Because Policy is Judged by Results, not Intentions

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Digital Learning has initiated discussion on ‘ICT in Education Policy’ in the month of September 2006, which stimulated a number of views, voices and visions from all parts of the globe. Catching up the same thread, Dr Utpal Mallik, the Head of Department of Computer Education in NCERT, shares his views.

In the use of ICTs in school education, there is a clear pattern across a large number of developing countries. Primary and secondary data from these countries give no indication that effective interactions between policies and practices are very common. The impact of ICT use on learning outcomes is still unclear, and is open to debate. But ICTs are being increasingly used in education, even in difficult circumstances. And ‘scaling up’ of those initiatives is common. But the models for scaling up are varied and few of them are based on monitoring and evaluation data. The best practices and lessons learnt from them are rarely recorded for policy analysis. The rhetoric and rationale for using ICTs focus on the potential of the technology for bringing about changes in the teaching-learning paradigm. In practice, ICT-uses in schools are, at best, add-on activities that have little consequence on teaching-learning. Prevalent ICT uses do not help classroom practices adopt new technology tools. By and large, ICT efforts are restricted to procurement of equipment and getting connectivity for school computer labs. In other words, building infrastructure is the primary activity, when it is not the only activity.

This does not transform teaching-learning into an engaging and active process connected to real life nor does it prepare young people for tomorrow’s workplace. This general picture in nearly a hundred countries (India not included) makes a strong case for a feedback mechanism for mutual adjustments between the policy and practices everywhere.

Look outside the school boundary. At the turn of the new millennium, there were 113 million out of school children throughout the world. Out of them, 110 million were from developing countries. One hundred fifty million did not complete the primary school. ICT offered them little. Yet, the expectation is still very high. “We recognise that while ICT may be a luxury for the rich, for us, the poor countries, it is a vital and essential tool for fighting poverty and ensuring our survival”, says Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia (2005). Kofi Annan appeals, “we must ensure that information and communication technologies are used to unlock the door to education” (2005). In the context of developing countries, these expectations can be translated into tangible outcomes, like increase in the access to education through distance learning, integration of the technology into the educational processes to meet larger goals, rather than using it in isolation or as something nailed onto the education system. Enabling a knowledge network for school goers, training of teachers, increasing availability of quality education materials, enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of educational administration – there are many ways to enhance educational opportunities and enrich learning experiences using the technology.

The question of priority is vital. Back home, Shastri Bhawan’s advice to the Planning Commission (July 2006), asking the latter to plan for universal secondary education and forget a laptop for every child, was based on a singular decision of the Human Resource Development Ministry.

There is one inherent danger in technology integration in the education system. Just as outdated medicines are no longer effective and yet they find their way into health care systems in the third world, past due ICT tools and methodologies may be recycled for use in the developing countries. As the growth in ICT markets slows in the developed world, materials and methods that didn’t work there may well be exported to education markets in developing countries, whether or not those are relevant to the problems of education in these parts of the world. The expectation that computers can solve what is wrong with education adds to the danger.

If policy advice related to ICT use in education is to be realistic, it needs to be backed up by a rich database of lessons learnt. So it is important that monitoring and evaluation of all efforts are undertaken, involving all stakeholders

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