In the last few decades, developing countries have witnessed remarkable improvements in physical access to schools, particularly in Asia. The net primary education enrollment rate in this region in 2016 was over 90%.
The problem is not access to education but rather its quality and relevance, as well as students’ capacity for lifelong learning. These all remain significant challenges in developing Asia. The good news is that information and communication technology (ICT) has enormous potential to address those challenges.
ICT can enable students to manage and monitor their studies and promote lifelong learning. Many ICT-enabled courses help students to develop soft skills, such as creativity, discipline, decision-making, and cognitive flexibility, among others, that will matter greatly for future jobs in the era of automation and artificial intelligence.
Both teachers and students need more opportunities for quality teaching and learning. ICT’s impact is greater in remote and rural areas. Thanks to mobile internet connectivity, teachers and students in hard-to-reach villages can now access quality education materials such as massive open online courses.
Rightly recognizing ICT as an enabler for addressing education challenges, South Asian countries have invested in various policies and plans to utilize ICT for education.
However, a recent ADB report concludes that ICT has not had a significant impact in South Asia, partly because it has not been adopted at scale. Students’ use of ICT is often not an integral part of the teaching and learning process.
In Bangladesh and Nepal, ICT in education approaches are not always coherent at national level. Utilization is low because most schools have limited ICT tools and infrastructure, and teacher competency levels are basic. Besides professional development on ICT in education teaching and learning strategies for the medium and long term, teachers need technical, content and pedagogical support in the short to medium term to optimize the potential of ICT for education.
For developing Asia to realize the potential of ICT to take education to the next level, a holistic approach—involving a balanced support for hardware, connectivity, contents, and people—will make a difference. More specifically, improvements in the following 6 areas are important:
1. Coordination. There are multiple stakeholders involved for ICT in education, many of them in silos. Effective use of ICT in education requires intra and inter-ministry coordination. Developing national ICT in education master plans can provide a framework for better coordination. All stakeholders (planning, finance, teacher professional development and curriculum development in the ministry of education as well as ICT ministry and development partners) need to work together under strong leadership with a clear vision, as observed in countries with a robust ICT in education plan such as the People’s Republic of China, Malaysia and the Republic of Korea.
2. Technical support for teachers. Teachers sometimes stop using ICT due to lack of technical support. ICT support staff at schools is crucial to not only install but maintain both hardware and software. They can provide an enabling environment for teachers to focus on teaching by minimizing their technical tasks. This may be done in partnership with technical and vocational institutions. In the city of Cavite in the Philippines, students from technical institutions provide schools with technical support (maintenance of ICT infrastructure, hardware and software) as part of their vocational training.
3. Differentiated and just-in-time programs for professional development. Teacher training for ICT in education is often outdated and ad hoc. Professional development programs should be based on the learning needs of each teacher identified through a sound assessment process. Just-in-time professional development can allow teachers to receive training when needed. It provides a more meaningful experience for teachers as they learn by doing when using ICT in their schools.
4. Pedagogical support for teachers. Teachers are overloaded with multiple tasks and often see ICT in education as extra work rather than a new opportunity. To remedy this, short-term strategies are needed to develop their capacity for implementing ICT-enabled lessons. Personalized support from an off-site helpdesk can be provided via SMS and mobile communication applications.
5. Intelligent tutoring systems (ITS). ITS can provide students with explanations, learning paths, and resource materials to help them reach goals at their own pace. They can also provide teachers with pedagogical and content support when professional development opportunities are lacking. MathCloud, developed in Korea and piloted in Sri Lanka and Nepal by ADB, shows how ITS can enhance personalized learning. It monitors student progress, identifies strengths and limitations and assigns different tasks to different students based on this diagnosis. Course content should reflect the curriculum of each country and ITS may also require good quality internet.
6. Systematic monitoring and evaluation of ICT use in schools. The use of ICT in schools should be evaluated to determine whether methods and tools are having the expected impact. This also allows for critical adjustments of ICT infrastructure, hardware, and digital resources for education.