ICT in education in developing countries challenges and solutions

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ICT in education in developing countries challenges and solutions

ICT in education in developing countries: challenges and solutions

Following  document is final assignment for IT research preperation subject at UTS, australia.

Information and communication technology (ICT) in developing countries is suggested as an effective way to improve the population’s life and well-being. In particular, ICT applications on the education system might change the future of the underdeveloped world fundamentally through the connections to ‘the flat world’(Friedman 2005). However, there are some challenges which  the developing world faces when they adopt ICT in the education sector. These challenges are limitations on cost, internet access, trained staff and adequate policy. This report focuses on these hurdles and their corresponding solutions and includes practical examples from all around the world. Some criticism and considerations are also presented.

1. Introduction

People in this modern society are becoming more and more familiar with Information and Communication Technology (ICT). ICT refers to ‘the technology that enables communication and the electronic capture, processing, and transmission of Information’ (Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology 2006).  Some scholars (Oliveira 1989) argue that ICT is a formidable tool for developing countries to leap up to the economic level of developed nations. This leapfrogging might be accomplished by skipping a few steps that developed countries have gone through, so that developing countries close the economic gap more easily.

Technology enhanced education is generally perceived as a way to relieve poverty, social division and improve living standards due to the fact that technologies can deliver educational programs at a lower cost than traditional education systems. This technology-supported education system is cost-efficient, which is especially meaningful in countries with poor infrastructure (Oliveira 1989).

However, compared with developed countries, the use of ICT in education programs in developing nations is relatively limited, because underdeveloped countries face shortages of financial resources, limited internet access, a lack of trained teachers and the lack of proper policies (Gulati 2008; Kozma 1999; Oliveira 1989; Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology 2006).

This paper explains the concept of ‘the digital divide’ and focuses on the main challenges and solutions for implementing ICT in the education sector in underdeveloped world. The examples, which show how the solutions viably work in the real world, correspondingly examine each challenge they face. Some criticism and considerations for implementing ICT development follows.

2. The Digital Divide

Osterwalder(n.d.) introduces a useful framwork which divides ICT related capacity into three parts, those being infrastructure, sectoral applications and use of applications. The first part refers to the ability to provide and  maintain infrastructure, such as internet access at an affordable cost. Sectors to which ICT can be applied are those such as  education, health, business, governance, society and environment. The capacity related to these sectors is the creation and maintenance of useful content and applications. Use of application is linked to the capacity of the users to utilize those applications. Basically, all of these capacities are strongly related to human capacity because every ability explained in this framwork can be done by a human.

According to Osterwalder(n.d.), ICT is perceived as a prerequisite for development. However, when it comes to comparing the developing world with the developed world, there is also a huge gap in the usage of ICT between these two groups. This gap is referred to as ‘the Digital Divide’ (Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology 2006) and can be seen within a country and between countries. The ICT environment surrounding education in developed countries is relatively abundant. According to the research done by the Second Information Technology in Education Study(SITES), which is the project of the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement(IEA), the number of PCs in schools are increasing and access to the internet is easy in developed countries. Moreover, ICT is actively adapted in schooling to the extent that ICT changes pedagogical practice innovatively (Kozma 1999). In contrast, in underdeveloped countries, ICT infrastructure is weak and the internet access is limited. Supply of PC in school is much less than needed and trained person who can resolve computer literacy is also in serious shortage (Gulati 2008; Kozma 1999; Oliveira 1989).

The digital divide is mainly related to such factors as appropriate products, cost, education, literacy, human resources, and government regulations. To tackle the digital divide, carefully selected technology can be used. Open source software, which is basically free because its source code is open to the public, might be a good choice for the countries under financial pressure. Governments have a significant role in reducing the digital divide. They can cut the tax imposed on ICT related imports or liberalize the market for PCs, telecommunication and the internet business. These actions will result in a lower price of ICT related products and an increase in affordability. Industries also have a role in closing this division. Normally, industry works for profit, but corporations have a social responsibility to spend their resources on unprofitable but highly required areas and some of them are actively involved in addressing the digital divide (Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology 2006).

3. Challenges and Solutions to Implementing ICT in Developing Countries

Many researchers agree with the idea that ICT’s role is to be a reliable tool to improve the quality of life and this reduces the economic gap between developed and developing countries. Applying ICT to schooling is an urgent task for developing countries to implement (Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology 2006). However, there are challenges that the developing world is facing and these make the ‘Digital Divide’ continue not only between countries but also within countries (Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology 2006). The hurdles are mainly divided into four categories; a lack of financial resources, poor access to the internet, limited trained teachers, and lack of policy (Gulati 2008; Kozma 1999; Oliveira 1989; Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology 2006; Ruth & Shi 2001).

3.1. Financial issues

The first issue, which almost all developing countries face, is how to deal with the scarcity of financial resources (Oliveira 1989). Resources in the developing world are always scarce so that they have to be spent mostly on basic supplies such as food, housing and roads. In a sense, investing in ICT for schooling might be regarded as a long term issue which means adopting ICT in the education system is relatively not an urgent issue considering the serious poverty in many African countries. This results in a vicious circle between scarcity of funds and underdevelopedness. When it comes to the controversy of priority of investment between basic services and ICT, both might be linked in the case of education  (Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology 2006). One piece of good news about cost is the cost of hardware is decreasing rapidly. The price of PCs and peripherals is reduced to half of the original price every two years. Because of this, the salary of the IT professionals who can teach the new technology is the biggest burden on education budgets and it is followed by software related costs (Oliveira 1989).

