Issues Challenging Education CLOUDS AND SUN

Technology and Global Education:

The Present and the Promise

James Veitch and Pi-Kuei Tu

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

New technologies and telecommunications networks have dramatically transformed all facets of life, from medicine to agriculture, entertainment to politics, and economics to service industries (Milken Foundation, 1999). Rapid technological improvements, heightened interest and increased affordability have created a bridge to for information access and worldwide transparent communication among the people of the world (World Bank, 1998/99).

These developments represent a watershed of opportunity. Access to information, and therefore knowledge, is becoming increasingly available to citizens in many countries where access was formerly enjoyed only by a privileged few. They also present challenges in many forms (Hallberg and Bond, 1996).

This paper examines the opportunities and challenges associated with technology in the delivery of education worldwide, with a focus on developing countries. There are profound implications for governments, educators and students around the world. This is the case for the delivery of local education in specific countries, and extends to the potential availability of an American education to millions beyond the borders. The paper offers some practical suggestions for education policy makers and leaders in further incorporating technology in global education systems.

Most observers acknowledge that there are barriers associated with technology acquisition and use, no matter what the intended purpose. These are sometimes in the form of government policies that restrict access for political reasons, as in China, for example. Cultural conventions often do not value outside information. A lack of knowledge of the possibilities associated with technology often prevents acquisition. Many of the world's economic systems are deeply steeped in a principle of tradition that discourages access to technology.

Those political, cultural and economic institutions that do seek access to information generally do so in pursuit of economic development. Individuals who seek access may do so for personal, professional or educational growth. They are all now able to do so. Thus, increasing global interdependence and the dismantling of geography as a barrier to information access have profound implications for future sustainable development.

The Milken Foundation identifies five criteria that characterize a scenario for technology acquisition, informed use, productive output, and contributions to development. Those considering acquiring new or additional technology should consider these questions as a framework.

  • First, what is it that technology will do for students and educators that is compelling enough to make all the effort worthwhile? (The Incentives)
  • Second, what is it that communities need in order to make informed decisions and wise use of technology and telecommunications for improvements in learning? (Capacity building)
  • Third, what is getting in the way of educators and students effectively using technology and how can we fix the system to get rid of these barriers? (System Changing)
  • Fourth, what is it that we need in order to ensure that all students have the opportunity to learn in a technology-enriched learning environment? (Mandates)
  • Fifth, how will we know it when we see it? What does success look like in terms of student performance? What indicators will we be using? How will the data be collected? What evidence will be analyzed and evaluated against which benchmarks? (Benchmarking) (Milken Foundation, 1998.)

These questions have been developed for western-oriented consumption and represent a conceptual framework for policy-makers as they consider the role of technology in providing educational services to a community of learners.

The above framework applies equally to developing countries, specifically to educational policy makers. They should be asking these questions and adopting them as a framework for their own technology and education policy. For them, the answers might be different, but they should not underestimate the need for a systemic conceptual framework that will suggest modifications to their plans for technology acquisition. At the local level, the key to progress towards internationalization is systematic planning and support of multiple points of contact across an entire faculty, student and administrator body. Frequent and extended contact with the technology is a further requirement, i.e., sustainability (Dyrenfurth, 1992). Individual consumers need to ask these questions of themselves to determine their own personal "best use" approach to technology in their own lives.

The rapid development of global technological capacity and abilities create opportunities for students worldwide. Where institutions and individuals recognize the importance of education to national economic development, available opportunities are plentiful.

A very brief scan of available resources reveals that public and private agencies in industrialized and in developing countries are moving in a direction that is at least partially consistent with Milken criteria.

The World Links for Development program links students and teachers in secondary schools in developing countries with students and teachers in industrialized countries for collaborative research, teaching and learning programs via the Internet. Over a four-year period (1997-2000), the WorLD Program will link 1200 secondary schools in 40 developing countries in South American, Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East with partner schools in Australia, Canada, Europe, Japan and the United States. Currently, there are 150 pilot schools connected in 14 developing countries, partnered with schools in 22 other countries. 780 Teachers have been trained to date. The program is active in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ghana, Lebanon, Mauritania, Mozambique, Paraguay, Peru, Senegal, South Africa, Turkey, Uganda, and Zimbabwe (World Bank, 1999).

The story behind Senegal is illustrative of the initiative. Two secondary schools in Senegal were connected to the Internet and partnered with schools in Quebec, Canada, in June 1997. Principals, teachers and students of CEM Martin Luther King School in Quebec and the Lycée Thierno Saidou Nourou Tall in Senegal received initial training in computers and the use of Internet in the classroom. For the first time in the history of Sub-Saharan Africa, students from Senegal were able to communicate live on the Internet. Using Chat and CU-SeeMe software they participated in the Global Knowledge Conference in Toronto with Wold Bank President James D. Wolfensohn and their Canadian peers. Following on the success of this pilot activity, WorLD expanded to additional eight schools in February 1998. The World Bank-financed Education and Human Resources Development Project contributed the financial resources for the rehabilitation and networking of computer labs, as well as provided initial computer literacy training to the participants. The second WorLD training session took place in mid-February, immediately after the arrival of the 150 computers offered by the World Bank. The WorLd-Senegal domestic private sector launch in late February 1998 featured a concert by internationally renowned Senegalese musician, Youssou N'dour, who donated the proceeds for a new the WorLD-Senegal Education Fund. Participating Schools in the project are the Lycée Thierno Saidou Nourou Tall (Dakar); College Martin Luther King (Dakar); Ecole Liberté 6A (Dakar); Ecole Bamba Mbakhane Diop (Dakar); Lycée de Filles Mariama Ba (Gorée); Ecole de Formation des Instituteurs de Thiès (Thiès); Lycée Technique Ahmadou Bamba (Diourbel); Lycée Technique André Peytavin (Saint-Louis); CEM Moustapha Ndiaye (Kaolack); and Lycée Demba Diop in Mbour (World Bank, 1999).

