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The findings >Applying new technologies in basic education >Part 6
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To identify growth points for the future we need to start not with the uncertainties of technological forecasting but with the realities of educational needs. If technologies are to help towards quality education for all, then we need to consider their relevance to the problems of quantity and access, to issues of quality, and to the relevance of the curriculum to society's present and future needs. Pedagogy precedes technology.

One common strand running through any analysis of the new technologies is the gap between the information-rich and the information-poor. The gap exists within countries, especially between town and country, and between countries and regions. A priority for development in the new century is therefore to find strategies to bridge this gap. It will be ironical, if not tragic, if the benefits of reducing the costs of communication flow only to the rich and not the poor. Already there is a danger that the rich can communicate by email and seek information from the Internet at negligible cost while the poor, with poorer access, still have to meet the greater costs of conventional post, fax, and book supply. Resolving the problem will not be easy but neglecting to address it may be catastrophic. The experience reviewed in this paper suggests two ways ahead which might form part of a strategy: to explore the possibilities of using shared computer facilities and to consider critically the level in the educational system at which investment in the new technologies should be made. At the same time, narrowing the information gap is not the same issue as providing good basic education for all. We argue below that we may most effectively try to bridge the gap at other levels of education than the most basic.

As in previous sections of the report we can examine the role of technology in relation to the characteristics of learners - from children to adults and intermediaries - and to the wealth of their society. We move now from the youngest and poorest to the oldest and richest.

The technologies examined in this paper are of limited relevance to children in the poorest schools where a trained teacher, a few books and a blackboard rightly take precedence over more advanced technologies. And, while there has long been an expectation that it might be possible to offer a technology-based, nonformal, alternative to primary schooling, there is little record of success to guide us here. But there are two important exceptions to this hesitation about technology. First, many of the poorest and most remote schools also have the least qualified and experienced teachers. Teacher-education programmes, using whatever combinations of technology are available, are an effective way of raising school quality. Expenditure on technology for teachers, with its multiplier effect, is likely to be easier to justify than expenditure on technology in schools. Second, the power of radio to raise the quality of teaching has been amply demonstrated as have its relatively modest unit costs. The new century could raise educational quality by an imaginative rediscovery of radio.

With the approach of universal primary education many countries will continue to face problems of access and quality, and problems arising from the shortage of suitably trained teachers, at junior-secondary level. (The thematic study on 'Education and population dynamics' notes the accelerated demand for secondary education where enrolment in the 1990s was growing faster than the relevant age cohort.) Broadcasting projects and the important work of open schools in reaching out-of-school audiences of primary-school leavers have demonstrated that technologies can assist in the expansion of junior-secondary schooling. There is scope for programmes that hold down costs by using the same materials, and in part the same organisational structure, for audiences outside as well as within school.

It is more difficult to forecast, or to suggest guidance for, the development of computer-related activities within school. Forecasting is made particularly difficult because of the pace of technological change: 'computer education' may today be about access to information on the Internet while a few years ago it was about writing programs in basic.

As suggested in section 3 the introduction of computers into the classroom can offer new opportunities for communication and for access to information. At the same time it may make heavy curricular demands, asking that aspects of information technology should be included in the regular curriculum and should, in consequence, displace something else. These are accompanied by demands for relevant teacher education and for significant continuing investment in hardware and software.

In industrialised countries the policy issues that arise are likely then to be tactical rather than strategic - about the student: computer ratio, about the balance between using computers as a means of communication or as a way of developing skills needed by students as part of a general education, and about control of access to any information on the Internet.

Within middle-income and developing countries there is a tier of strategic questions, about the minimum level of investment that is necessary for defined curricular purposes and about the most effective way of deploying computers if, say, there are to be only one or two in any school. Among the approaches that have been suggested are the introduction of computers on a phased and regional basis and their restriction to the upper levels of the education system. If schools have only a single computer, with limited Internet access or dependence on CD-ROMs, it is probably most appropriate to put the computer into the library where there is one and perhaps to concentrate on its use to overcome teacher isolation, and for teacher inservice education. A further possibility is to encourage the use of computers within teachers' colleges and to explore whether it is possible to get shared use of, say, computer facilities provided to a telecentre or teachers' college.

Technology provides two kinds of opportunity for the education of adults.

First, as we have seen, there is a strong educational and economic case for the development of technology-based programmes to raise the effectiveness of intermediaries, including teachers, extension agents and health workers. (An oddity here is the limited use made of technology to update and inform agricultural extension agents, the largest cadre of adult educators - on a broad definition of the term - in many countries.) Wherever attention is moving from preservice to inservice teacher education, we see a major role for the use of communication media. Examples to guide us include the use of the Internet within teacher training colleges, the many programmes of distance education for teachers, and the experiments, in India and elsewhere, in using teleconferencing for teacher education.

