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  1. Information and Communication Technologies for Education - Education in Information Communication Technologies: Twin Opportunities and Challenges! I. Introduction With…
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  • 1. Information and Communication Technologies for Education - Education in Information Communication Technologies: Twin Opportunities and Challenges! I. Introduction With the increasing capacity of information and communication technologies, there is a rise in new learning opportunities beyond the traditional "book- teacher" model. Globally, the nature of learning and teaching is changing rapidly due, in part, to increasing interaction from more accessible global telecommunication networks driven by the content of the Internet. New options for distance education are driving the shift from traditional learning communities (schools, universities and colleges) - constrained by proximity - towards unrestricted lifelong learning possibilities. The shift from teacher- centered to learner-centered learning means teachers at all levels need to embrace new information and communication technologies and education and training need to keep up with the advances of new technologies. As new technology is being accepted as the catalyst for new learning environments, access to communication has become crucial. Access to communication and information is indeed a fundamental human right. This is easier said than done in developing countries. The challenges to access to information and communication are tremendous. A substantive progress in implementation of information and communications and for that matter progress in quality of life and development cannot be achieved without preparing people for a knowledge society* [1]. This partially involves making an environment amenable for diffusing computers to schools, training the population in computer application and a building a solid national computer and communication science education. Advanced university training in computer communication systems, computer systems, information science, parallel and distributed systems, software engineering, simulation techniques and tools and telecommunication systems and creation of campus and nation wide network and information systems in education have no substitute for national development. The challenge here is not to put computers on the desks of schools but also to create the conditions for bright students to emerge with solutions to actual problems – perhaps this could lead to a national industry comparable to current agricultural production. This paper discusses some of the key opportunity and challenges facing information technology applications in
  • 2. education and computer science education in developing nations with particular reference to Ethiopia. * [According to an excellent account by Manuel Castells, the impact of information and communication technology and development in information society cannot be achieved by rhetorical statements. It is important to create an enabling environment for the information and communication technologies for them to diffuse into the social fiber of the society. The "industrial society, by educating citizens and by gradually organizing the economy around knowledge and information, prepared the ground for the empowering of the human mind when new information technology become available." Woefully, developing nations continued to grapple with poverty, war, population explosion, etc. The irony is that developing nations are those that acutely need to organize their people around knowledge and information to break away from debt, destabilization, drought, desertification, demographic problems and dependency [2]!] II. Challenges to information technology application in higher education Education is full of challenges. Education costs, it is costly. Decision-makers often find themselves caught between conflicting political and efficiency objectives [3]. From political and social points of view they have to [4]: • give priority to increasing public access to education by reconstructing and enlarging school networks, • ensure that there is a balanced regional development within a country, • introduce improvements in the curricula, • create equal opportunity of access at all levels of teaching, promoting greater participation of women by means of incentive mechanisms of curriculum and materials, and integration into the educational system of all children of school age, and those in difficult circumstances, • support initiatives of groups of associations, religious groups, private organizations and other social movements, • increase the budget of the sector and improve the quality of teaching by the development of executable schemes of training, both initial and upgrading of the teachers. From the efficiency point of view decision-makers are required to ensure quality education, better job prospects based on future workforce requirements of the economy. Well-educated, well-trained, motivated workers can produce high-
