August 2008

Why do we need a National Policy on ICT in School Education?

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Most developing countries do not have a concerted Policy on ICT in School Education. The reasons can be many; they have decided that they do not need a separate Policy on ICTs in Education, already have an IT policy with sections on Education or have a Telecom policy which has references to both IT and Education. The mere establishment of a written national ICT policy for School Education has value in itself, even though it is quite clear that ICT policies do not and cannot exist in isolation. They have to take into account a range of other policies and existing frameworks such as education policies, information policies, trade and investment policies, and cultural and linguistic policies. At a minimum, it conveys the message that the government is progressive and intends to pursue the utilisation of ICT in society seriously. Governments, because of their inevitable role in policy making should assume a leadership role in the implementation of ICTs in schools. They must aspire to become role models by putting policy into practice and creating sustainable mechanisms to keep the policy updated and dynamic, so that it can keep pace with the fast changing technology in the business world.

That is the ideal situation; the truth is that ICT evolution will take place ( as we have seen)  with or without a systematic, comprehensive and articulated policy. While there is no denying that some good will come out of the process, it is also a fact that it will inordinately delay the journey, cause huge wastage and leave out large tracts of communities that can most benefit from the use of technologies.

So why do we need a specific Policy on ICT in School Education? While there can be several reasons for this, some of the most plausible reasons are:

  1. A National Policy on ICT in School Education will enable the country's government and its people to develop and participate in an “envisioning exercise” that provides a prelude to where we are headed with all this investment. It will help channelize government funding and the tax payer's money into sustainable mechanisms of educational development which are likely to benefit generations of school goers. 
  2. A National Policy on ICT in School Education will perforce have to provide a linkage with the country's National Education goals and enhance existing education policies and frameworks. Traditional education delivery mechanisms are not meant to suddenly encourage incorporation of technology tools. Deep rooted, systemic changes have to be made so that the country's education system can adopt and adapt to new age technology tools. This requires thorough assessment of the existing systems and a clear understanding on the capacity to which they can adapt to change. The policy development process, if it is an open one, will throw up all these challenges and seek to address these issues. Failure of most ICT pilot programmes to mainstream, scale up or sustain is caused by the single factor of not being linked to the over-arching, larger educational priorities of the country. For eg; The IT Action Plan  of the Government of India ( 1998),the Education Policy (1986 and subsequent amendments) and the National Curriculum Framework ( 2005) provide recommendations for what should be happening in schools, making generous provisions for promotion of ICT in schools. However, these recommendations are less likely to be implemented unless supported by a policy defing a robust implementation strategy. It therefore calls for a strong marriage between the IT Policy, the Education Policy and the National Curriculum Framework(2005)
  3. A National Policy on ICTs in School Education will encourage new technology tools to be used in teaching and learning. This will help in knowledge creation and knowledge sharing among key stakeholders and community of practitioners. ICTs are all about new collaborative learning tools and having free and open access to information. Undoubtedly, technology can succeed in influencing outreach, access and creating new tools for learning and teaching, but these are less likely to emerge on their own without the support of sustainable frameworks and policies.

According to the feasibility report by McKinsey & Company , the essence of the challenge is to transform today's fragmented, supply-driven, largely uncoordinated pilot efforts for ICT in education into efficient, demand-driven, coordinated end-to-end systems implemented by strong partnerships involving all key players.

There are more reasons too for developing a National Policy on ICTs in School Education, some of which are elucidated below  :

A national vision on the use of ICTs will provide the country with much needed direction, focus, guidelines and aid to prioritize the initiation and implementation of ICTs in Schools. This will result in huge savings as large school groups (and even State school education departments in the present scenario of centralised decision making) can leverage economies of scale in their purchase of hardware, software and content. Specific norms and standards can be created for development and use of curricular content, Teacher training on ICT and for student assessment.

When large school groups take a collective decision, it is more likely to be governed by real need rather than by professed need articulated by corporations and businesses that have access to the ministry. These decisions are also more likely to involve communities of parents who are professionals and who can provide unbiased advice on most things the schools wish to purchase.

ICT is developing fast and most technologies can be harnessed to address endemic issues of access, equity and quality. Delay in adapting to ICTs can cause loss of precious time and deprive many school-leaving teenagers the possibility of exploring new career options that require a good understanding of technologies.

There are more reasons yet, all of them supporting the need for an “end to end framework” or a comprehensive National policy to guide the use of ICTs in Schools. 

Reference

  1. `Capturing the Promise of a Global e-Schools & Communities Initiative'

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