ICT Integration in Education - What do we mean?
I have recently participated in many discussions and seminars under the titles: “ICT integration in Education” “or ICTs for Education”. The seminars and discussions have usually tried to identify the main trends, challenges, total costs, best practices, policies, impacts and outcomes of such integration. I have had a problem with all of these discussions because most of the discussants seem to share a uniform understanding of what ICT in Education really means. They speak so sophisticatedly about the best practices, roll-out models that can be implemented on a wide-scale, and even measuring outcomes compared to “non ICT integration”. This has led me to conclude that there is a specific and narrow definition of ICT integration in Education that in my 20+ years in the ICT4E field I have not been made privy to. What might that meaning be?
Historically ICT has been emerging from the concepts of IT, meaning basically computers and communication technology, and digital data networks as the latest phase of development, but also TV, satellites, phone, etc. Due to a trend of merging different technologies (all technologies seem to merge together in one way or another), there was a reason to start speaking of ICT as opposed to IT . ICT captures all the latest technologies used for communication, data processing and data storage. However, what I hear in discussions is talk of computers: desktops, laptops, servers that are needed in schools. The internet is referred to, but the discussion is more about rolling out computers in each of the schools, for each of the teachers or for each of the children. So, what happened to ICTs?
IT and communication technologies have been used to solve two different problems in education. Computer based learning and teaching was developed to make learning more efficient and more interesting for learners. This addressed the problem of quality of education. A longer tradition of distance education exists. It began with very tangible communication technologies like letters, then it moved to audiovisual materials, TV and radio, and finally e-mail and web based learning. It solved the problem of accessibility to education. It brought education services to people who could not come to schools or educational institutions. However, it seems to me that in most of the discussions related to ICT integration in education the default meaning is computer based learning. This is quite problematic because one of the main problems globally is still accessibility to education. In ICT integration discussions we seldom refer to this problem. In the last OECD meeting the OECD researchers who were trying to explain the impact of ICT in Education in the light of recent research, did not refer to the issue of at all. They tried only to find out if the learning outcomes are different in ICT based education compared to the non ICT environment (in OECD countries). Isn’t it a pity, that even the research does not see the other impacts of ICT in education? Isn’t it a pity that in development discussions on ICT4E we rarely consider how we can create really inclusive education systems by using ICT? All we seem to think about and to discuss is how we can integrate ICT in classroom teaching and learning. Why are OLPCs, and those famous XOs (that so many claim help children to learn alone without a teacher) not sent to children that are unable to attend school? Instead, the idea seems to be to give an XO to every school child that already has a teacher.
Historically technology has been used to learn and to teach technology. We call it technology education. As we read in the previous paragraph, technology can be used also to learn other things. It seems to me that a lot of energy in discussions is used to debate and to promote one or another as a goal. Why can’t these two live together? At least theoretically speaking, the skills provided through a proper technology education seem to be those same skills that are provided through proper learning with ICT. They both include concepts of problem solving and innovation as well as collaboration. What also populates the ICT integration discussions is the concept of content in the form of digitalized books. It seems to me that the default concept of learning in ICT integration is when a learner learns by reading books from the screen of a computer, and then sits a test that demonstrates how MUCH she/he actually has learned. Isn’t it a shame that we are investing so much money and other resources in repeating the problems of face-to-face education, denoted by book-based memorizing for centuries? How much could we actually achieve, if we invested first in teachers, who actually are in a position to use ICT and other resources that may be available in creative and innovative ways? If children only read books from the computer screen there is no doubt that the OECD recommendation will be that there is no measurable difference between ICT based and face-to-face education.
Traditionally, education institutions have been managed by teachers as a secondary task. Usually the management tasks are of an administrative nature and the principal must tend to them between lessons. At least in small schools and at lower levels this is the case. However, we know that the principals and local managers are in a key role in educational development and change. This is still one of the biggest challenges in education especially in developing countries. Being a visionary leader for teachers in a remote rural school is very difficult if the principal does not have adequate training for the task or any support from the upper levels of education management. Many of the schools do not have any connection with the upper levels of the education system other than letters. Many reports are still delivered manually, and even orally. I once asked what communication systems were being used in a particular rural school. They told me that a motor bike was used to go to the municipality and back. They were only fortunate that they did not have to walk there and back. The follow-up and monitoring is almost nonexistent in many countries. The upper management of the education system is not always aware of what is happening in its schools. Many of these schools are actually schools that we envisage as having ICT in the classroom, and they are not even connected properly to the national management information system of education - if one exists. Not too much effort has been put into the management of education and this has an adverse effect on efforts to try and change the education system. Having visited many schools and ministries of education, I have seen so many unused computers and other ICT resources in very bad condition - such mismanagement - a complete waste of resources! I just wonder why such issues are not being discussed in ICT integration discussions? ICT integration seems to mean only classroom integration. Consider to what degree we could increase the efficiency and quality of education by just investing in the management of the education system? Well, maybe I just have to wait until I find forums and discussions that are not taking ICT integration for granted. Or does someone want to respond?