Second, there is scope for an expansion of nonformal education, despite all the setbacks, and to apply the lessons learned, and illustrated in this paper. The careful and planned use of mass media for large-scale programmes of public education (perhaps most important for education about AIDS) justifies investment both because of potential direct benefit to the learners and because of the negative impact on the formal educational system of their absence. New technologies, and new organisational structures (e.g. telecentres) may have a role to play here. Indeed, as information on the Internet becomes more universally available, technology-based informal education may become ever more important.


We touched in the last section on the danger of a widening gap between the information-rich and information-poor. In contrast it is sometimes argued that developing countries have the opportunity to leapfrog the industrialised, using technologies so that they develop a stronger system of education without going through the same, slow, stages of development that have been followed in the industrialised world.

The argument is not new. It was suggested at the time that the large-scale instructional television projects of the 1970s would allow developing countries to leapfrog industrialised ones and so accelerate their educational development. Television did not bring this result: a generation later we cannot point to any educational system that was transformed as a result of investment in television rather than in teachers and blackboards and in the slow process of raising teacher and school quality. More recently there have been some examples of leapfrogging in communications technology. India and Thailand, for example, have used satellite broadcasting where industrialised-country broadcasting has till recently been dominated by terrestrial systems. Cellular telephones have spread rapidly in Ghana so that a cellular network is in place while the terrestrial one is still limited in its coverage.

Can we expect educational leapfrogging, in which a technology-dominated system of education can be established more rapidly and more economically than conventional approaches to strengthen education? Four conditions seem to be necessary for this to happen.

The first is that telecommunications should be capable of delivering the greater part of the curriculum; if they are only used for, say, a tenth of the time or the content then they do not allow for the significant reductions in expenditure on conventional education that would be necessary to make savings in unit costs. This condition may be met in higher education, where technology-based teaching has in a limited number of cases proved to be a viable and effective alternative. (The National Technological University, operating at postgraduate level in and beyond the United States, is the dominant example.) It may be met in large-scale, broadcast-based projects at junior secondary level, like Telesecundaria in Mexico, but it seems unlikely that it can be met at primary level. For both social and educational reasons, parents, teachers and politicians all expect that young children need to study, in a classroom and with a teacher, and do not believe that the technologies can provide an adequate substitute for this.

The second condition is that an adequate communications infrastructure is in place. Effective radio, for example, demands that schools should be able to afford radios, have access to mains electricity or to batteries and funds to pay for them, and to a service industry that will repair and replace radios when they break. A web-based computer education service demands reliable electricity and telephone lines and, again, a support service to maintain equipment.

The third condition is that there is the capacity to train teachers - or mentors or classroom assistants if they are to substitute for teachers. Several different elements make up this capacity: a teaching force whose background education is adequate for them to learn and apply new teaching skills; enough time for them to study on top of their day job of teaching; a national or local structure to provide inservice teaching even for the most remote teacher.

The fourth condition is economic. If technology-based teaching is to yield any economies, then the cost per learning hour achieved through the use of technology must fall below that of conventional education. Data from France and USA suggest that computer-based teaching there has costs of between US$1 and 2 per student hour, which would compare favourably with the cost per hour of conventional teaching which is in the range $4 to $12 (Orivel forthcoming). But a large proportion of the costs for computer-based teaching are a function of the costs of the technology. These costs are likely to be as high in developing as in industrialised countries, or even higher. In contrast conventional costs per student reflect local wage rates for teachers and may be as low as $0.10 per hour within ldcs, a fraction of the cost to be expected for technology-based teaching. Orivel has suggested that it is only when countries are achieving a GNP per capita of $7300 that they may reach a breakeven point in which computer-based costs match those of conventional education. Even here, if technology is to produce savings, it must substitute for teachers. For most ldcs technology can only increase the cost of basic schooling, not reduce it.

If we focus on the needs of primary education in most developing countries, it is clear that none of the conditions for educational leapfrogging are likely to be met. Crucially, there are strict economic constraints on the deployment of technologies unless these are to replace teachers, to minimise costly interaction with a tutor, and to reach such large audiences that they achieve economies of scale. This is not to argue against the use of any of the new technologies in education. Rather it is to suggest that their use should be focused on tasks for which they have genuine strengths, and in which the conditions for success can be met. Basic education will not be transformed through a leapfrogging process; it may be dramatically and effectively strengthened through the judicious and selective use of communication technologies for those aspects of education where it has particular strengths and advantages.


There are ways in which the application of technology to basic education can help widen access, raise quality and in some circumstances contain costs. But the picture of technological development over the last decade is of piecemeal and haphazard development, with some successes, some failures, many initiatives undertaken without evaluation and within a policy vacuum. It is possible that much has been spent on technology with little return: we hardly know.

We can therefore conclude that sound development needs to take place within a national communication policy, one aspect of which will be a policy for the educational use of communications.

