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Can information communication technologies (ICTs) improve learning in rural Africa? When exposed to new technology, how do children, adults and teachers use it to represent their lives and opportunities?
Research from the University of Sussex's Centre of International Education shows what happened when residents of a Ghanaian village were given their first chance to collect and show digital images of their lives. The study not only brought out attitudes towards ICTs and the community's problematic interaction with currently available schooling, but also explored the implications of technological change for development initiatives.
Ethnographic research in the community painted a bleak picture of demoralisation and under-resourcing of education. Teachers posted to the village feel disappointed and uncommitted. They are often absent. Pupils are mostly unable to follow lessons, due to problems such as the lack of understanding or coverage of previous work and difficulty in understanding English, the language of instruction. Corporal punishment is frequent. Many children - especially girls - drop out or attend infrequently because they and their families see few real returns to basic schooling.
It is not the lack of schools that is affecting enrolment and retention, so much as the decision of families not to invest in 'worthless' goods. The quality of the schooling available is not worth the effort and commitment needed from parents and children. Decentralisation of education is not working as the community involvement it depends on comes from a misplaced, over-romanticised view of what motivates communities.
The report also notes that in the village:
Successful education is equated with examination passes and migration to towns
Parents feel that schools and teachers are responsible to the state, not to them
Migration means that people do not necessarily wish to invest in the community where they live and educate their children
Erosion of traditional matrilineal family structures (where descent is traced through mothers and their blood relatives) means that the responsibility for children's care and education is often blurred.
Could ICTs revive faith in education?
The report highlights the enthusiasm with which villagers embraced opportunities provided by the project, developed positive images of their way of life, valued local knowledge and took pride in links to a prestigious global community.
The research is not optimistic about the capacity of information technology to bridge the digital divide either globally or within low income countries. However, within a context where technology is available it has some important suggestions for practice. It speculates on how accessible village information technology centres - powered by solar power and satellite communication technology - might catalyse community spirit and inspire culturally appropriate virtual learning environments (VLEs) based on user participation and interaction.
Greater access to ICTs might also enable schools to tackle parts of the curriculum - such as health education around HIV/AIDS - that are difficult to deliver by conventional methods. Dispersed families could keep in touch and farmers access vital marketing information. ICTs could motivate teachers to stay in the profession and further their own education even when living in rural areas.
Source: 'Understandings of education in an African village: the impact of information and communication technologies', Report on DFID research project ED2000-88, by J Pryor and J Ghartey Ampiah, April 2003
Case 2: Teachers and Technology in South Africa and Egypt
While issues of access and the relative merits of satellites or solar power are being discussed internationally, a project in South Africa and Egypt is exploring what actually happens at the classroom level when ICTs are introduced. How do ICTs change the way teachers teach? How do pupils respond to ICTs-enhanced teaching?
Research from the Open University, UK, highlights DEEP (the Digital Education Enhancement Project), a new project funded by the Department for International Development, that is helping teachers use ICT to improve teaching and learning in primary schools. Although still in its infancy, the project already shows that the impact of using ICTs extends further than pupil achievement and classroom practice to also benefit teachers' professional identities and the community as a whole.
In the Eastern Cape, DEEP is working with 12 disadvantaged primary schools, the majority of which are rural, three have no electricity and four have no telephone connection. The project uses rechargeable laptops (small, lightweight computers) and relevant websites on CD-ROM to help teachers where they have to overcome problems of poor or fragile infrastructure.
A pair of teachers from each of the schools has been given training materials such as website mediated activities and study guides. At workshops, they tried out a variety of curriculum focused ICTs activities such as researching scientific information about endangered species, or writing illustrated autobiographies. As teachers discover new ICTs-enhanced teaching methods, they present them to colleagues from other project schools in the region. For example, one teacher created an animated folk tale in Xhosa and English to support literacy work. Each project pair shares a laptop computer and each teacher has a hand-held computer supporting electronic books as well as video and audio files that focus on teaching strategies. Additional equipment such as digital cameras was introduced gradually in order to avoid 'technology overload'. Most of the project teachers meet regularly in informal groups for additional support.
Prior to the project, 16 of the 24 teachers had never used a computer but after four months they all considered ICTs important or very important for learning and felt confident in their use of ICTs.
The researchers also found that:
By introducing a printer halfway through the project, teachers learn to use the computer to support new approaches to classroom teaching, rather than for reproducing materials or for school administration, unlike many of their counterparts elsewhere in the world.
Students are using the equipment to learn in new ways such as creating spreadsheets on animal classification from data found on websites, creating multimedia texts and playing Afrikaans language games.
Where computers are used in rotation by small groups, students work on ICTs- enhanced activities which span several days such as carrying out research, rather than have occasional 'computer lessons'.
