Using ICTs in Education in Fragile Contexts: A Working Paper

1.1 Mapping A Fragile Context

Only by securing development can we put down roots deep enough to break down the cycle of fragility and violence – Robert B. Zoellick, President

According to the World Bank, a billion people live in countries affected by fragility and conflict. Poverty rates average 54 percent compared with 22 percent for low-income countries as a whole. These countries which are defined by weak institutions and the impact of warfare constitute a protracted development challenge where results are hard to achieve. While the risk of failure in these countries is high, the risk of non- action is even higher: the annual global cost of conflict is estimated to be around $100 billion. Aside from the lives lost and damaged due to conflict and the scale of human suffering it creates, conflict also destroys assets and institutions. Against this background, ICTs can provide innovative solutions to the provision of knowledge in fragile situations where communities and governments are faced with the challenges of limited resources and capacities.

1.2 Introduction

There is no doubt that education is one of the things that suffer in areas of conflict and emergencies. And it can be easy to sideline it in pursuit of providing immediate needs. Fortunately, there is a growing body of research and acceptance of education as an “important emergency response for children, yet conflict environments often do not allow for state and/or informal provision of public education”[1]. However, fragile contexts pose huge challenges to educational programming hence the need for creative and innovative solutions. According to INEE’s policy brief titled, “Rapid response: Programming for education needs in emergencies” decisions regarding educational programming have to be made quickly and take multiple factors into account.

1.3 Standardized Interventions

Standardised interventions in fragile contexts include creating child-friendly spaces, school-feeding programmes, and prepackaged education kits. The reasons for the popularity of standardised interventions include:

  1. their ease of implementation;
  2. the weight of previous experience that programme managers brought with them from former emergency situations to new ones; and
  3. the desire by agency headquarters to deploy standardised ‘corporate’ responses, which could be measured and compared.

Oftentimes, these are pre-packaged interventions that have little input from the target community. Against this background, the emergence of ICTs has indeed opened a new avenue for innovative and inclusive education programming in fragile contexts. The use of ICTs for educational purposes has been going on for quite a long time now.

1.4 Rationale for ICT in education

The place of ICTs within the education is without question. There are a number of tools that can deliver the high-tech, heavily contextualised, on-demand information and rapid communication which can facilitate the acquisition of knowledge. These technologies also facilitate a process of learning that is learner-focussed rather than teacher-focussed and offer a high level of engagement and interactivity. E-learning characterized by networked applications and high-bandwidth access, rich streaming media and synchronous Live Virtual Classrooms (LVCs) accessible over the web is something that is already in existence. The question is how to package these applications in a way that delivers education in fragile contexts.

To ensure that the type of education provided is effective, there is a need for a meeting point between technology and contextual needs. There are tools that already exist which can be tailor-made to provide education in fragile contexts. It is important to state that technology alone is not the solution. Planning of curricula which is sensitive, evidence-informed and culturally appropriate cannot be over-emphasized.

Suffice to state that ICTs can contribute to flexible learning arrangements, a key factor to consider in fragile contexts. INEE’s policy brief states that alternatives should always be considered when programming, especially those that build on ways the community already has for providing for the education and protection of children. Undoubtedly, ICTs can facilitate such an outcome. More importantly, ICTs for fragile context need to be highly customized and adaptable and take into account the difficult environment.

1.5 Mobile Technology

Because of the leapfrog nature of mobile phones, many developing countries have skipped other forms of communication, so that SMS represents the“lowest common denominator in terms of technology, thereby helping to assure the highest level of program participation (UNICEF 2009).

The ubiquity of mobile phones even in fragile contexts makes it a medium of choice for the delivery of education. The potential for mobile technology to impact development has been researched and reported on in areas ranging from job matching services to financial inclusion. More and more development agencies are adopting mobile communications in their programmes in innovative ways. However, there is a lack of research on how mobile technology can be used to deliver education in fragile contexts. The learning environment provided by a mobile phone needs to be taken into account in the design of educational packages.

With mobile devices, educational materials are not only readily available to potential learners but they can also be delivered to potential learners based on their needs and preferences.[2]

Short Message Service (SMS) technology, in particular, can be a low-cost and effective method that can be used to deliver education programmes as well as give beneficiaries a voice in the design of education packages. It can enhance, supplement and support learning in difficult contexts. It can also be used to monitor and evaluate the impact of education programmes in the field. The use of SMS can help to create feedback loops among multiple levels of stakeholders. Furthermore, it can help to provide target communities with a sense of ownership of programmes.

However, although mobile coverage is expanding in many parts of the world, people in certain income levels may not necessarily have access. That is why it’s important to utilize multiple communication technologies, if available in the target community. The following is a list of projects that are utilizing mobile technology to provide education in difficult contexts:

  1. Project ABC, implemented in collaboration with Catholic Relief Services in Niger and Christopher Ksoll (Oxford University) and Travis Lybbert (University of California-Davis) exemplifies the use mobile technology to provide education via mobile phones. The project uses cell phones as a learning tool to allow participants to practice reading and writing in local languages via SMS.
  2. M-novels, or mobile novels (stories on your cellphone) are on the rise in South Africa, and are hugely popular in places like Japan

One major practical overhead with any large-scale or distributed SMS system is setting up the system, particularly capturing and entering all the students’ phone numbers and details.

1.6. Content Management and Presentation Adaptation

Content management and presentation adaptation is a critical aspect of designing an effective education package in a difficult context. Put simply, content needs to be customized to the technology required to deliver it.

1.7. Conclusion and Key Recommendations.

Due to the nature of major focus of ICTs should be to provide educational programmes that are community or individual led, using mobile technology to enable people to play a more active role in determining their own education, providing a more personalized approach.

Policy-makers, technologists and educationalists need to collaborate to ensure that the educational content delivered via ICT platforms if of high quality standard. Technological solutions need to be contextually relevant and not imposed on communities.

It is important to realize that each technology has competent and shortcomings. When designing a learning system using these technologies, its important to consider what kind of qualities these technologies possess in terms of learning environment and hardware usability.

Online Resources

  1. http://www.digital-links.org
  2. http://mobileactive.org/
  3. http://www.mobiles.tacticaltech.org/

References

1. Aker J. C.  2009           Using Cell Phones as a Platform for Literacy and Market Information in Niger


[1] http://www.ineesite.org/uploads/documents/store/Policy_Brief_-_Rapid_response_programming_for_education_needs_in_emergencies.pdf

[2] Keng Siau, Fiona Fui-Hoon Nah, Mobile Technology in Education, Guest Editors: University of Nebraska-Lincoln

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