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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.

Author

  • Lee-Roy Chetty holds a Master's degree in Media studies from the University of Cape Town and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. A two-time recipient of the National Research Fund Scholarship, he is currently completing his PhD at UCT and is the author of a book titled – Imagining Web 3.0 Follow him on Twitter @leeroy_chetty. He can also be contacted via e-mail at [email protected]

13 Comments

  1. bernpm bernpm 2 April 2013

    Technology and Education are two different worlds.
    Technology has moved faster than educators can. During the late sixties technology was limited to sophisticated type writers with some extra calculating facilities. Education was books and teachers.
    Technology today is computers, networks, cellphones with apps and I pods. Most teachers are still books and lecturing.
    Kids pick up the functions of gadgets much faster than teachers can get hold of the gadget.
    This is one problem.
    The real problem lies in testing learners and students knowledge as the result of a stagnated education system in a rapidly changing technological society. The test results being the official grading of the “societal” worth of the learner/student.
    A serious mismatch between the method of teaching and the way society functions.

    Tell that Angie and her aged advisers.
    My experience? I never got a University degree in any ICT related subject! Why? I worked in ICT and it went faster than University curriculum culd move.

  2. proactive proactive 2 April 2013

    ….yes Lee, these ideas make a lot of sense- would it not be for the many political structures, dilutions and diversions along the way to eventually reach the political masters to be accepted, adopted and implemented!

    SA has a hierachy of institutions under the DHET led by SACP General Secretary Blade Nzimande doubling as a minister of Higher Education & Training. Another “Voice of Higher Education”- called ‘HESA’- an Association of the 23 public Universities (Vice Chancellors) who rely on another “Advisory structure” to “advice” all the above!

    Who actually does real useful work- except drawing a salary, chairing boards, meetings and advising more boards is not quite clear!

    It is peculiar, that the SACP with its Alliance partners the ANCYL, ANCWL and its own
    YL are always so active to politically address, advises and canvasses in Universities, an ‘Institute of learning’?

    Than, there even comes an uneducated former ANCYL leader JM and becomes lecturer and advisor to the many uninitiated students to teach “revolutionary wisdom”!

    What has been achieved? A general lowering in academic standards to achieve political results? A run on Universities due to poor pre-selection. Some future graduates in conflict with themselves due to over inflated expectations and suitable positions in the real global economy?

    How does one inject such modern concepts into a ceased up political system which is torn between communism, socialism and the real …….ism?

  3. My thoughts My thoughts 3 April 2013

    Downloadable text books would solve the text book distribution problem. Even in the short term it would be more cost effective. Are there any countries in the world actually doing this?

    Of course it would do certainly put some textbook suppliers out of joint.

  4. Shahid Solomon Shahid Solomon 3 April 2013

    Lovely succinct piece, Thanks again LR. The smartphone revolution holds unimaginable potential, even in ECD as every off little toddler is now mastering mom’s phone

  5. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 3 April 2013

    There are educated graduates all over Africa with degrees from the Sorbonne and elsewhere either working as waiters or car guards or unemployed.

    If government and economic policy encourages corruption, only the corrupt get jobs, not the educated.

  6. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 3 April 2013

    No-one who works for a salary is an entrepreneur , even the Managing Director of BP or Shell, because they have a boss to report to.

    An entrepreneur starts and new business, and owns it, and has no boss.

  7. Momma Cyndi Momma Cyndi 3 April 2013

    A number of years ago there was a story about how India was manufacturing very basic laptops with full internet capacity for around US$200 each (including built in solar charging). They also were setting up free intranet access across the country.

    At the time Pandor was Minister of Education and was making inquiries about building them here in SA for our students – never heard what ended that idea

    At R1,800 per student that is about half the amount spent on books per student at the moment (and they can down load them instead of simply not getting them). Long distance learning becomes a reality, access to reference material becomes possible and never again is there a reason not to hand in your homework.

    If the system is put in place and gradually upgraded, the potential for almost instant upgrading of our education system is huge.

  8. Honkie Tonk Honkie Tonk 3 April 2013

    When a country puts education before economics, economics will sort itself out if the population are educated in creative use of their minds. It has to be holistic education, not just book learning.

    But getting some books on time helps, however you can develop the full mental potential of someone without book learning. The SA government is neither reallly interested in delivering books on-time nor developing the full mental potential of learners.

    A government reflects the consciousness of the people. We deservethe government we get. Only the people can change the destiny of a nation. The destiny of a country is in the citizens hands. Holistic education is the key to individual fulfillment at every level.

  9. Priya Menon Priya Menon 27 May 2015

    If heavy books and pens defined education in the last decade, it’s touch
    screen that’s going to be the face of education today. And we can see
    the changes already looming large in the horizon.

    Understanding the same my college have introduced an app named “Flinnt”
    which helps us to communicate & share information with parents &
    students. We as teachers share every minute detail like recent updates
    & happenings, assignments, projects, study material, quiz, day to
    day updates, etc. on “Flinnt” in form of pdf/text/word
    document/powerpoint/picture/video/audio keeping in mind the recent
    news,current affairs or recent activities happening in the world. With
    developing the interest through this , we try to generate general
    awareness amongst students.which makes it very interesting &
    engaging for them. “Flinnt” comes up with a very easy & friendly
    user interface which is easily accessible through laptop/computers via http://www.flinnt.com & mobile phones (Android & IOS)/Tablets via “Flinnt” app, which makes it easy for us to check it from anywhere.

    It is
    important that school wireless networks keep up with the ever changing
    technology in order to keep up with our students. From the ease
    of
    communicating with their teachers via e-mail, to quickly accessing an
    overabundance of information online about a particular topic they have
    learned about in class, technology is needed in today’s classroom. I
    would recommend everyone to visit http://www.flinnt.com to get registered on it
    & take the benefit of the same. You can also see the videos present
    in you tube about “flinnt” plus the blog i.e. http://blog.flinnt.com/
    for getting to know it better and how it can help your school the way it
    has helped us.

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