Education is the driving force for any country's economic and social development (UNESCO, 2009). Hence it is essential for any country to provide affordable, accessible and quality education to all its inhabitants by all means including modern technology like multimedia, streaming videos, intranet, extranet, and internet. ICTs based education has gained worldwide acceptance and has been accepted as an important component towards modern learning environment. The use of Information and Communication Technologies has completely changed the meaning of distance education (Minguillon, 2009). This new educational channel has also provided an opportunity for underdevelopment countries like Pakistan to improve their education systems to a certain extent and use it to provide education to their inhabitants.
The revolutionary invention of computer has been successful in penetrating into every facet of our lives and has become a vital part. Therefore it is not possible to be ignorant of computers in educational field just like any other field. Computers and its related technologies have become most useful tools in the educational field. As Information and Communication Technology plays a significant role in field of education. Kim (2009, in Ngoma, 2010) defines ICT in education as: "A comprehensive approach to innovate education systems, methods, and management through Information Communications Technology" (p.4). Wagner et al. (2005, in Ngoma, 2010) described ICT as: "....currently being used widely to aid education in many developing countries, and it appears that there is increasing demand for their use in education by policymakers and parents in developing countriesâ€¦" (p.vii). Being authors to this research essay, this study provides us an opportunity to explore a popular educational institute named as Virtual University of Pakistan that is an ICT based distance education institution.
From the above paragraph we can say that ICT is powerful tool which need proper implementation to accelerate the improvement in the field of education. Tinio (2003) considers ICT as a tool that can extend the educational opportunities to those who are scattered and living in rural areas and have no access to education due to the following reasons: social, ethnic, gender, disabilities or due to cost or time restrictions. These capabilities of ICT make it of significant importance in the distance education.
1.2 Problem Area
Education has received a lot of attention with the passage of time such as the use of computer in education, teaching and learning matters (Demetriadis et al., 2003). The use of ICT for education delivery has become a reality both in the developed and the developing world. Wagner et al. (2005) says computer and technology provides the processing capability and vehicle to commute the instructions to the learner. ICT is currently being introduced as an advancing technology that can significantly improve the access to information and resources and can transform education in ways that were not previously possible. More specifically, ICTs provide easy access to learning resources, individualized learning experiences and cover innovative learning tools and resources, which in turn enables learning.
The developing countries are adopting the ICT based distance education systems because of its capabilities of providing very economical education and also its flexibility. Unfortunately, Pakistan was not able to take benefit from ICT in the field of education due to the reasons like poor infrastructure, cultural resistance, and low level of computer literacy. The Government of Pakistan took an initiative in the form Virtual University of Pakistan which is yet one and only one ICT based educational institute in Pakistan. Virtual University of Pakistan has become a popular institute of the country and approached more than sixty cities (VU website, 2010) to provide infrastructural support to the students. The growing number of students in Virtual University of Pakistan become a proving factor of its success and prompts us to make a research. So, our problem is to make a research to improve our understanding about the use Information and communication technology (ICT) in the field of education. We want to make our understanding better about ICT i.e. how this technology is improving access to the information and resources in order to transform education. The concept of distance education is not new in Pakistan as institution like Allama Iqbal Open University is there since 1974 (Siddiqui, undated). The only new thing is the methodology adopted by Virtual University of Pakistan to use ICT for more convenient, interactive, efficient distance education. Therefore we like to advance our understanding on the subject of ICT use in education.
1.4 Research question
By keeping in view the above mentioned problem area, the research question for this study is:
How does ICT support the Virtual University of Pakistan in order to deliver distance education?
1.5 Research Objectives
This research is about ICT based distance education delivered by Virtual University of Pakistan. Our objective for this research is to gain specific knowledge about the use of ICT in Virtual University of Pakistan. We want to identify factors that are crucial with regard to ICT support in Virtual University of Pakistan. Additionally this research can present the overall impact of ICT in distance education to the informatics students and researchers.
The focus of this study will be on how ICT is used in distance education i.e. specifically in Virtual University of Pakistan and the benefits of these technologies towards the students will also be discussed. The drawbacks and challenges of ICT based distance education will not be discussed because it will widen the research area and will be difficult to handle this research in the given time and there are possibilities of loosing focus on the main issue.
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Kim G. J., (2009). ICT in education: issues & questions. Global Symposium on ICT in Education. Co-organized by the World Bank, the Korean Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology (MEST) and Korea Education & Research Information Service (KERIS), November 9-11, 2009. Seoul, South Korea. Accessed from http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/TOPICS/EXTEDUCATION/0,,contentMDK:22284657~menuPK:617610~pagePK:148956~piPK:216618~theSitePK:282386,00.html. On the 12th April, 2010.
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Ngoma, S. (2010). ICT in education: Catalyst for economic growth in the Congo. Accessed from http://www.congovision.com/science/NGITLiteratureReview2.pdf on the 10th May, 2010.
Tinio, V.L., (2003). ICT in education. United Nations Development Programme. Accessed from http://www.unapcict.org/ecohub/resources/ict-in-education on the 13th May, 2010.
Siddiqui Z. H. (undated). Promoting E-Learning in Pakistan: Strategies and Challenges. Accessed from http://www.educationdev.net/educationdev/docs/p4.PDFÂ Â on the 04th May, 2010.
UNESCO (2009). Quality Education, Equity and Sustainable Development: A holistic vision through UNESCO's four World Education Conferences. Accessed from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0018/001818/181864e.pdf on the 2nd May, 2010.
Wagner, D.A., Day, B., James, T., Kozma, R.B., Miller, J. & Unwin, T. (2005). Monitoring and Evaluation of ICT in Education Projects. A Handbook for Developing Countries. Washington DC: Information for Development Program (InfoDev). Accessed from http://www.infodev.org/files/2942_file_M_E_ICT_Education_draft_WSIS_optimized.pdf on the 16th May, 2010.