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The current era is being denominated by information and communication technology (ICT). It is a period during which ICT is the infrastructure of choice for achieving durable and sustainable development. Due to ICT, many countries are now able to create much more efficient markets which enable them to create more jobs and improvements to the lifestyle of their people.
The use of ICT as a tool for development refines that people are trained on how to use it more confidently, creatively and competitively. It encompasses not only the mastery of technical knowledge but also the necessary understanding to apply them purposefully, safely and co responsibly in all walks of life.
ICT literacy and capability is fundamental to participate and integrate in modern society and subsequently in the global world. That being said more consideration is now being given to students to learn the basic technical knowledge for operating in an ICT based environment.
However with the help given not all students will benefit in substantially the same way and can lead to a digital divide.
Significant signs of a digital divide can bring about inequality of opportunities for students as they leave school in search of high profile jobs.
Therefore it is of great importance to appraise the extent to which a digital divide concerning the use and access to ICT exists amongst students in local and international schools in Lusaka.
Interest of the digital divide has risen amongst both ISP's and government in Zambia. Even the public has taken part in discussions of the issue. In Zambia as a whole, factors that are leading to the digital divide are computer availability and thus even internet access. The digital divide amongst households tends to depend primarily on two or more variables, income and education. Other well known variables such as age, gender, racial and linguistic backgrounds do play an important role as well.
Education as well creates a barrier to the use and access of ICT. Higher levels of educated individuals are more likely to have access to ICTs and have the adequate skills to manipulate the technology to their advantage. Can you support this with fact?
The government has for long acknowledged this predicament and had launched a program with the assistance of the Japanese International Cooperation Agency, and Malaysian Consultant to help bridge this divide. (unknown) The project had several aims when first launched. One included transforming Zambia into an ICT hub where Zambia would excel in ICT. The other aims included creating an environment where foreign and domestic investment would be a major attraction. They hoped to achieve this by developing new and efficient communication lines and infrastructure. Thereafter, the country is planning to implement e-education, e-health, e-government and e-commerce, among others, to bridge the digital divide that exists between Zambia and the rest of the world.
In 2004, the Small Initiative Fund (SIF) was launched to boost the country programme. SIF enabled grass-root organizations in poor communities to understand and work with ICT in small projects. Most of these projects were meant to deal with the effective use of ICT to generate income for community groups and deliver social services through an ICT access centre. Currently SIF is involved in three sectors in Zambia: education, health and livelihoods. (unknown)
SIF have shown signs of progress over the years. These include improvement in the income-generation through informal education and employment, enhanced skills development provided to community members as well as development of ICT skills within the community. (3)
Each technology plays a substantially different role in a student's learning. Rather than investigate all the technology used and describe its impact, the researcher chose to look at a more frequent technology implemented in the classrooms of a school, the computer.
Two general distinctions can be made as to how students learn. They can either learn "from" computers, where technology is use as a tutor to increase a student's basic skills and knowledge or "with" computers. This is where computers serve as a tool to develop an individual's research skills, creativity and higher order of thinking. (Reeves, 1998; Ringstaff & Kelley, 2002)
The researcher underwent research by examining 4 schools, two international schools and two local schools. Having no clue as to what to expect, the researcher dissected the situation into three categories. Firstly the research examined the IT system that each school was running and had provided to the students. Secondly was to examine how the IT system was implemented in the student' agenda. And lastly to evaluate the impact the technology has on the students. This enables the researcher to point out where the digital divide actually lies if any were to exist.
Exploring the digital divide amongst schools requires that we examine the access the students have to technology. The placement of technology in a school can greatly influence access to it. If computers are connected to the internet but are in an inconvenient location, the availability of the equipment to students and teachers will be limited. Therefore this is an important issue for teachers and students.
