In achieving not just universal but high-quality primary education it has become self-evident that ICT has a role to play in teacher training and in the social inclusion in education and employment of people living with disabilities and otherwise marginalised groups.
Aside from the explicit recognition of the importance of education to development articulated in the aims of MDG Two, education in a broader sense, conceived of as human capacity building, is a pivotal ingredient in achieving all of the Millennium Development Goals. Without sustained investment in the training and education of in-service healthcare professionals, for example, progress towards MDGs Four, Five, and Six would stall. Seen in through this prism, ‘Making available the benefits of the new information and communication technologies’ as targeted in MDG-8, has a central part to play in the training and development needed to achieve all of the MDGs.
Developments in the Role of ICT in Education
Beneath the hyperbole surrounding the potential for ICT in development that dominated development discourse preceding the dot com crash, and the equally simplistic backlash that followed, individuals in NGOs, universities and colleges have been quietly introducing ICTs to bring about significant improvement in the quality of teaching and learning.
This means development is not just in the adaptation of ICT applications but a transformation in the pedagogical process. The UNESCO publication ICT in Teacher Education: A Planning Guide documents the transitional stages that teachers go through in ICT adoption from simple application of technology as a substitute for current teaching practice (teachers’ lectures are supported by electronic presentation tools or students are required to write papers using a word processor; and a course syllabus on paper is moved online). As teachers’ knowledge and experience with new technologies continues to develop, and the capacity of the host institution to give support and access to ICT grows, it becomes possible to move beyond the adaptation of ICT applications. The use of ICT in classrooms can lead to a shift towards more learner-centred approaches with spectacular affects on student attainment.
Where my organisation Computer Aid International works in Africa, although much still needs to be done, the accelerating spread of fibre-optic cables and increased private sector competition mean that high-speed broadband is slowly becoming more widespread and affordable. In the institutions we work with we are seeing this transform the application of ICT in education from simple word-processing to the use of video and interactive methodologies and seeing e-learning, applied in the classroom and at home, opening up learning and development opportunities for groups that are traditionally socially marginalised disadvantaged by the limitations of traditional education.
The meteoric rise worldwide of simple, free teaching tools like the khanacademy.org for simple mathematics and English lessons, as well as resources developed specifically to support school based teacher education and training in Africa like tessafrica.net prove the importance now placed on ICT by students and teachers alike.
Overcoming Barriers of Distance, Time and Gender
Kenyatta University, for example, has used a combination of low-cost IT equipment provided by Computer Aid and an online learning environment to extend and improve the quality of its distance learning courses across Kenya. For students, especially those that either have family commitments or are working as teachers, nurses or other roles, this means not having to move to Nairobi to continue study and being able to fit study around work or family commitments. For rural communities this means that the nurses, doctors and teachers that are critical to public service delivery, social cohesion and economic development don’t have to leave to continue their education.
E-learning also reduces the time that it takes teachers and lecturers to prepare for and deliver lectures and assessment exercises. Stella Maris Polytechnic in Monrovia is using the free Open Source e-learning platform Moodle to enable highly skilled people working in government and the private sector to share their knowledge and skills to the next generation through teaching part-time. Computer Aid International has delivered Moodle training to heads of higher education institutions in Kenya, Nigeria and at the e-learning Africa 2010 conference in Zambia.
Education in Rural Development
The work of a Computer Aid International partner in Zambia provides a stark illustration of the impact of ICT in education in a rural context. Working in extremely remote and resource-limited environments in Zambia, Macha Works is driving down the cost of connectivity through the creation of wireless Mesh networks. Using professionally refurbished PCs and wireless routers provided by Computer Aid International, the creation of a rural Mesh network enables hospitals, schools and communities to share bandwidth across a wide area. Sharing a $1,500 per month connection between 50 users is a first step to introducing ICT-enabled education. Students in the local primary school where e-learning has been introduced are passing grade 9 exams in grade 6. Local nurse training schools are attracting new people to the area and outstripping results at neighbouring institutions.
Most importantly, communities with internet access benefit the most by become learning environments: because learning resources are readily available, the most talented young people see opportunities to grow and develop in the area they grow up in and therefore stay to play a role in the development of their communities.
ICT literacy in most parts of the world is as much a prerequisite for employment and learning as basic literacy has been to date. Via the training and professional development of practitioners in all sectors, ICTs are contributing toward the acceleration of all aspects of social and economic development and toward the realisation of all of the MDGs.
At Computer Aid International we believe that tackling problems of widespread affordability and other practical, economic and socially constructed barriers to access is key to ensuring that ICT is a force for equality and mobility rather than a magnifier of existing inequalities. Massive investment in technology is essential across all educational institutions and for training and professional development in every sector of the world economy.
Grand claims for its potential, and expensive and unsustainable pilot projects hurt the reputation of ICT in development but there is now a growing recognition of the need to mainstream ICT across all development programmes. The Social Return on investments in ICT is huge when seen as in investment in the education and continuous development of the people who will make development happen. Mobilising sufficient resources to enable everyone to play their part will require us to ‘develop a global partnership for development’ as stressed in MDG 8. Computer Aid International and its network is one small example of a pro-poor partnership that brings together private companies, donors, government and non-governmental institutions to make ICTs affordable and accessible for the furtherance of the MDGs.
Director of Finance and Fundraising
Computer Aid International