Whenever Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are mentioned, many people immediately think of computers and the Internet. However the term 'ICT' covers a wide range of forms of technology, and can be defined as 'technologies which are used to transmit, store, create, share or exchange information'. This broad definition includes the technologies like radio, television, video, DVD, telephone (both fixed line and mobile phones), satellite systems, computer and network hardware and software, as well as the equipment and services associated with these technologies, such as videoconferencing and electronic mail.
Due to the attributes of ICT in terms of increasing the speed and ease of communication, while also reducing costs of information exchange and enabling a communication flow between even the most remote communities, it has been recognised that these technologies can serve as useful tools in education.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) acknowledges, however, that it is vital for policy makers, educators and managers to be aware of how ICT can be used successfully in education. There are numerous cases which demonstrate that unless implemented judiciously, investing in ICT can be a waste of scarce resources. In addition, experience has shown that without integrated policy development, sustainable professional development, curriculum integration and close monitoring and evaluation, ICT in education initiatives invariably fail.
Integrating ICT into education
Developments in ICT and the emergence of knowledge societies are changing the ways we live, work and interact. Our educational systems must respond accordingly, not only in providing learners with ICT skills, but in harnessing the potential advantages ICT offers in widening access to education and improving teaching and learning.
With these considerations in mind, in 2002 the UNESCO Bangkok office established the ICT in Education programme, which provides advice and guidance in the integration of ICT into education systems and in the utilisation of ICT to enhance the reach and quality of teaching and learning.
The ICT in Education programme, funded in large part by Japanese Funds-in-Trust (JFIT), focuses on six key, interrelated areas: policy, training of teachers, teaching and learning, non-formal education, monitoring and measuring change, and research and knowledge-sharing.
UNESCO's 'Vision 2008'
The UNESCO ICT in Education Unit has the goal that by 2008 all of the 45 member-states in the Asia-Pacific region will have:
1. A national ICT in education policy;
2. ICT as a component of pre-service teacher training;
3. The beginning of a process of developing relevant, multilingual and appropriate educational content, especially for disadvantaged groups;
4. Networks for sharing of knowledge and experiences;
5. Key indicators developed and used to monitor development and to form strategies.
Over the past four years, the UNESCO ICT in Education Unit has made much progress towards achieving this 'Vision 2008'. One of the core initiatives of the programme is the 'ICT in Education Policy Project'.
Need for astute and effective policy
Rapid developments in ICT in recent years have had an impact on educational needs, in terms of both the content and the delivery of educational services. This has put increasing pressure on decision-makers to agree to the acquisition of new technologies. At the same time, forms of ICT are multiplying, with an increasing array of ICT options for policy-makers to choose from when making decisions about integrating ICT into education.
In the face of these developments and options, and in order to make successful use of ICT in enhancing the reach and quality of teaching and learning, policy makers need to be both aware and informed about how ICT can be of best value in their country's education system. They also need to develop a supportive policy environment and framework at the national level for the integration of ICT into their education systems.
ICT in Education Policy Project
The goal of the UNESCO 'ICT in Education Policy Project'is to extend the reach and improve the quality of education (in cost-effective ways) through improved decision-making about the integration of ICT into education.
The project seeks to raise awareness among policy makers of the issues surrounding the integration of ICT into education, highlight lessons learned and best practices, and raise the capacity of decision-makers to make informed choices regarding the integration of ICT into education.
As part of this project, meetings and training workshops have brought together high-level education policy makers, planners and practitioners from across the Asia-Pacific region to develop their awareness of the issues involved in the integration of ICT into education and to discuss their needs and preferences. At one of these workshops in 2003, the participants, recognising the need for a systematic approach to integrating ICT in education in the region, recommended that UNESCO develop an 'ICT in Education Toolkit' for policy makers.
ICT in education policy makers' toolkit
The 'ICT in Education Policy Makers' toolkit' is intended to be a usable and contextualised device, containing relevant information about the integration of ICT in education, which can be used by Ministries of Education, international organisations and researchers. The toolkit will also be used by UNESCO in its advisory services to its member-states in their ICT in education work.
The toolkit is designed to guide policy makers throughout the planning process and provide policy options. In each participating country, the online toolkit is supported by a country facilitation team composed of education experts.
An overview of the different tools in the toolkit that are available to policy makers is shown in the diagram below.
The process of developing the toolkit has involved a participatory preparation and testing process. The basic outline and features of the toolkit were discussed by participants at a workshop on 'Developing the ICT in Education Policy Makers' Toolkit', held in March 2004.
Based on these discussions, the framework and content of the toolkit were then developed by UNESCO's project partners, the Academy of Educational Development (AED) and Knowledge Enterprise (KE) Inc. In March 2005, the first version of the Toolkit (version 1.1) was reviewed by over 150 participants, including ICT-in-Education specialists from research institutions and international organisations and policy-makers from several Ministries of Education in the Asia-Pacific region.
Based on the feedback received, Toolkit versions 1.2 and 1.3 came out in April and July 2005, respectively. In September 2005, toolkit version 1.3 was introduced to train educational planners from three Asia-Pacific countries (Pakistan, Philippines and Thailand) during the first 'Toolkit Training Workshop' which was held in Chiang Mai, Thailand. At this workshop, the participants not only learned to use the toolkit, but provided feedback and recommendations for further refining the toolkit.
Through their involvement in the workshops and in the process of preparing the toolkit, participating policy-makers have enhanced their capacity to develop appropriate ICT in education policy and strategies.
In 2006, a series of toolkit training workshops and high-level policy makers' fora are planned. In addition, this year, UNESCO, in cooperation with the Information for Development (infoDev) programme of the World Bank, will launch the 'Pacific Regional ICT in Education Programme' in Fiji on 23-27 October, 2006. This event will include a one-day high-level discussion with Ministers of Education from the Pacific region and a four-day intensive training session for education experts which will train them to utilise the online toolkit effectively. There will also be an on-line collaboration between the ministers, training participants and ICT experts to fine-tune national policies and plans using the toolkit. A similar scheme will be implemented in the Asian region in 2007 and 2008.
Invitation to participate
Addressing the ICT in Education policy-making needs of all 45 Asia-Pacific member-states at the same time is challenging. At present, UNESCO's ICT in Education activities have reached only 24 out of 45 member-states. Nevertheless, UNESCO encourages all Ministries of Education of the Asia-Pacific region to participate in a specialised training session on the policy toolkit. In 2006 the 'ICT in Education Policy Project' will receive support from infoDev, on top of continuing backing from Japanese-Funds-In-Trust (JFIT).
UNESCO welcomes the participation of other donors and organisations wishing to contribute to the 'policy project', including through improving or maintaining the online ICT in Education Toolkit, developing related materials such as the off-line version in CD format or handbooks for policy makers, and sponsoring training workshops for Ministries of Education. NGOs and private organisations wishing to contribute to UNESCO's ICT in Education programme can get involved through advocacy support, certification training and workshop sponsorships.
(For further information, contact Cedric Wachholz,
email@example.com; or Benjamin Vergel de Dios,
The ICT in Education Team of UNESCO, Bangkok