To undergo the investigation each IT department in the local and international school was given a questionnaire to allow the researcher to investigate the levels of computer access. From the questionnaire conducted for the local schools we find an unreasonable amount of computers provided to staff members rather than students. 30 computers were provided to staff members and 22 to students. Having looked at the student-teacher ratio we find that the ratios do not fit the number of computers being given. Students were ranging in hundreds whereas teachers were in the tens. This therefore leads to an early predicament of disproportional computer distribution.
Furthermore from questionnaire A we also find that computers in the local schools were solely provided in computer labs. In many schools we find this is a common approach since this setting ensures easier maintenance and most likely is easier for teachers to teach computer skills to students. However students of today need regular access to computers and unfortunately computer labs are too conducive for the students of the 21st century. (Wolsey, 2009)
Local schools need to be acquainted with the fact that using technology in isolated classrooms is one thing and using technology as a potent force in transforming an entire education system is another.
A single IT class (computer lab) constitutes only a small portion of a student's educational experience.
In most cases we find that students become frustrated when they enter other classrooms without technological activities. Most, certainly do not find it worthy of, to invest the time to learn computer skills such as typing and Internet searching only to have them fall into disuse in the upcoming year. (Means)
Ideally, schools would want computers in classrooms so the technology becomes a ubiquitous part of the school environment. Allowing students to have access to computers throughout the day can help promote the use of technology becoming a seamless part of the learning process. Although access to computers in a classroom is beneficial, it is not always possible to provide computers to all students. Schools that are dealing with students between the hundreds and thousands cannot afford this high expenditure cost. Thus and ideal solution would be to facilitate computers in a centralized area common to students.
Nevertheless students were granted access to computer labs anytime of the day. This is important as we have verified that availability is not a problem. Students are allowed to come and develop their skills when ever free.
The international schools had an adequate amount of computers available to students. Recently thin clients were deployed in one of the international schools allowing 3 labs to have a full complement of computers and every classroom to have at least one computer system that could then be integrated into the teaching and learning process. Similarly the other international school had implemented apple computers in every class room.
Although the learning process of the technology benefits the students it can be vitally as important for the teachers. Teachers can and do have a profound effect on the students learning process. Therefore teachers having computers when they need them can be equally as important.
From questionnaire A the researcher found that a reasonable amount of computers were issued to staff members in the local schools. As for the international schools, most teachers were equipped with their own computers.
From these results signs of a divide can be noticed. Local schools seem to lack the technology needed to provide a healthy ICT environment for all their students. Whereas international schools clearly did not seem to have an issue with availability.
Zambia has the highest internet connectivity which costs as high as $6000 per megabit, prices which is double the cost of internet in other places in Africa. (Sinyangwe, 2009)
This creates a huge problem for schools to set-up a reasonable connection that can facilitate everyone. Although all schools were connected to the internet, the questionnaire shows that many did not consider their internet connectivity reliable. One downfall of unreliable internet is being unable to make use of online education.
Online education and distance learning have given a new dimension to the field of education and higher learning. Today, it's not a requirement for students to be physically present in classrooms. Many educational institutes offer online courses to their students. To add to that most schools and colleges offer online assignment submission facilities. This allows students to submit their homework and test assignments through the Internet making it more convenient and less of a hassle for them. Also at many times universities offer online education programs whereby the students can interact with their teachers over the web. (Oak)
However although the internet was unreliable the international schools had made use of an intranet as means of communication between student and teachers. They had introduced a virtual learning platform such as "moodle" which provided course material. This allowed students who were absent from class to still obtain the relevant material needed.
Exploring the digital divide amongst schools not only requires examining the access the students have to technology but also the equality in the educational experiences the students have with the technology.
The usage of technology in a school plays an important role. It is said to be one of the factors that cause a digital divide amongst schools. Reasons are as followed; putting computers in the classroom does not automatically decrease the divide. The outcome of investing in computers should be for the benefit of the students. Students must be able to manipulate their skills on the technology thus improving the learning process. Doing so would mean analyzing how the students are making use of the computer technology provided to them.
From survey A done on the local and international schools students, we find that 47% of the sampled local students do not use the computers at school as compared to 44% international students.