  • 3. quality goods and services at low cost, enhance productivity and competitiveness, and sustain high living standards. However, striking a balance between educational efficiency and social and political pressure is not that easy! The consequence of political and social pressure on education in Ethiopia has for example led to a declining quality. Under the pressure to educate all and at the expense of limited financial resources, many schools have continued to operate badly managed infrastructure, low quality and standards in teaching and learning - resulting in ineffective and often less motivated workforce. As this conflict between public access to education and need for efficiency deepens the gap between quantity and quality will continue to widen. Unless actions are taken by all stakeholders Ethiopia will continue to suffer from such a vicious circle. This vicious circle is similar elsewhere in Africa and is characterized by low numbers of qualified teachers and large numbers of students per class; inaccessibility and inflexibility of schools and universities; outdated and irrelevant curricula and lack of quality educational materials. On another level, there is a tremendous gap between relationships between schools and communities, teachers and learners, and learners and learners as well as a lack of interest in the endeavor of learning, critically thinking and reflecting. By all standard such education is vulnerable to obscurity and obsolescence! Already there are symptoms of lack of innovativeness in the current education system. Schools and universities have remained conservative institutions slow to adopt new practice and technology. They have remained less responsive to actual needs of the society. The education system is largely textbook driven. Absorption of textbook contents tends to be the measure of educational success. Teachers and instructors use "chalk and talk" to convey information. Students have remained bucket recipients of instruction rather than active participants in learning. Obviously these cannot be problem solvers or troubleshooters in a real life! There is limited link among schoolteachers except in a few cases. Although distance learning tools such as radios and television have been introduced these have not been used effectively. There is virtually no school with an elaborate network in the country – telephones and computers have not been seen by over half of the countries’ students. While computers are becoming available in universities these are only available in computer science classrooms and training sites; graduate students and teachers usually use them simply as electronic workbooks. Interactive, high performance uses of technology, such as networked teams collaborating to solve
  • 4. real-world national problems, retrieving information from electronic libraries, and performing scientific experiments in simulated environments are not in practice! The education crisis in Africa is deep and sometimes disturbing. All of these problems are often attributed not to faults of the bureaucracy and those involved in teaching and learning process but rather to severe shortage of resources. It is not yet established whether lack of funds remains the major source of declining educational quality! Many governments in Africa, including Ethiopia, have recently responded to these disturbing challenges. South Africa for example has chosen the following strategies to deal with declining education [5]. • placing premium on lifelong and continuing education that enables continuos production and dissemination of knowledge. • promoting the roles of public and private organizations to share in knowledge production with institutions of higher education. • adapting higher education to changes and sustaining its role as a specialized producer of knowledge • shifting from closed knowledge systems to more open knowledge systems that interacts with interests of 'consumer' or 'client' demands • offering a greater mix of programmes, including those based on the development of vocationally based competencies and skills. • making educational system ready for new innovations and new forms of accountability by linking higher education researchers to external constituencies. • improving interaction between researchers and intellectuals and knowledge producers to promote accountability of education to client/consumer regarding the cost-effectiveness, quality and relevance of teaching and research programmes. • responding to longer-term demands on education and retaining a sense of the more universal, wide-ranging nature and role of knowledge within human affairs. • developing strategies for new forms of management and assessment of knowledge production and dissemination specially in the areas of content, form and delivery of the curriculum. • promoting development, equity, quality, accountability and efficiency in all levels of education and research.
  • 5. The Ethiopian government has also taken various measures to reshape the education system to meet pressing national needs and to respond to a context of new realities. However, these initiatives seldom refer to global issues and new ways of learning. The strategy subsumes information and communication technology to a peripheral technical support activity instead of a central element of the solution to the crisis in education [6]. Information and communication technologies have a major role not only in improving existing learning but also extending opportunities for lifelong learning. In many countries in Africa, there are few opportunities for second chances, and learning is conceived of as a discrete activity that one engages in only during the early years of life. Very little provision exists for lifelong learning opportunities. Many learners are not reached by the system. Today, there are 900 million illiterates in the world and 130 million children unable to attend primary school. Their access to education is limited by time and space, age, socio-cultural environment, work schedules and physical or mental handicaps [7]. Information and communications technologies could help to adapt teaching strategies and modes of delivery to the needs of larger student intakes and the diversity of lifelong learners. However, information and communication technology is not a panacea. Development should not be framed simply on access to technology and information but rather on changing the attitude and preparing the population and institutions for knowledge. Layering the new technologies on existing processes or "old ways of doing things" and bureaucracies will not achieve development goals. It is important to understand where the opportunities of new information and communication technologies lie for national development and grab those opportunities quickly.
