ICT in Schools-Glimpses from Afar
August 2008

ICT in Schools-Glimpses from Afar

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Utpal Mallik

Department of Computer Education, NCERT

From leaders in the government to leading pedagogues, all face decisions as to why and how to integrate ICT (read computers and the allied technologies) into education of children. The decisions are not easy, because choices are complex and demanding and the impact of the technology on education is open to debate. Research says little to guide decision-makers. To make the matter further complicated, the technology keeps changing.

Social scientists acknowledge the changes that are taking place towards a global, knowledge-oriented economy. There is no general agreement on the pace at which these changes are taking place, but people do agree that the knowledge society – or at any rate, the information society – is here. South Korea, among the Asian nations, made the clear statement that the goal of its ICT in schools is ‘adapting education to the information age’. The rhetoric that curriculum reform should make use of the technology, to prepare the present and the coming generations for the information age, is also the rationale for new mechanisms for lifelong learning using information technology to bring about changes in the content, process and outcome of education.

This article is a cursory glance at the school ICT programmes in 35-odd randomly se-lected countries to note  the variations in policies and practices and is an invitation for policy analysts to explore ‘what’ is happening to technology-mediated educa-tional processes,  ‘where’, ‘why’ & ‘how’.

The available policy statements from different countries converge on two prominent themes, namely, ‘ICT skills for all’ and ‘ICT integration to enhance the teaching-learning processes’. The latter often gains support from the assertions that integration of the new technology calls for a new pedagogy and that the new pedagogy is emerging.

Within Asia and the Pacific region, advanced countries like Australia, Singapore and South Korea have policy goals linked with overall national ICT policies – introduce ICT in education to contribute to the knowledge society for economic development, fostering creative industrial manpower, bridging the digital divide and promoting equity in access. All these countries have revised their curricula to make ICT an integral part. Delivery of education is increasingly online. Delivery of teacher training too is rapidly going online. Training of teachers also develops the skills in putting the classrooms online, developing websites and concern for digital rights management and copyright issues.  These countries are also ahead of others in the region in terms of evaluation and monitoring of their practices.  Malaysia has done a number of experiments with ICT in school education and is better known for its Smart School Project. With the best of the available technology infrastructure, Smart Schools are to promote individual abilities by offering a broad-based curriculum for all with multidisciplinary subjects that are vertically integrated. China, Thailand, Japan, the Philippines and India have national ICT policies and master plans for applying and testing various strategies but have not fully integrated ICT within education. Then there are countries like Myanmar, Lao PDR, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Maldives, Bhutan and Pacific Islands, either with national policies but not enough resources to implement them, or without policies, yet running pilot ICT projects in schools.

ICT skills for all

The basic skills keep changing as the technology changes. Programming skill, which was a major goal in the 1880s, is no longer a goal in the majority of countries, except Bulgaria, China Taipei and the Russian Federation. During the last 10-15 years, there has been a clear shift in the meaning given to the concept of ICT skills for all.  In the early 1990s, computer skills were taught in courses that focused on the use of general purpose software, like the ubiquitous office suite. Today, the focus is also on the use of the Internet and the WWW in assignments and tasks performed inside and outside the school.

Teaching ICT skills separately, independent of what they are taught for, is more prevalent in Asia than anywhere else. In most Western European countries and in the United States, ICT skills are taught as part of other school subjects. In the UK, ICT as a discrete area of study is embedded in other subjects and teachers of non-computer subjects share responsibility for teaching basic computing skills. Technology integration into curriculum is gaining popularity as the desired model for computers in education. Most countries have policies or policy statements that require the use of ICT to be integrated in all subjects, but those with decentralised education, like the US, have realised those policy goals to a greater extent than others. In Central and Eastern Europe, where the education systems are rigid and under centralised authorities, the picture is less encouraging.

Policies on ICT as a school subject are prevalent in certain regions of the world. Almost all Central and Eastern European countries, save for the Slovak Republic, have separate ICT courses as part of their secondary school curricula. The list of countries also includes Bulgaria and China Taipei, where computer science and related courses are elective subjects at the senior secondary level. The use of ICT as a medium for teaching and learning of other subjects is also part of the national policies in these countries but has not been implemented due to various constraints.

