Education Ministries Need to See the Possibilities of ICT Beyond Computer Education : Dr. Jyrki Pulkkinen, Global e-Schools and Communities Initiative (GeSCI)

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Initially use of computer was considered synonymous with use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in education, especially in schools and colleges. Do you think that the former notion justifies the latter? What do you opine about utilisation of ICT in current Scenario in India?

No, I do not think computers are synonymous with ICTs. However, ICT in education is still a very vague concept because it can mean almost anything that is related to use of any digital or analog technologies at any level of the education system, from school to higher education, as well as in administration and even at home. On the other hand, it is also a good term because ICT seems to transform all aspects of education. When referring to ICT in Education, we just should specify which processes and/or institutional aspects are we currently referring to. 

From this point of view, the use of computers can be counted into ICT in education, but we should understand that it is only one aspect of the whole issue. If we look at it from a  historical perspective, computers were not the first “ICTs” that the schools have been using. We have had many analog technologies, that currently are still counted in to the concept of ICT, like radio, TV and even over-head projectors, that have been shaping our understanding of the use of ICT in education. Those older technologies could still be used to support traditional education in a class room setting similar to computers. From this point of view, I do not see standalone computers would help transform education in India to a large extent.

The new aspect that ICT can bring in to education is the use of digital communication technology that makes the big difference if compared to previous technologies, including standalone computers in education. In practice this means that the Internet and other communication services that can connect people and institutions have to work together. It can potentially transform the whole education sytem and therefore it should not be used as a synonym for computers in education. 

Also from technical point of view, ICT includes many other sophisticated technologies than computers, like mobile phones, PDAs, GPS, communication infrastructure like satellites and wireless networks, etc, that are very useful in learning, especially open and flexible learning but also other processes in education.

Ministries across world are propagating ICT use in area of education. Can you give us a brief comparison and a few success stories of the current scenario, with respect to application of ICT in Schools across various countries and India.

Yes, many countries have prioritised ICTs in education, which is a positive trend. Even those that do not seem to have financial resources for traditional education are talking of ICTs. There may be very successful implementation models at school levels, but it is very difficult to pinpoint any specific country that have been more successful in their national models. In Finland, schools adopt those models which are best suited to their requirements. However, that requires highly skilled teachers and principals at the school level.  

At the general level my concern is that most of the ministries do not really see the possibilities of ICT beyond computer education. I fully agree that there is a huge need for ICT related skills in all the societies, especially poor ones, but it would be short sighted to utilise only that aspect of ICTs in education. There also seem to be only one or two models in ministries’ minds, on how ICTs can be integrated in education. Usually these models are, indeed, very classroom based and targeted either to bring new skills, like ICTs or “computyping” in the curriculum or raise the quality of learning in various subjects in classrooms. These are very relevant skills too.

However, if we look  at the biggest challenges in many of the developing countries’ education systems, too many children and young adults are still left out from the formal education system. ICT could really address this problem, if we only see the potential. For example, if there was one computer in each of the classroom which would be furnished with an IP video conferencing facility, then the teacher could use it for linking the class room to homes or small community centers in rural or poor environments where children could come together and join the classroom virtually.

Therefore,  the need today is to look at the challenges in our own education system and try to address those with ICT rather opt for blind adoption of ICT models from other countries. I think the computer lab model adopted by most of the schools in India and other countries is exactly one of those copied without a proper consideration.

GeSCI is seeking good practices and evidence for successful use of ICT in education together with the research communities, private sector and governments, and use this evidence in knowledge sharing and capacity building programmes offered to government staff and ministries.

Interaction, Innovation and Quality are the major concerns of the schools where technology is being integrated. What are the opportunities and challenges that are being witnessed by the school sector today with respect to the former?

As long as ICTs is seen only as computers in classrooms, we do not forsee too much interaction or innovation in learning. It only continues the tradition of memorising and rote learning in schools. Once ICT is understood as a communication tool connecting people to interact, it can usher in an aspect of innovation to learning. However, this seems to be very difficult for teachers to initiate and organise in their own classrooms, although good examples exist. The experience shows that it may take more time to change the teaching arrangements of a school and one cannot expect that the rest of the teachers will understand right away what you are doing. They may even resist in the beginning as one is changing the traditional setup of the school. However, all innovations are resisted in the beginning. 

Can you explain how ICT integration can link school eduction with higher education and also with the working life of an individual? What are the services and products offered by GeSCI to enhance ICT knowledge integration amongst pupils?

I have already indicated above that ICT can change education at the institutional level, if only we see the potential. And this is also what is needed if we want to link education to working life with ICT. It not only requires appropriate ICT technologies, but also appropriate new organisation for education delivery.  We can call it open and flexible learning or open education, or blended learning. It is really important for us to change every aspect of the education institution, if we wanted to change the delivery mode of an education institution. ICTs can then be used for solving real educational problems. 

GeSCI does not offer any learning services for schools and institutions at the moment. What GeSCI can do in this regards is to carry out action research that could help professionals and institutions to understand the complexity of open learning and help institutions to reshape their delivery modes and to connect  better to the learners outside of normal school set up. A long lasting developmental research could create “a living lab” for the government to create incentives and policies, encouraging institutions to connect better to working life.

Kindly highlight GeSCI’s role in building strategic capacities on ICT in education in developing countries. What is the procedure/ guidelines your organisation follows for building such capacities? Do you endorse the concept of Public Private Partnership as well?

GeSCI is a knowledge creation and sharing organisation by nature, which means that GeSCI is seeking good practices and evidence for successful use of ICT in education together with the research communities, private sector and governments, and use this evidence in knowledge sharing and capacity building programmes offered to government staff and ministries. The capacity building programmes can be organised through “working together” arrangements in nation-wide ICT4E initiatives or through national or regional workshops. Also, virtual working and creation of “communities of practice” are emphasised.

As GeSCI works always in partnership with governments and also gives strategic advice for the ministries related to different national ICT initiatives, it requires some level of neutrality and independence from private ICT sector and other stakeholders. Therefore, GeSCI has maintained good relationships to all ICT providers and industry, but not joined their marketing initiatives. Also the core funding of GeSCI is coming from the public sector. However, we believe in the real multi-stakeholder initiatives and are happy to work together with different stakeholders sharing common goals with us. 

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