This is a common case as we find from prior results that students are more acquainted with their computers at home. However this can then lead to a socioeconomic problem as students from different socioeconomic groups have diverse access to computers and the Internet.
Survey A shows that 57% of local students didn't have access to computers at home. Those who did have access, 77% of them did not use it. Whereas the international students we find completely different results. All students had access to computers at home and majority of them frequently use their computer.
This leads to a major problem as most students are unlikely to be using a computer at all. It is almost impossible to enjoy the benefits of ICTs without the use of ICT in education and indeed ICT education itself to improve skills.
Computers have brought about a revolution across all industries. They have changed the face of society. What was once known as a technology that required specially trained people has now become a daily utility. Computers have gained immense importance in day-to-day life. Their increasing utility has made computer education the need and want of the day. (Oak)
Diagram 3: Computer skills
The ICT skills of students in the local school were poor. From the survey we see that on average 45% of students did not have the required skills to use simple tool-based applications such as word processors. This was rather awkward and creates confusion as we find from the questionnaire that word processing and other simple tool-based applications were implemented in the curriculum of the students. Students from the international schools on the other hand had contrasting results from that of local students. All of them had some sort of idea about each of the simple tool-based applications.
The main problem here is students are failing to understand the potential benefit that these applications have and teachers likewise are unable to implement them in a sustainable manner. Each of these simple tool-based applications deliver different kinds of content and serve different purposes in the classroom. For instance the use of email and word processing promotes communication skills; spreadsheet and database programs promote organizational skills; and likewise modeling software promotes the visual understanding of math and science concepts. Therefore it is of great significance to take into consideration how these electronic technologies differ and what characteristics make them important as vehicles for education (Becker, 1994).
Computer's being implemented in education has made it not only easier for the teachers to render knowledge but also for students to grasp it much quicker. Computer technology allows a fun-element to education and it goes without saying that the Internet has endowed education with interactivity. The computer offers several advantages to a student's life, ranging from interactive audio-visual media to PowerPoint presentations to animation software. Each can be used to render information to students in an interactive and much more appealing manner. Therefore we can conclude that this underlines the importance of computer teaching against textbooks. (Oak)
A technology savvy youth is playing an increasing influential role in employment and with a countries development. Education is vital for students to be prepared to meet global needs so that high profile jobs are not outsourced. With the lack of Education and employment progress is slowed down within a country (Koss, 2001).
The most severe consequences of the digital divide are the long term effects that it holds on students that do not have the required access to education. If students were to lack access and computer skills it would mean that a whole generation will miss out on realizing their full potential in an information and communication technology world (Koss, 2001). Therefore it is virtually impossible to ignore the need for technology in an education curriculum (Di Bello, 2005).
Studies have also shown that school students who are competent computer users tend to perform better in their other key school subjects than those with limited experience and confidence to perform basic computer necessities. According to OECD studies it has been found that a tech-savvy youth could perform strikingly better due to the relationship that they hold with computers.
In short students with limited access to computers or only recent access to computers are at a higher risk of performing poorly at curriculum level.
The internet has more or less become a fundamental medium of communication and information processing, permeating every domain of economy and society. The more it becomes the key medium for business, education, for social services, for personal development, and for social interaction, the more the capacity to use it becomes dependant on peoples educational level. In other words the real inequality starts when we are all dependent on the internet. The more we move into an internet society, the more education becomes the foundation for equal opportunity. Therefore in addition to the computer use, the level of internet use was examined as well.
The results show that 64% of students did not have internet access as compared to all the students who had access from the international school.
This leads to a problem. As information and Communication Technology is playing an increasingly influential role in reshaping employment in large parts of the world. Information and Communication Technologies presents unprecedented opportunities to combat poverty by providing employment opportunities, opening market and increasing income.
Over the years a trend has formed with employees wanting individuals with certain certified skills and educational levels to fill positions. With this trend in place disadvantaged students are in an awkward position as they are now not only dealing with a digital divide but also a degree divide. Hence Students that are prevented from getting bachelor degrees are at a disadvantage in the likeliness of gaining employment (Garmon, 2003).