ICT integration to enhance teaching-learning process

The curricular context of ICT integration  is implicit in the policy statements in many countries, which is reflected  in statements like, “ICT should be part of students’ everyday learning” (Iceland), “application of ICT in the whole learning process” (Lithuania), and “use of ICT in essential learning areas to enhance learning” (New Zealand).  ‘ICT in education’ policies of Catalonia (Spain), Germany and Singapore are clear in that ICT is seen in these countries as facilitator of the emerging pedagogy which has the potentiality to make learning student-centred and more engaging. However, boldness of the policy statement does not make its implementation less difficult or problematic, as has been experienced by France, The Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, the UK and the United States.

The emerging pedagogy is a more rational approach to information society than the traditional pedagogy, but it calls for changes in all components of the learning process.  Some innovative practices across the globe make curriculum changes aim at developing skills important for information society, make learning meaningful to students, cross boundaries of traditional subjects and change assessment practices. Such innovations are rare. Few of these have succeeded in breaking down the school wall to the outside world or in making learning independent of time and space.

High expectations from multimedia, or the Internet and the World Wide Web have not been realised in practice, take any country in the world.  Yet there is stubborn optimism that the technology would increase student-centred teaching and students’ skills in problem-solving, in measuring and controlling events, in doing investigations and in constructing knowledge.

Communication and collaboration between schools is a remarkable feature of ICT use in education in Europe. European national networks play a role in distribution of educational information and also in promoting connections between schools, tteachers and students. School networks in Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway and The Netherlands are for schools to communicate and engage in collaborative activities. The Swedish Schoolnet is a website for teachers, useful for integrating technology in the classroom. In Denmark, Sektornet connects majority of schools to the Internet. On the Dutch Kennisnet site, each user from the school community can construct a website with materials that could be of use for others. Australia, where there are many schools located in remote and isolated territories, has established networks to connect schools.

Staff development

Adoption of emerging pedagogy is linked to staff development.  In several countries, there are ‘benchmarks’ or ‘ICT driving licenses’, which list ICT competencies for teachers. These benchmarks indicate the teachers’ readiness to change their practices.

The priority given to staff development varies in different countries. Two extreme positions are illustrated by New Zealand and China Hong Kong.  The former is the singular example where professional development of teachers has been consistently high on the agenda for educational ICT for the last fifteen years or more. Schools seek funding for the infrastructure only when they produce strategic plans that meet the criteria established by the government.  A significant component in that plan is the provision for teacher empowerment. Contrarily, in China Hong Kong, only 4% of the ICT budget is allocated to staff development and the major share for building infrastructure.

Leadership is important to support introduction of ICT in schools. Cyprus, Germany, Singapore and New Zealand have special arrangements for the professional development needs of principals. Singapore implements its “Principals First” programme to make school principals among the first to receive professional training.

The increasing presence of ICT in schools in many countries has led to the emergence of new roles and functions for professionals in the school sector, which are usually not carried out by school teachers. In more affluent countries, this has evolved into the provision for a computer-related personnel structure in the school system for technical support and coordination.

China Hong Kong and China Taipei attach much emphasis on developing teachers’ skills in using ICT and the abilities to create multimedia courseware. In systems where ICT across the curriculum has recently started, and the ICT infrastructure in schools are relatively low, as in some Eastern European countries, the focus is more on technical skills. By contrast, in Western Europe, and the Czech Republic, European Computer Drivers’ License is the benchmark for teachers’ ICT competencies for teaching.  In the US, preparing teachers means helping them construct their own understanding of how to teach with, not just operate, technology. Finland locates its in-service teacher training within a nationwide Information Society Strategy and in developing knowledge and skills to reform pedagogical practices, “especially with regards to collaborative teaching and learning, networking and team
work”. Finland anticipates that “the information society, the genesis of a digital and global economy, and the development of the media require substantial changes to the culture of work and professional competence”. Professional development for teachers is organised within this broader context.

The lesson

There is no single or universal formula when it comes to applying ICT in education nor a piece of advice that can be directly applied without considering each country’s priorities, long term budgetary prospects and commitment.  Crafting a new future for, and with, the emerging information society, through achievement of new curriculum goals via emerging pedagogical practices, is the job before educators. The national policy in any country must have a built-in implementation plan and a sound evaluation strategy. Clear achievement standards and performance indicators will provide accountability. At the end of the day, the policy is judged by results, not intentions.

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