Please see our quarterly ICT in Education update
15/01/10 We just published our quartelry ICT in Education update. The update is designed to keep partners and all those interested informed about GeSCI's activities as well as providing news and infromation from the field of ICT in Education. Read the update here. 09/12/10 Greetings from e-Asia, Colombo, Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka hosted this year’s e-Asia conference; arguably one of the most important ICT4D events in Asia. Some 2000 ICT experts from Asia and the rest of the world attended the conference and contributed to the ICT for Development discourse that has been over-shadowed by the current global economic recession. Many challenges that could be addressed through ICT4D remain unresolved in many developing countries, and it was good to see that the determination of participants to meet these challenges has not been dampened by recent economic difficulties. For example, although the penetration numbers of mobile and broad band networks are growing, it is easy to see that the focus is still on technology, not on other layers of education development. Educators’ capacities to change teaching and learning processes; education managements’ capacity to transform education institutions; and education administrations’ capacity to create enabling regulatory and policy conducive environments for innovative ICT use in education are still huge challenges in most developing countries in Asia and beyond. My particular interest lay in the e-Learning track which I followed closely at this year’s conference. My first observation is that the technology is now quite widely available in most Asian countries like India, Malaysia and other growing economies, but there remains (as impressed upon the audience with each presentation) a staggering number of learners whose learning needs still urgently need to be met. The critical need for new skills in society spurns large-scale reforms in education. However, the solutions that are now applied seem to be addressing only accessibility (which is indeed a priority) but with little consideration spared for the quality of learning. Many of the solutions presented did not really consider the nature of human learning as it is defined in modern learning theories. Many of the solutions that are making only a set of digitalized learning resources available online are now referred to as ‘e-learning’. The facilitation of learning processes through human interaction is often overlooked due to their associated cost and complexity. The idea seems to be to educate the masses to become future “creative ICT workers” to work in highly innovative knowledge-based economies. I really wonder if this is possible to do if the student/teacher interactivity is solved by a ‘robot’ that can supposedly take the teacher’s place; answering any questions the student may have. I just wonder what kind of knowledge will be constructed through interaction with robots. The biggest surprise, and a personal disappointment, was the World Bank ICT4D report 2009, which was launched at the conference. Having listened to the presentation and read the overview it is clear that the report focuses on several critical aspects of ICT4D, but not necessary all. What came as a surprise to me was that the report does not really address knowledge as the key element of socio-economic development and economic competitiveness, and therefore it fails to draw a correlation between ICT4D and socio-economic development As it is broadly accepted, the key elements of economic development and global competitiveness may be the availability of ICT services, relevant knowledge and skills to utilize these services in innovative ways and the innovation funding mechanisms that make innovation investments possible. However, the report emphasized only the availability of ICT and e-government. It refers to the IT skills development as the next big challenge but does not really address the challenge of transforming the education system, which could provide the relevant knowledge and skills needed in all sectors of the economy, including technical skills. Instead, it considers the needs of the IT Industry as the starting point for skills development, emphasizing IT skills only, rather than the 21st century skills that are needed by the whole society. How can higher education transform a learner into a creative critical thinker if a learner has primarily learned by rote for the last 10 years? The report also ignores the urgency of innovation environments and mechanisms that are needed for systematic development of all evolving industries and sectors of the economy. I know that transparent governance is very important for development but of itself it does not really advance education to be more relevant for the society, nor does it promote the innovation processes and mechanisms needed for the development of the society. I do not know if the WB team dropped education and innovation from the report by accident or deliberately. I just hope the next report will focus on these basic elements adequately. While we are waiting for the next report, I would like to challenge you to think (and debate) about the role of ICTs in education as a contributor to ICT4D, but also for development in large. Is education only one secondary application area of ICT (like e-learning) which can be left out from WB global ICT4D analysis? Or is the role of education only to provide IT skills needed in the IT industry? Or is education the fundamental enabler for a broader utilization of ICTs for development in the entire society?