ICT in Education/Introduction


Globalization and technological change—processes that have accelerated in tandem over the past fifteen years—have created a new global economy “powered by technology, fueled by information and driven by knowledge.” [1] The emergence of this new global economy has serious implications for the nature and purpose of educational institutions. As the half-life of information continues to shrink and access to information continues to grow exponentially, schools cannot remain mere venues for the transmission of a prescribed set of information from teacher to student over a fixed period of time. Rather, schools must promote “learning to learn,” : i.e., the acquisition of knowledge and skills that make possible continuous learning over the lifetime. [2] “The illiterate of the 21st century,” according to futurist Alvin Toffler,“will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

Concerns over educational relevance and quality coexist with the imperative of expanding educational opportunities to those made most vulnerable by globalization—developing countries in general; low-income groups, girls and women, and low-skilled workers in particular. Global changes also put pressure on all groups to constantly acquire and apply new skills. The International Labour Organization defines the requirements for education and training in the new global economy simply as “Basic Education for All”,“CoreWork Skills for All”and “Lifelong Learning for All”. [3]

Information and communication technologies (ICTs)—which include radio and television, as well as newer digital technologies such as computers and the Internet—have been touted as potentially powerful enabling tools for educational change and reform. When used appropriately, different ICTs are said to help expand access to education, strengthen the relevance of education to the increasingly digital workplace, and raise educational quality by, among others, helping make teaching and learning into an engaging, active process connected to real life.

However, the experience of introducing different ICTs in the classroom and other educational settings all over the world over the past several decades suggests that the full realization of the potential educational benefits of ICTs is not automatic. The effective integration of ICTs into the educational system is a complex, multifaceted process that involves not just technology—indeed, given enough initial capital, getting the technology is the easiest part!—but also curriculum and pedagogy, institutional readiness, teacher competencies, and long-term financing, among others.

This primer is intended to help policymakers in developing countries define a framework for the appropriate and effective use of ICTs in their educational systems by first providing a brief overview of the potential benefits of ICT use in education and the ways by which different ICTs have been used in education thus far. Second, it addresses the four broad issues in the use of ICTs in education—effectiveness, cost, equity, and sustainability. The primer concludes with a discussion of five key challenges that policymakers in developing countries must reckon with when making decisions about the integration of ICTs in education, namely, educational policy and planning, infrastructure, capacity building, language and content, and financing.