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The findings > Applying new technologies in basic education
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APPLYING NEW TECHNOLOGIES AND COST-EFFECTIVE DELIVERY SYSTEMS IN BASIC EDUCATION
 
Hilary Perraton and Charlotte Creed
International Research Foundation for Open Learning February 2000
 
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
 
 There are three starting assumptions for a review of the use of information and communication technology to support basic education. First, there is no practical substitute for primary schools so that the role of the technologies is to support primary education, not to replace it. Second, the technologies may, however, play a part in meeting the needs of children or adults who cannot get to school or conventional class. Third, it makes sense to look at the technologies together, from print to broadcasting to computers.
 
DEFINITIONS
 
 We have used the following working definitions:

Telematics is the combined use of telecommunication and computer technology. New information technologies, and information and communication technologies, are synonyms for telematics.

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.

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

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.

 It is useful to distinguish between a variety of different applications of the various technologies to basic education. Computers have been used within schools both to support teaching and for school linking. Radio and television have been used in various formats for education within school. Open and distance learning has been used for two main purposes: to offer an out-of-school alternative to junior secondary education and for teacher education, where computer technologies are also beginning to be used. Broadcasting, and other technologies, have been widely used for the nonformal education of adults.
 
THE POSITION IN 1990
 
 At the time of the Jomtien conference it was argued that the potential of the new communication technologies had not been fully realised although there was, by that date, well-documented experience of their use for a range of educational purposes. This included the work of out-of-school institutions, notably in Latin America, which were providing an alternative to formal schooling; the use of radio and television to raise school quality; the use of radio, with other technologies, for adult education and extension; and teacher education through open and distance learning. At that time some open universities, notably in Asia, were beginning to work in basic education; computers were coming into classrooms in the north; the two new specialised agencies, the Commonwealth of Learning and the Centre International Francophone de Formation Distance, were beginning to promote international cooperation in and through distance education.
 
THE PRESENT ENVIRONMENT AND THE LAST DECADE
 
 Educational expansion and constraint over the last decade form the backdrop to any examination of the role of technology. The constraints on expansion mean that there remain large numbers of children outside school, especially in subsaharan Africa and south Asia, and large numbers of adults who missed schooling. One remarkable and consistent pattern is important: that, in all parts of the developing world, female enrolment in education, at primary secondary and tertiary levels, has been growing faster than male.
 
 The environment within which technologies are applied to education has also been changing. The process towards digitisation has brought a convergence between different media and technologies. Schools and colleges all round the world have begun to use the Internet. At the same time, the process has been far from uniform and there is a widening gap between those with, and without, access to computer-based technologies. In many parts of the world communications have also been deregulated and privatised, offering new kinds of access to communication technology but sometimes reducing the free access previously enjoyed by educators. Within the world of development communication there has been a new emphasis on participatory methodologies which has affected programmes of basic education, especially in out-of-school settings. One significant change in the formal sector has been the new legitimacy of open and distance learning, marked by the establishment of open universities in many countries but affecting education at all levels.
 
TECHNOLOGIES
 
 Despite the convergence between technologies, it is convenient to distinguish between the various uses of computers, broadcasting, and distance education.
 
 Computers have been used in the classroom for five different reasons: to build up a workforce with skills in information technology; to educate all future citizens about the technologies; to change the curriculum often by using computer-assisted learning; to promote change in education; to give access to the Internet and email. The last of these has achieved particular prominence and attention in the last few years. The choice of rationale determines the level in the education system at which it is appropriate to invest in telematics. All rationales demand adequate investment in staff training and in software, both often under-emphasised in early planning. Whereas industrialised countries are moving towards the provision of computers to all classrooms, alternative strategies for providing computer access include the use of mobile units, the sharing of computer facilities with other agencies, and mediated access where a third party seeks information through computer networks on behalf of a school.
 
 Broadcasting has been used to offer direct teaching in schools, to provide enrichment programmes, and for general children's programming. One variant of direct teaching, interactive radio instruction, has been widely adopted, most often with funding support from USAID.
 
 Distance education, which is likely to rely on other technologies - print, broadcasts, and now sometimes computers - is being used for two main purposes in basic education: to offer an alternative form of junior-secondary, and more rarely primary, education, and to support teacher education.
 