Many world organizations such as the United Nations and other independent groups are working on projects to deal with the financial scarcity of developing countries. For example, the One Laptop Per Child(OLPC) Project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is working to deliver an affordable PC to  every child in the developing nations at low cost. This project is working together with corporates such as Google and Newscorp. They developed US$199 laptops and governments buy them to issue them to children who could not afford them, who are being educated in the public system (Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology 2006).

3.2. Limited internet access

Access to the internet is highly limited in remote areas, and relatively poor infrastructure in developing nations such as  supply of electricity makes this worse (Gulati 2008). Low infrastructure is the fundamental problem for developing countries to deal with and it might take a long time and huge funding to improve. Low literacy rates also hinder locals in remote areas from accessing information through the internet and due to the dominance of English on the internet, non-English speaking local people are isolated from the benefits of using internet (Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology 2006).

To address these limitations, correspondence courses can be applied (Ruth & Shi 2001).  Typical correspondence courses mainly use the printed study materials and exchange assignments between students and tutors through the postal service, so that the students living in poor countries do not need the internet service or computers, which is relatively expensive for them. Distance learning through broadcasting on TV might be another alternative for developing countries with limited intrnet access (Ruth & Shi 2001).

Kosma(1999) presents global scale movement, called World Links for Development (WorLD Program), which is lanched by the World Bank Institute aiming to link secondary school students and teachers for improving education. This program provides total support including interconnection, training, partnership, policy advice and evaluation. Uganda is the first country to apply  this program and it has spread to 26 countries resulting in better responses from both students and teachers. Teachers in this program used more email, bulletin boards and the internet in school than others who do not belong to WorLD program.

3.3. Lack of trained staff

Another challenge of developing nations to adopt ICT in education systems is a lack of trained teachers (Gulati 2008; Kozma 1999). When it comes to practically applying ICT, which is new to traditional teachers, many may not know how to deal with it and sometimes they are reluctant to accept new technologies in their classrooms. Thus, tutors who can train these teachers about new technology and IT professionals who can technically install and maintain the system are needed.

To address this issue, distance learning might be a useful alternative which is relatively affordable and does not require hiring of human resources in remote countries. However, due to the limited access to the internet, distance learning can   only be based on text books and possiblly satellite TV programs. This is not the case for the distance learning programs of many developed countries. For example, China adapted distance learning to cover its broad territory by slowly leveling up the applied technology from the TV-based to the internet-based depending on the region’s level of infrastructure development. This step-by-step approach was successful.

3.4. Lack of policy

ICT in education in developing countries challenges and solutions

Gulati (2008) argues that inappropriate policy and funding decisions may hinder equal educational development in some developing countries. He also asserts that elitism is the most common driver for improper policy. For example, India focuses mostly on the higher education system so the poor do not have enough opportunities to get adequate education even though there is certain technology-enhanced education such as satellite TV learning programs (Gulati 2008). Pressure from industry might be another source of improper policy (Oliveira 1989). Industry lobbyists distort the policy of ICT and education for the purpose of their favour.

The governments in developing nations need to liberalize markets and cut taxes on the ICT industries. For the reasonable and affordable pricing, market liberalization should be accomplished. Cutting taxes also help in increasing affordability resulting in  spreading ICT accessibility(Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology 2006). When it comes to policy advice, Gulati(2008) especially focuses on investing in infrastructure. These actions will help boost sustainable technology enhanced schooling.

4. Considerations

Although some argue that applying ICT will improve the quality of life in the developing world, critics question whether basic services such as clean water or libraries should be prioritized (Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology 2006). A delegate from an African country argued in a world meetng of the United Nations that clean water and schools are more important than ICT adoption such as OLPC program which cost US$199 per child constrasting the cost for buiding library, hosting 400 children, which is only US$2 per child.

Oliveira(1989) argues that given limited resources in developing nations, investment on ICT should consider cost and effectiveness so that policy makers can properly select the most effective parts out of many areas such as building library, improving teacher’s quality and adopting distance learning. The government  of developing nations also have to decide to what extent they will invest in ICT, because in some countries it requires only simple technology due to the low level infrastructure.  This means that developing countries should focus more on strategy than on products.

The role of ICT in developing countries is significant and critical for their rapid economic success which might lead to closing the gap between the developed and developing world. When implementing the ICT in the education sector, there are considerable challenges such as cost, internet access, training and policy issue. But, each issue has its own ways of addressing which is effective practice around world. However, all these changes for development through applying ICT to the education sector must consider the environment each country faces, because the situation of each nation is totally different from each other. It might be different from region to region within the country and it changes as time goes by.

Friedman, T. 2005, The World is Flat. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York.

www.distanceandaccesstoeducation.org/contents/IRRODL-Gulati.pdf .

web2.udg.es/tiec/orals/c17.pdf .

Oliveira, J. 1989, ‘Computer education in developing countries: Facing hard choices’, Education & Computing. vol.9, no. 2, pp. 301-311.

Osterwalder, A. n.d. ‘ICT in developing countries’, HEC, University of Lausanne.

www.parliament.uk/paliamentary_offices/post/pubs2006.cfm .

Ruth, S. & Shi, M. 2001, ‘Distance learning in developing countries: Is anyone measuring cost-benefits?’,  TechKnowLogia ,  May/June, pp. 35-38.

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