The equipment has been used widely outside the classroom for tasks such as community council minutes, school meeting agendas, funeral announcements, or recording a speech by Mark Shuttleworth, the first African astronaut, for pupils to study.
Teachers say that their confidence, enthusiasm and standing in the community has increased since being involved in DEEP. One of the project's schools was featured on a radio programme, while another has experienced a rise in enrolments.
Source: 'Building teachers' professional knowledge through ICT: experience and analysis across the "digital divide"', presented at the European Conference on Educational Research, Lisbon, by J. Leach, R. Moon and T. Power, September 2002
Case 3: Business Training in Senegal
In Africa the digital divide has prevented electronic delivery of lifelong learning. A programme in Senegal has shown that it is possible for educators to work with employers to establish a distance professional training scheme using appropriate information and communication technologies (ICTs).
Access to ICTs in Africa is still extraordinarily low. There are around 5.2 telephones per 100 inhabitants. Broadband is only available in a few countries. The geographical distribution of telecommunications infrastructure is uneven: 67 percent of fixed telephone lines in Senegal are concentrated in the capital. Only a thousand of the country's 14,200 villages have telephone connections. African languages are conspicuously absent on the Internet as the bulk of available information is in English.
Cybercafés are often proposed as venues for distance learning but are generally unsuitable due to lack of required hardware and software, limited bandwidth shared by crowds of users, high connection rates and, above all, an atmosphere that tends not to be compatible with learning.
Faced with falling student numbers, in 2001 EBAD began an experimental six-month distance learning certificate course for business documentation specialists. EBAD contacted 50 private and public sector companies, non-governmental organisations, local authorities and associations. It was agreed that:
Employers would provide learners with a computer and Internet access for at least two hours a day.
EBAD would provide training, charge learners a tuition fee and require them to continue working for their host business for the duration of the course.
Learners would be closely supervised by tutors via telephone, discussion forums and email.
The company would have the services of a new information worker for six months without having to pay extra wage costs or be under any obligation to hire the worker once the course was over.
Learners were awarded a business certificate.
This learning system has opened up new opportunities for information workers and given them marketable skills without needing to stop work or leave their families for a long and costly stay abroad.
The EBAD experiment has shown how partnership between businesses and training providers can provide companies with better-trained staff who are acquainted with the world of work and have relevant skills.
EBAD's experience highlights the need to:
create local training centres equipped with IT hardware and affordable broadband Internet access
promote adult education and encourage training centres to work with local businesses to develop training courses
persuade businesses to see the importance of upgrading and acquiring new knowledge and allow employees to take courses
promote the concept of learning through experience
encourage the development of short certificate training modules suited to the needs of business.
Source: 'Lifelong Learning in the African Context: A Practical Example from Senegal' by Olivier Sagna in 'Perspectives on Distance Education, Lifelong Learning & Distance Higher Education', edited by Christopher McIntosh and Zeynep Varoglu, Commonwealth of Learning / UNESCO Publishing, 2005.
Case 4: China commits to ICT-based distance learning and e-learning
China has a vision of lifelong learning in which information and communication technologies -based (ICTs) distance education and electronic learning are key components. China now has three of the world's mega-universities, institutions in which over 100,000 students use largely distance learning methods. It hopes its strategy for promoting lifelong learning will be adopted worldwide.
Due to funding constraints only ten percent of school-leavers can be enrolled in colleges or universities and competition for places is intense. The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China has identified modern distance education (MDE) - the provision of ICTs-based DE using multimedia computer facilities and the Internet - as a fast and cost-effective way to ease the pressure.
This has been made possible by the explosive growth of the Internet and demand for e-commerce, e-publishing, e-advertising and e-entertainment. By the end of 2004 some 94 million people in China were online, almost half of them with broadband access. By the end of 2003 there were 2.3 million enrolments registered for MDE programmes in 68 pilot universities. China has a network of independent radio and television universities (RTVUs) coordinated by the China Central Radio and Television University. Most e-learning institutions work closely with the private sector.
The development of e-learning requires massive investment. The government is providing basic infrastructure and network connections and monitoring quality. Public and private-sector capital will join with the e-learning institutions to develop high quality learning resources. With the introduction of market mechanisms, more learning opportunities should become available for the poorer populations. Some universities have reduced tuition fees for learners in the lower-income western regions of China.
E-learning is playing a key role in meeting demand for higher education, but there are problems:
Due to the large number of companies competing to develop e-learning systems, there is a need to coordinate technological standards.
Learners are often isolated and can lack motivation through not being in a learning community.
Many teachers have poor understanding about e-learning and how to design and conduct ICTs-based courses.
Infrastructure is often inadequate: some e-learners lack appropriate computers or broadband connections.
