respectively. They were represented at Jomtien but it was too soon for their work to have an impact on basic education

In his assessment Nielsen did, however, look at the potential for international cooperation, arguing that 'compelling cases can be made for cross-national transfers and cooperation' (Nielsen 1990: 17). Institutions were already sharing information, mainly through journals, and there was a handful of examples of the transfer of courses from one jurisdiction to another and of cooperation in the development of course material. The economic benefits of this kind of cooperation were demonstrated by the example of Interactive Radio Instruction where it was difficult to justify investment in course production unless material could be reused repeatedly and used across frontiers.


Many of the institutions needed to apply technology to basic education were already in place in 1990. Most countries had educational broadcasting services. A growing number had either state or NGO distance-education institutions that were working in basic education, either by offering courses direct to adults and children out of school or through teacher training. To illustrate the diversity of approaches, table 2.1 identifies some of the institutions that were already working in this area in 1990 in subsaharan Africa and Latin America. Development was geographically patchy, with more and more varied activity in these subcontinents than in much of Asia or the Arab region.

While there have been dramatic changes in technology over the last decade, which may bring significant changes to the practice of higher education, many of the technologies that can benefit basic education were already established by 1990. Radio and television were widely used for education. Computers had started to arrive in the classroom, although they were not yet being used for communication - the big change of the 1990s. Satellite links were in regular use and there had been important demonstrations of satellite broadcasting in, for example, the Indian SITE project. The use of technology to raise quality in the classroom or widen access beyond it was constrained more by cost and credibility than by institutional or technological development.

There were four obvious growth points for distance education and the new communication technologies in 1990. First was teacher education where projects

Table 2.1 Some distance-educationand technology projects in Africa and Latin America (Not available)

all round the world were helping to meet the demand for a better educated workforce. Projects were attracting large numbers and, by using methods that were an alternative to conventional teaching, were demonstrating savings in terms of cost per students.

Second, there had been a number of attempts to change, strengthen and even reform education through technology. This was the aim of the Côte d'Ivoire television project and of the curriculum projects using Interactive Radio Instruction. It lay behind the early experiments with computers in the classroom. The record was uncertain and marked by projects that came to an early end. In most cases, the costs of using technology here were additions to the cost of regular schooling and, for that reason, difficult to sustain within tight budgets.

Third, despite a mixed record of success and failure, the idea of offering an alternative to schooling through technology continued to influence educators in many parts of the world. Latin American experience suggested that a model that rested on a powerful NGO movement and used radio to reach rural audiences was potent and effective so long as it was politically sustainable. In South Asia, where enrolment ratios lagged behind most of the world, there was a continuing interest in a nonformal alternative to school which might meet demands in remote areas at costs lower than those of schools. The Mexican radioprimaria and Telesecundaria projects had demonstrated that, in a large country with a shortage of rural schools, broadcasting-based alternatives could be effective. In subsaharan Africa, at junior secondary but not at primary level, there was modest evidence of success for some students in correspondence study centres. While some of these programmes attracted adults - and in some cases were originally designed mainly for an adult audience - most of their students were in practice adolescents of secondary school age. In the next decade it was to become steadily clearer that these lessons were important for the expansion of junior-secondary education even if, at primary level, there was no substitute for school.

The fourth growth point was at the open universities, in particular where they were beginning to apply their methods to basic education and to teacher training as well as to degree programmes.


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