AUDIENCES
 
 Technologies have been used in-school, mainly to raise quality, for out-of-school adolescents and adults, and for the inservice training and updating of intermediaries such as teachers and extension agents.
 
 In-school much attention has recently been given to the use of computers. Some computer projects have been designed as part of a programme of curriculum development. Increasingly, attention has gone to providing access to resources through the Internet, the development of skills in using the Internet, and school-linking projects in which email or computer conferencing techniques are used for school-to-school exchange. As these developments have add-on costs they increase the total cost per student.
 
 Broadcasting has not been eclipsed by computers and both television and radio continue to be used in schools. A series of interactive radio instruction projects, in which students are active in the classroom, responding to the radio teacher, have been run in many parts of the world. The projects have been successful in increasing student learning. Interactive radio demands heavy investment in curriculum development and its costs mean that the projects have not always been sustainable once initial donor funding has been withdrawn.
 
 Various communication technologies have been used for audiences outside school. The unsatisfied demand for junior secondary education has led to a number of open and distance learning programmes. Telesecundaria in Mexico is a television-based, rural, system offering secondary education which has been running for more than a quarter century and is a regular part of the national system of education. In Asia, open schools, relying more heavily on printed materials, have been established, notably in India and Indonesia, and have plans for large-scale expansion. Education out of school is not limited to the formal curriculum and also includes community-based educational projects, some of them beginning to use small-scale community radio, health campaigns and a wide range of projects for adult basic education. Some have used group study; many have been supported and organised by NGOs. Many have worked well with small audiences but have had difficulty in moving to scale or establishing the links with government agencies that would be necessary for this kind of expansion. The establishment of telecentres, open access centres at which, for a fee, individuals can get access to computer technologies and use the Internet, may provide new opportunities for informal and nonformal education.
 
 The new technologies have been used in various ways to meet the needs of deprived and marginalised children , from those in remote areas to street children, refugees, and war victims. Within industrialised countries Internet-based approaches have been used to meet the educational needs of migrant children. Radio and distance education have been used for the education of refugees. Broadcasting has been used for children in war zones on, for example, the hazards of land mines and to provide health education.
 
 A variety of technologies have been used to provide inservice education and training for teachers, and to a lesser extent for agricultural and health extension agents. Some programmes are designed to make resources available to teachers, without a formal teaching structure. In other cases formal programmes have been run, in most parts of the world, using distance education for teachers. Programmes have usually engendered high motivation, especially where linked with improved qualifications and increased pay. Distance education for teacher training has proved to be effective, both in terms of examination pass rates and in raising teachers' capacities in the classroom.
 
OUTCOMES AND COSTS
 
 Outcomes may be assessed in terms of widening access, of improving quality, or of changing the curriculum. In principle the use of mass media should widen access and there are examples of alternative systems of education that reach students who would otherwise be deprived of education. At the same time, the use of information and communication technologies may have the opposite effect, allowing the privileged access to learning through computer technology that is denied to others. There is evidence of qualitative improvement from programmes using distance education for teacher training and from the use of broadcasts in the classroom. Projects using both broadcasts and computers have been successful in helping a process of curriculum change . We have, however, few evaluations of the use of computers in the classroom, even from industrialised countries with significant national investment.
 
 Comparison between the costs of conventional and technology-based education is necessarily complex. The balance between fixed and variable costs is different in these two sectors. Economies of scale may be achieved in broadcasting or distance education so that, to determine the unit cost of a programme, we need to know the number of students. At the same time many uses of technology demand elements of individual support to which these economies do not apply. Programmes to raise the quality of education generally increase costs: they are not usually designed to reduce conventional staffing so that the costs of providing broadcasts or introducing computers are normally additional to regular educational costs.
 
 Differing levels of salary make international comparison of costs difficult but, for what it is worth, evidence from a number of countries suggests that interactive radio annual costs per student are likely to be in the range $3 to $8, for student numbers in the range of 100 000 to 1 000 000. A small number of studies of the costs of computers in schools, where economies of scale are unlikely to apply, are several times as great with figures in the range $18 to $63. The evidence is consistent in showing that television has higher costs than radio - sometimes ten times as high - and that computer-based learning is likely to have markedly higher costs than radio. Out-of-school distance-education projects have compared favourably in cost per student with conventional schooling; only if their success rate is adequately high do their costs per successful student compare favourably. The limited data available on adult basic education suggests that the costs compare favourably with face-to-face education for adults but are usually significantly higher, if measured in cost per learning hour, than the costs of primary education. Inservice education of teachers using distance-teaching methods has often cost only between one-third and two-thirds those of conventional teacher education.
 
