In much of the developing world, where millions of children go without basic education, access to computers and the Internet is still a luxury. Yet despite poor connectivity and scarce resources, a number of UNICEF projects are teaming up with partners to use information technology to enhance existing education programmes.
In Egypt, India, Mexico, Pakistan, the Philippines and the southern sector of Sudan, for example, computers are making a difference both in classroom performance and teacher training.
The following are key principles that UNICEF employs in the use of information technology for education:
- Information and communication technology is a means to an end—not an end in itself. Connectivity is a means for developing new ways for students and teachers to learn.
- The successful use of technology in education depends on multiple factors, including the design and planning of courses, infrastructure and price, capacity and training in use of the chosen technology, local design, proper pre-testing and relative ease of access for the students.
- A key challenge in designing distance education is finding the most appropriate and cost-effective mix of media. CD-ROMs have proven to be a useful tool in education programmes in the Philippines.
- Maintaining information and communication technologies is crucial, with ongoing training assuming a large share of the budget. The fewer technical problems that occur, the more teachers can focus on curriculum content and learning processes.
- Information technologies may allow for the development of more interactive learning environments.
- As with other technologies, computers and the Internet should not be regarded as panaceas or a means to replace other types of resources. Given the diversity, complexity and potentially dangerous content on the World Wide Web, the role of the teacher becomes even more important in structuring a child’s experience of it.
- The Internet can be used for collecting information and promoting collaboration among students. It need not be separate from other work in the classroom.
- There is a growing number of meeting places on the Internet where like-minded teachers and students from around the world can discuss issues and collaborate on projects. UNICEF sponsors several of them, including Voices of Youth (www.unicef.org/voy) and Teachers Talking About Learning (www.unicef.org/teachers).
- Because they are tied to real-world contexts, video and Internet resources help make the connection between curriculum subjects and students' own lives.
- New digital radio technology is able to bring interactive learning options to people in remote areas across Africa. UNICEF in Sudan is using digital radio technology in its education programme.
- Television programming also provides opportunities for interactivity.
- Any distance teacher training programme must focus on three main areas: content, media and administration. The exclusion of any one of these can lead to an ineffective educational model. For example, when technology is viewed as an end in itself, the content of a course is sometimes sacrificed.