  • 6. III. Opportunities in Applications of Information and Communications Technologies for Education Successful in the past, the classroom model has reached its limits in a world where knowledge becomes rapidly obsolete. It is also increasingly challenged by new ways of learning, in particular new multimedia based on the merger of text, sound, still pictures and video as well as virtual reality (CD-ROM, Internet, software, video games, etc.)[8]. The use of information technology to offer education programs over long distances is becoming an increasing necessity. Generally there are four key areas for information and communication technologies application in education. These include Information and Communication Technology Mediated Learning, access to information and communication via the Internet/Intranet, Education Management Information System (EMIS) and education office automation to support the education planning and management and the support of information and communication technologies to distance and lifelong learning. Information and Communication Technology Mediated Learning Information and Communication Technology Mediated Learning (ICTML) covers Computer Aided Instruction (CAI) for teachers and the use of multimedia technologies for producing course materials and Computer Aided Learning (CAL) for students. Computer assisted instructions have been in use elsewhere in developed countries especially at early years of learning. They provide ample opportunities for students to broaden their learning skills and for teachers to develop better multimedia and interactive courseware. Studies indicate that learning takes place through communication. This is generally poor in the classroom model. Classroom models are largely "one-way teaching models" in which the teacher plays the acting part whereas pupils and students are merely reacting. Computer assisted instructions can greatly complement traditional teaching techniques to help students to learn much more much faster. Access to information and communication via the Internet/Intranet Internet and Intranet have become a source of vast amount of information and interactive tools. Intranet is a closed user-group Internet. An example of Intranet could be a school campus network where students and teachers share to local information such as teaching materials and course schedules while at the same time accessing the Internet. The Internet is a set of linked computers characterized by protocols that allow it to be used across a wide-range of
  • 7. hardware platforms. Each machine on the Internet contains information to be shared across the globe – (the content of Intranet is only available to a small closed community such as schoolteachers and students). Information on the Internet could be accessible from any location regardless of the type of computer system being used. It also means one can have access to and/or publish information regardless of the subject, location, age, race and time limitation. Internet is thus an empowering tool for all that are involved in education. Denial of access to the Internet to schools compares to denial of vitamins and proteins but carbohydrates to someone! A wide array of techniques have been developed to access to information on the Internet ranging from logging onto a remote server, chatting over the Internet with colleagues on specific subjects, sharing information via mailing lists and user groups, file transfer protocol to get files on servers to the World Wide Web - an interactive multimedia based information access tool. The World Wide Web has now gained the momentum due to its ease of use and its multimedia capability. Other techniques have also been developed to work for those that do not have access to the Internet. One such technique is the use of "offline browsers" where the valuable information on the Internet is downloaded on high capacity storage media such as Digital VideoDisk (DVD) and distributed to remote schools. The Internet is accessible in around 150 countries including Ethiopia. However, the Internet is being under-utilized for education in Africa in general and no use of it reported in Ethiopia except by researchers at university level. The key obstacle is lack of adequate communication infrastructure throughout the country. Lack of resources, fear, apathy, lack of encouragement and ignorance are other significant impediments. Education Management Information System (EMIS) Education Management Information System (EMIS/or EDMIS) is a multi-user, interactive information system and a planning tool for storing and retrieving education information on students, student grades, test results, courses, personnel, finances at school, district or regional levels. Student information such as demographics and attendance, subject, program, and performance, staff information such as demographics, employment related data, classroom schedule, vocational education course taken by the staff and staff performance report could be gathered in a standard format and entered at school, district and national level to inform decision-making. The EMIS financial data include
  • 8. information on budgets, cash balances, expenditures, receipts, schedule of indebtedness and miscellaneous financial reports for higher level management and others such as building profile information. Although it has been in use elsewhere in developed world EMIS use in developing countries is often limited to offices of the Ministries of Education. Data on education planning is usually gathered using manual techniques and is often prone to errors and inconsistency. At school level EDMIS could allow its users to schedule educational events, notify key personnel/organizations of the events and ultimate outcomes, print a calendar of events, and schedule counseling sessions for classes. EDMIS provides education staff members with a standard set of reports that can be used for managing education activities or reporting to installation or external organizations. Staff members can also perform standard and special purpose (ad hoc) queries to obtain data not available through existing functions. Coupled with office automation and networks EMIS promises efficient allocation of resources and centralized planning as well as resources management at national level. The application of computer as a tool for communication and problem solving in schools would provide schools to see its continuous impact on education and day to day activities of the staff. Information and communication support for distance education and lifelong learning Information and communication technology support to distance and lifelong learning is one of the most exciting opportunities to developing countries that face two major challenges. These countries are facing a sociopolitical demand for access from larger cohorts of school leavers, and from population groups and social classes largely excluded from higher education and a socioeconomic demand for highly trained human resources with wider ranges of skills and competencies. Ethiopia for example is one of those countries that have been facing considerable gap in refreshing school leavers and its trained workforce. A quick observation shows that the majority of the workforce in the country is highly ineffective partially due to lack of up to date training, refreshment and inability to keeping up with new developments in their areas of expertise. At extreme some "experts" have not touched or read books or articles ever since they left schools or colleges. The problem of lack of refreshment is sever specially in decision making process where middle and senior management have not been able to keep abreast with new developments in their fields or other related areas. Knowledge doubles itself faster than the capacity of an average person. Human understanding of the area gets outdated within 2-5 years if this has not been
  • 9. refreshed continuously – thus it is clear that Ethiopia has one of the most exciting opportunity in using information and communication technology for distance and lifelong learning. In the face of limited resources and time, distance education seems the
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