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The importance of technology for education

In a globalised economy with a high degree of competition among countries, the success of a nation depends on the educational level of its workforce.

This is true not only for those just entering or already integrated into the labour market but also for the unemployed, who may lack the qualifications required by the growing demands of a knowledge economy.

Governments should work to ensure that all citizens receive the technological training and experience necessary to participate in the global economy.

Traditional school curricula tend to prioritise the accumulation of knowledge over the application of knowledge, and many school systems fail to adequately train students in digital citizenship and literacy.

Education reform is essential to provide learners with what are commonly called 21st century skills — those competencies and values needed to become responsible citizens in a learning society and sustain employability throughout life in a knowledge economy.

At the administrative level, technology can make education systems more efficient by helping teachers and administrators streamline routine tasks and improve assessment and data collection. In the classroom, technology can be a powerful catalyst for pedagogical change, as students use technology to take a more active role in personalising their own education, and teachers take on new roles as facilitators of knowledge rather than knowledge transmitters.

Technology also has the potential to transform education by extending the learning space beyond the four walls of a classroom. Although brick-and-mortar schools will continue to play a leading role in education over the coming decades, technology offers a variety of learning opportunities beyond the physical limits of school. With the current accelerated growth in mobile devices, we are already witnessing the emergence of flexible, open learning environments that enable contextual, real-time, interactive and personalised learning.

New technology and communication tools, enabled by a participatory and collaborative web (web 2.0), have gradually blurred the boundaries between formal and non-formal education, with much learning now taking place outside traditional classrooms.

Distance learning, cooperative work in virtual environments, online learning communities and access to vast resources and databases are just some of the possibilities technology can offer to improve the quality teaching and learning worldwide.

Finally, with this new flexibility come increased opportunities for educational access.

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) in general, and broadband in particular, have the potential to create highly versatile education and training environments that can provide equal access to learners regardless of gender, geographic location, socio-economic or ethnic background, illness or disability, or any other circumstance that would normally hinder the provision of high-quality education.

By the end of 2011, nearly 2.3 billion people were using the internet, suggesting that about a third of the world’s population is now online.

Although the global trend is towards universal access to technology, particularly the internet, there are still many areas where internet access is non-existent or extremely limited.

During the past 30 years, governments around the world have made important efforts to support school technology adoption. Typically, school technology policies have called for the acquisition of equipment and networks, the provision of teacher-training programmes and teacher-support schemes, and more recently the development of digital content, either by public institutions, the private sector or teachers themselves.

Nevertheless, it is clear that most developed and middle-income countries have made significant investments in ICT in education in recent years. In contrast, the level of ICT in education investment in low-income countries typically remains small. The challenges to be addressed in order to bridge this gap include:

• Affordability: Most developing countries are struggling to equip schools with basic ICT devices and digital resources. However mobile phones offer a more affordable solution that makes use of existing devices to connect teachers, students, parents and administrators, as well as to promote literacy.

• Capacities: National policy-makers sometimes lack the capacity to formulate ICT in education policies. In developing countries, both the technical and pedagogical capacities of ministries of education for managing and implementing ICT in education programmes are often low.

• Inclusion: Poor people, people living in rural areas, disabled people and other disadvantaged groups typically receive low-quality education, even though they have special educational needs. The challenge is to ensure that the introduction of ICT favours inclusive education and reduces inequalities.

• Content: ICT integration enriches the process of educational content development and dissemination by making far more content and teaching models available to learners and educators. Open educational resources (OERs) hold significant potential to accelerate free access to knowledge and facilitate the adaptation of content to local needs and languages.

• Quality assurance: ICT can help foster knowledge deepening and creation, problem-solving and other 21st century skills, but the curriculum systems of most developing countries have not been duly reformed to embrace those new learning outcomes. As reforms take place, issues such as the quality of ICT-based learning and the safety of children online need to be addressed.