The potential of ICT based education in developing countries

Thousands of computers have been deployed by Computer Aid and our partners in schools and colleges across Africa and Latin America. We have seen students eagerly yet tentatively approach a computer for the first time and quickly develop new skills which allow them to discover knowledge whilst improving their employability and higher education prospects. Our focus and vision should not simply be of ICT but of better education delivered through the integration of ICT in teaching and learning processes. Recently I have been working closely with some of our partners in developing countries and financial donors to understand the role of ICT in education and how we can facilitate a transformation in the student learning experience. Drawing on research and reports on ICT in education in developing countries, this post will outline the potential and the shared vision and commitment required to achieve it.

Students in an ICT lesson in Zimbabwe

ICT plays an important role in traditional learning. ICT can enhance the traditional teaching of subjects, as sources of teaching materials or through the use of multimedia presentations to deliver lectures and classes. Many implementations of ICT in education focus on equipping both students and teachers with basic IT skills, learning how to use word processors, develop spreadsheets and reply to emails. These skills are vital for individuals to access opportunities in both employment and further education as a number of developing countries integrate ICTs into their wider economic activity. Focusing solely on delivering these basic IT skills or enhancing existing teaching, however, fails to fulfil the transformational potential ICTs have in shifting the focus of education away from teacher-centred lecture-based instruction to student-centred interactive learning.

The ‘broadcast’ method where the teacher is central as the source of all knowledge is sometimes difficult and tedious, with the emphasis on students reproducing knowledge rather than producing their own knowledge.

Becoming passive recipients, students often fail to develop their critical thinking skills. This isn’t to say that the traditional teaching method is without value, as it allows teachers to communicate significant amounts of information to students quickly. Developing students’ cognitive skills to solve real-world problems, however, requires a different approach.

Significant research on theoretical frameworks related to human learning has identified a number of components. Learning is a natural process, with each student learning in a different way. Learning is a social process, through collaboration with other students, teachers, and parents. Learning is an active process, requiring the production of knowledge rather than describing pre-existing knowledge. Learning can also sometimes be non-linear, processing different types of information simultaneously. Knowledge must be discovered in order for learners’ minds to form connections of understanding. This requires complementing the traditional broadcast method with the teacher becoming a facilitator of learning. Placing the learner at the centre of the process allows them to draw on a range of resources surrounding them, including teachers, fellow students, and peers, collaboration sessions, a plurality of opinions, information resources, and technology.

ICT can transform education from teacher-centred, lecture-based instruction to student-centred, interactive learning environments. There is the potential to transform education and the relationship between students and teachers in a number of ways. By placing students at the centre, ICT can be used to help individuals discover knowledge through the internet or other multimedia resources. Creating presentations together than enhance collaboration and peer support. Developing and following their own learning strategy can help individuals overcome the particular challenges they face. Material and subjects presented through multimedia and interactive ICT have also proven to keep students engaged and focused for longer. ICT can also provide extensive opportunities for the teacher/learner relationship to be reversed. Students can become teachers through peer tutoring and reciprocal mentoring, increasing self-esteem, motivation and student engagement. Teachers must be supported to engage with such strategies and not feel ashamed to be taught by young learners or feel concern that they may ‘loose control’ of their classrooms. These potential benefits are particularly appropriate for developing country contexts where schools and teachers often lack resources and deal with large class sizes.

A teacher helping students at computers in Zimbabwe

The potential is significant, however, such pedagogical integration of ICT is rarely observed. Key to facilitating this transformation is understanding the current levels of technical and training support provided to teachers, and to identify the level and types of support needed. Learning how to use operating systems, word processors and spreadsheets will enhance existing teaching. Whilst basic ICT knowledge and skills is a vital first step for teachers and students alike, success will be limited without further training and support for teachers to integrate ICT in ways which transform their approach to teaching. To achieve this, specific training must aim to introduce teachers to the range of ways in which ICT can be used to transform education in the way discussed.

I believe this transformation of education driven by ICT is key to overcoming many of the challenges faced by communities and schools in developing countries. Looking ahead, I will soon be visiting partners to understand how our current work is achieving this transformation, and to better identify the barriers which sometimes prevent this from happening. I hope these visits will inform my future work and direction when building projects and relationships with our partners across the world.

Sion Eryl Jones

Trust Partnerships Officer