CONDITIONS FOR SUCCESS
 
 The evidence, from television to computers, is that projects are likely to be at risk if they are at the leading edge of technology; education is likely to do better, in terms of costs and servicing of equipment, if it follows entertainment and commerce rather than leads it. If technological innovation is to be sustainable it needs to generate a sense of ownership among all the stakeholders. Innovation is also likely to need an organisational location which allows adequate freedom for the innovator while remaining close enough to the work of conventional education and its decision makers for it to achieve integration with the regular education service. Sensitive issues of language and gender are the norm rather than the exception.
 
 Many innovative projects have suffered from underinvestment in training and in software, whether in the form of radio scripts or computer software. Training is generally needed both for specialists involved in the development of teaching materials and for teachers who are using them in their schools or adult educators or extension agents in the field.
 
FUNDING
 
 The application, and level of cost, of new technologies is likely to lead to a search for new sources of funding. Where new technologies increase costs there is likely to be a tension between attempts to take advantage of their capacity to widen access and the search for ways of funding them: access may be possible at a price only the more privileged can pay. One consequence of adopting telematics may be to shift responsibility for funding from the teaching institution to the learner, or from a central institution to an individual school or college. Downloading materials electronically, rather than buying them commercially or receiving them through a ministry of education, shifts the location of costs and may in fact increase them. At the same time, may sometimes be possible to locate community funds by decentralising.
 
 Many technology projects have been launched with external funding. Often this has excluded recurrent costs and led to problems of sustainability when neither learners nor governments are able to meet running costs.
 
 The funding of out-of-school education has often been on a different basis from in-school education. Students outside school, often politically powerless, are often asked to pay a higher proportion of the costs of their education than those in school, sometimes in the expectation that they will be earning while studying. This sometimes means that those who receive what they perceive as being an inferior education have to pay more than those who get the superior model.
 
FUTURE LINES OF DEVELOPMENT AND POLICY OPTIONS
 
 The main challenge in applying telematics to basic education is to find ways of achieving potential benefits without widening the gap between the information-rich and information poor. In many countries the new technologies are of limited application in primary schools where other needs take priority. In contrast, they are of major potential benefit for teacher education and for strengthening the rapidly expanding junior-secondary cycle. Broadcasting, linked with community-based activities, and distance education have a role to play in adult basic education, because of their potential reach and modest cost, whether for a formal curriculum or for nonformal purposes. National campaigns on AIDS prevention are an obvious and high priority. Distance-education methods have a record of success in supporting extension agents but have so far been under-exploited for this purpose.
 
 Use of new communication technologies will not allow developing countries to leapfrog the industrialised world by introducing a technology-based form of basic education. Children need to learn in a school, while the need for technical infrastructure and training all limit the extent to which the technologies can replace conventional education. For most ldcs the cost of computer-based education far exceeds the cost of conventional education.
 
 Sound decisions about the use of information and communication policies will be facilitated where there is a national communications policy, and a policy for educational communications within it. This will embrace linguistic and cultural issues. It will need to take account of the use to be made by the education service of the new technologies and education's role in providing education about them. In developing such a policy a key need, as yet unmet by research, is for full and disinterested information about the costs and effects of the various technologies available for education.
 
CONCLUSIONS
 
Eight main conclusions follow from the evidence and analysis.

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

 Computers have been used in primary schools but in a modest way, sometimes mainly for games. They are more important higher up the educational system.

 Radio can enrich and extend basic education at costs much more modest than those of television or computers.

 The demand for junior-secondary education, and the potential of the technologies, suggest that their use should be expanded to raise quality and widen access at junior-secondary level.

 There are promising models for out-of-school equivalence at this level.

 Despite the mixed record of nonformal education, the social and educational needs of adults are so great that there is a case for continuing and expanding use of the technologies here.

 National policies need to be developed that seek to use new technologies cost-effectively while avoiding widening the gap between the information-rich and the information-poor.

 The use of communication technologies for teachers and extension agents, with its multiplier effect, merits investment as a cost-effective way of raising educational quality.
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