In survey A we find that the majority of the local students believe that the ministry does not understand the potential contribution of computer technology. Government in Lusaka, Zambia has a lot of work on their hands, as they have to maintain and resolve many problems that are arising in the country. But education should be their primary concern. Without proper education given to children they would become handicapped as majority of the work fields of today require computer skills.
Resolving a socio economic problem is not a possibility for a school. Having a computer placed in all the students' houses is a difficult and almost unrealistic solution as the cost cannot be handheld either by the government.
However schools can facilitate students by implementing the n-computers. The n-computer will allow the local schools to create a 49-user computer lab that is accessible to all. With budget constraints and ongoing maintenance to take into consideration n-computers would be an ideal solution.
Several nations have deployed n-computing with success stories. Republic of Macedonia is one of them, Enrolling n-computers in 430 schools enabling seven users to access a single computer simultaneously. (Republic of Macedonia first nation to)
N-computers benefit in several ways, its costs are spread out through the use of shared computers. Schools are able to provide up to five times the number of seats for the same money allowing better opportunity for students to make use of computers to enhance their ICT skills.
However although n-computers can evidently reduce a digital divide it has several limitations just like other desktop virtualization. One major concern of desktop virtualizations is the potential security risk that it holds if the network is not properly managed. If downtime were to increase in the event of a network failure all computers would be left virtually inaccessible .
One solution to counter the appalling computer skills would be to ensure that teachers emphasized to a great extent the importance that ICT plays in the student's life. Having said that, teachers should also expose students as much as possible to computer applications to try and develop their computer skills. This solution would go well with n computers as all students would equally have access to computers.
Students at most times follow the concept of lead by example. If a teacher's behaviour towards the use of technology is at minimum, students will follow. Therefore teachers should ensure that they themselves make use of ICT to enhance their class. This can be done simply through the use of tool based applications. PowerPoint presentations with visual effects can be made by teachers. This can help increase the awareness of the students due to greater interest rates. Furthermore, PowerPoint presentations can serve as visual aids to the teachers. Other equipments such as overhead projectors and screens facilitate can also be use to create an ICT environment in any classroom. With the help of projectors a large number of students can simultaneous view information. It's been shown that the use of audio-visual teaching aids have brought about marked improvements in a student's attendance and attentiveness. Interactive media have proven to be useful in enhancing the concentration levels of students. (Oak)
However problems can arise from this solution. This includes the student's willingness to learn. If students are not willing to co-operate with teachers then not much can be done to resolve the digital divide that exist amongst the schools. At the end of the day the teacher's efforts benefit the students.
Both solutions can resolve the digital divide that exists amongst the schools. Although overhead projectors do help as visual aid it cannot improve a student's computer skills. Likewise if n computers are bought and students do not make use of them the solution does not work. Therefore each solution would become rather weak and less effective if implemented by its self. Hence these two solutions work as a perfect combination.
Without the appropriate ICT skills students will not be able to cope as the leave schools in search of high post jobs. Almost all jobs of today require some sort of ICT skills, whether it is word processing or emailing. A digital divide note only affects the student but the government as well. ICT is the need for the youths of today and the government has to take note of that.
Yet dealing with a digital divide amongst schools is just as complex as those amongst countries. As we have to take into consideration all the factors that cause the digital divide. Each inter relates with one another. To create balance amongst the schools, Local schools are required to catch up with international schools in terms of access of technology and of course the learning output the students achieve.
However through the research undertaken the learning outcome of the students at most times depended on several other factors such as their socio economic background, teacher's attitude towards the use of technology, teacher's pedagogical skills and eventually the student's willingness to learn. This leads to several big challenges to face. In addition schools were facing problems with internet reliability. Internet in Zambia over all is not at competition level with other countries. Therefore to address some of these problems, the researcher would have to resolve the problem at nation levels, which goes outside the scope of this paper.