E-learning should be presented not as a complete alternative to campus-based formal education, but as one part of a lifelong learning system. If other countries are to learn from the Chinese model they need to accept the vital role of central government in:
providing ICTs infrastructure, setting technical standards and overseeing accreditation, regulation and standardisation
encouraging universities to assist each other in their e-learning programmes, sharing research material posted on the Internet and providing access to each other's courses
motivating the private sector to invest in e-learning
training teachers with skills in ICTs-based education
popularising ICTs-learning by public information campaigns and reassuring students by provision of counseling and mentoring
ensuring availability to less-developed areas to broaden access between geographical regions and between urban and rural areas.
Source: 'The Chinese Approach', by Ding Xingfu, Gu Xiaoqing and Zhu Zhiting, pages 63-78, in 'Perspectives on Distance Education, Lifelong Learning & Distance Higher Education', Commonwealth of Learning / UNESCO Publishing, edited by Christopher McIntosh and Zeynep Varoglu, 2005.
ICTs and Education: Some Additional Readings
Angrist, J. and V. Lavy (2002) New Evidence on Classroom Computers and Pupil Learning, Economic Journal, 1, pp. 735-765.
Perraton and Creed (2000) Applying New Technologies and Cost-Effective Delivery Systems in Basic Education. World Education Forum Education for All. [incomplete reference]
Bloome, T. (2000) "Zimbabwe - The Bindura Internet Learning Center: Modest in Size, but Mighty in Impact", TechKnowLogia, November - December, 2000. Available online at: http://www.techknowlogia.org/TKL_active_pages2/CurrentArticles/main.asp?FileType=PDF&ArticleID=203.
Capper, J. (2003) "Complexities and Challenges of Integrating Technology into the Curriculum", TechKnowLogia, January-March 2003. Available online at: http://www.techknowlogia.org/TKL_active_pages2/CurrentArticles/main.asp?FileType=PDF&ArticleID=471.
Cawthera, A. (2002) "Computers in Schools: an unaffordable luxury?" Available online at: http://www.id21.org/education/E4ac2g1.html.
Daly, J. (2003) Education, Information and Communication Technologies, and the Millennium Development Goals". Available online at: http://topics.developmentgateway.org/ict/sdm/previewDocument.do~activeDocumentId=840982.
Filmer, D. (2004) If you build it, Will they come? School availability and school enrolment in 21 poor countries. World Bank Group Working Paper, No.3340, The World Bank, Washington, D.C.
Fletcher, J. (2003) "Does this stuff work? A review of technology used to teach". Techknowlogia, January-March 2003, pp. 10 - 14. Available online at: http://www.techknowlogia.org/TKL_active_pages2/CurrentArticles/main.asp?IssueNumber=19&FileType=PDF&ArticleID=457.
Hawkins, R. (2002) "Ten lessons for ICT and Education in the Developing World" in the Global Competitiveness Report, 2001-2, pp. 38-43. Available online at: http://www.cid.harvard.edu/cr/pdf/gitrr2002_ch04.pdf.
Hodas, S. (1993) "Technology refusal and the organizational culture of schools". Education Policy Analysis Archives 1 (10). Available online at: http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v1n10.html.
International Society for Technology in Education (http://www.iste.org)
Kremer, M. and Vermeersch, C. (2005) School meals, educational achievement and school competition: Evidence from randomised evaluation, World Bank Working Paper, No.3532, The World Bank, Washington, D.C.
Leach, J. (2005) An investigation of the use of information and communication technologies for teacher education in the global south, Knowledge and Research, Report No.58, Department for International Development.
McKinnon, D. et al (2000) A longitudinal study of student attitudes towards computers: Resolving an attitude decay paradox. Journal of Research on Computing in Education, 32, pp. 325-335.
Murelli, E. and L. Delgrossi (2000) Internet: a new medium for the developing countries in the educational field, IFIP WG9.4 Conference 2000 - Information Flows, Local Improvisations and Work Practices, Cape Town, 24-26 May 2000.
Osin, L. (1998) Computers in education in developing countries: Why and how? Education and Technology Series, 3 (1), Washington DC, World Bank. Available at: http://www-wds.worldbank.org.
Potashnik, M. (1996) Chile's learning network. Education and Technology Series, 1 (2), Washington DC, World Bank. Available at:
Recommendations for a Pro-Poor ICT4D Non-Formal Education Policy. Final Report for Imfundo: Partnership for IT in Education [Wagner 2004]
Resnick, M. (2002) Re-thinking Learning in the Digital Age" in the Global Competitiveness Report, 2001-2, pp. 32-37. Available online at: http://www.cid.harvard.edu/cr/pdf/gitrr2002_ch03.pdf