In arguing this, it is assumed that a national communication policy will consider political, economic, technical and legal or regulatory issues. It will need to define the roles of the private and public sector in relation to the whole range of information and communication technologies. One key issue here may be a strategy to allow educational institutions access to telecommunications on favourable terms, possibly through the use of governments' regulatory powers in the telecommunications sector. A communications policy will need to consider the following among other areas:

policy on tariffs and on any common carrier requirements;

investment policy, in relation both to the public sector and to the encouragement of particular areas of private-sector investment;

government purchasing policy, and policy for the use of communication technologies for government's internal communication;

technical standards including frequency allocation;

the national development of capacity and expertise;

issues of equity and access;

intellectual property, seeking an appropriate balance between 'the right of creators to benefit from the use of their work and the needs of users to access those works and use them freely' (UNESCO 1997: 88).

Assuming work on this kind of policy framework is under way, we can then identify a range of issues to be addressed within a policy on communication for education.

Issues of language will be on this agenda. The dominance of English as the language of the Internet is double-edged for all non-mother tongue English speakers. On the one hand it discriminates against other languages; on the other, the acquisition of English as an international language brings a new range of benefits. Cultural issues are closely linked with linguistic ones. Print, broadcasting and computer technologies all allow the development of local, national or regional teaching materials. Many countries are likely to seek to determine a policy on local materials development rather than leave this to the operation of market forces on the publishing industry.

Then an educational policy will have to take account of two sets of demands and opportunities presented by the telematics revolution. As noted above (3.4.1) the new technologies allow schools and colleges to reshape the curriculum, and to get access to new resources. At the same time, the technologies may become part of the curriculum; the education and training service will need to develop adequate national capacity to meet the demands of the economy and of civil society. Education about information and communication technology, education through the technologies, and education and training to provide skills in them will all influence the curriculum.

There are several different challenges in developing policy here. One is to make hard-headed choices about the scale and level of investment in the new technologies at a particular level of education. Where it is not seen as possible, or desirable, to have a major programme of supplying computers to schools, and providing the necessary training and support, a policy will need to be developed for any phased activity, or for the shared use of the technologies. It is likely to take account of the possible development of telecentres, and other ways of sharing technical facilities, and of low-cost options for access to the Internet.

In considering the level at which new technologies are to be used in education we come back to the gap between the information-rich and information-poor. Clearly, measures to bridge that gap are likely to form part of a communications policy. But this may not be part of the agenda of basic education: it may make far more sense for that concern to influence national policies for further education and training than for basic education.

One further difficulty here is that there is a shortage of good information on which to base policy and relatively few evaluations of the effects of changing the technologies used in education. We are short of the kind of cost data discussed above (5.2) and have a particular need for studies that would set out the costs achieved in using various communication technologies within developing countries. Yet another difficulty, in a policy that seeks to match technologies to educational needs, is the shortage of disinterested advice: much of it comes either from the telecommunication industry or from one part of the industry, with an understandable bias towards a particular technology.

Many of these issues go far beyond questions of basic education. But, unless they are resolved, with a particular sensitivity to the needs of the information-poor, basic education will suffer.


Whatever policy is adopted, three themes have run through the experience reviewed in this paper: the costs and difficulties of developing or acquiring software for any technological medium, the need for staff training as those working in education grapple with changing technologies, and the need to evaluate our practice. All three demand resources. Inadequate attention to any of the three is likely to reduce effectiveness and waste resources.


At the risk of being over prescriptive we can sum up the conclusions of this paper in eight points.

1. There is no alternative to primary school. Technology-based alternatives have not thrived.

2. Computers have been used in primary schools but in a modest way, sometimes mainly for games. Their more significant use is at levels above that of basic education.

3. Radio, not limited to interactive radio instruction, can enrich basic education and do so at costs much more modest than those of television of computers.

4. The scale of the demand for junior-secondary education, and the increased capacity and maturity of students who have completed primary schooling, suggests that there may be an important role for the application of technologies to raise quality and widen access at this level.

5. There are models for out-of-school equivalence at this level and the potential for developing and making available teaching materials that can be used both in-school and out-of-school.

6. The record of using mass media for public, adult and nonformal education, in areas such as health, citizenship, family planning and agriculture is patchy but the technologies available are widely understood and the social and educational needs so great that there is a case for continuing investment and activity here by governments and NGOs alike.

7. If the development of new technologies is not to widen gaps between north and south or between the information-rich and the information-poor, national policies are necessary that will explore ways of making cost-effective use for them in vocational education and training, and possibly at the higher levels of formal education.

8. The use of communication technologies for intermediaries - teachers and extension agents - can have a multiplier effect and is likely to have cost advantages over conventional ways of supporting and updating them. They have the potential to reduce the isolation of remote, rural, teachers and so raise the quality of their work.


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