So demanding has been the response to the program that capacity of the World Bank has been exceeded (McGinnis, 1999). As a result, WorLD has linked with two organizations, Schools Online and I*Learn to form the Alliance for Global Learning (AGL), which creates sustainable school networking models in developing countries by providing technology, training and support for collaborative educational projects with peers around the world. AGL enhances teaching and learning, promotes equity of access to communication and information technologies, and fosters global citizenship and understanding. When the newly formed alliance enters a country, its objective is to establish a set of ten School Clusters, each of which includes a Resource Center and five Satellite Schools. Every resource center contains a lab with 10-15 computers networked to a central server. The resource center than serves as a teacher training and curriculum development facility for satellite schools and the surrounding community. Satellite Schools are equipped with one computer and monitor to facilitate access for greater numbers of teachers and students. The Alliance is therefore able to meet the training and equipment needs of the growing number of schools desiring to connect globally (Jobson, 1999).

The African Virtual University is centered in Nairobi. It seeks to increase university enrollments and improve the quality and relevance of instruction in business, science, and engineering throughout Africa. A completely digital library fosters access to volumes and journals that exist elsewhere in printed form. The Virtual University of Monterrey Institute of Technology in Mexico is a consortium of collaborating universities, including 13 outside the country. Enrolling 9000 degree candidates and a host of other students, this distance education represents a resource that can thrive only as a result of the availability of technology (World Bank, 1998/1999). The Associated Educational Institutions for Distance Education is located in Sofia, Bulgaria. Members include the University of Twente in Holland; The University of Exeter in the United Kingdom; Kaunas University of Technology in Lithuania; and Glushkov Institute of Cybernetics in the Ukraine (AIDE, 1999.)

American public institutions of higher education are also beginning to address means by which to accommodate increasing domestic and worldwide demand for distance education. They are discussing minimum standards for professional education and practice, creation of an open international market for professional services, and enhanced access to professional services (Palin, 1997). Many of California's institutions of higher education offer online courses and other services offered by California colleges and universities. Students may access information about courses and certificate or degree programs offered at a distance by California's leading institutions of higher education (California Distance Education Project, 1999). Students from all over the world are eligible to participate.

The trend towards distance education includes other organizations as well. The International Center for Distance Learning (ICDL) is an international center for research, teaching, consulting, information and publishing activities based in the Institute of Educational Technology which received world class rating in the 1992 and 1996 Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) Research Assessment Exercises. ICDL promotes international research and collaboration by providing information from its library and databases; other audiences are reached through publications. An essential knowledge resource built up over 15 years is its distance education library and databases. ICDL distance education databases contain information on over 31,000 distance learning programs and courses, mostly in the Commonwealth countries. There are over 1,000 institutions teaching at a distance worldwide, and over 11,000 abstracts of books, journal articles, research reports, conference papers, dissertations and other types of literature relating to all aspects of the theory and practice of distance education (ICDL, 1999). The Globewide Network Academy (GNA) is a non-profit organization in Texas, USA that provides assistance in all aspects of virtual and distance learning with an Online Distance Education Catalog (ODEC). There are more than 17,000 courses and programs currently listed. GNA consults on the development of virtual organizations and training materials, and is involved in the searches; set up and maintain mailing lists; and set up and maintain mail robots that return files in response to an e-mail request.  GNA also maintains a central web server that instructors may use to post course materials and texts. Message posting via e-mail and development, setup, and delivery of several distance education courses and materials (GNA, 1999). GNA will list distance learning courses for free in a central catalog database that allows both tree browsing and keyword web-based discussion groups are also available. GNA will set up online registration for courses and conferences using WWW. Course or conference participants can interactively sign up on the web by using pre-designed forms. 

For high school students, several "cyber-schools" provide educational opportunities for students that transcend American soil. CyberSchools.NET is a global network that exists to fulfill the two-fold mission of strengthening school and global communities while developing real life experiences that teach children vital technological skills (CyberSchools NET, 1998). Students in a 5th grade classroom in Ulan Bataar, Mongolia, for example, are participating in the CyberSchools network. Several universities worldwide offer distance learning courses to high school students. Students of many different nationalities at the International School in Schenzen, PRC have no access to high school courses after the ninth grade because that is the terminal grade at the school. Previously, their parents would transfer their employment within a company to another region when a son or daughter was to enter the 10th grade or send the student to the US to live with relatives while the parent remained. Now, these students can choose to continue their high school careers "cybernetically" by accessing various distance education courses.

There are practical implications for school administrators in developing countries. The existence of instant communication is now a practical reality rather than just a theoretical possibility. Practicing administrators all over the globe possess the means to improve educational delivery systems. The implications represent a new found power, particularly potent in developing countries where gains in education can provide substantial economic gains and where access to educational opportunities provides more significant benefits than the incremental improvements in industrialized countries.

Assuming that incentives do exist to integrate current technology into a developing country's educational system, there are several practical applications available to the practicing school administrator.

Access to education information and best practice research is plentiful. Educators in developing countries face several challenges in access to staff development. Long distance/high cost travel, visa acquisition, and prohibitive professional journal costs present insurmountable difficulties. Technology allows these barriers to be overcome, however.

The Association for the Advancement of International Education maintains a listserv (AAIE, 1999) for the administrations of the 500+ American/international schools throughout the world (ISS, 1999). An administrator in a remote region of the world can post an inquiry that is immediately received by all subscribers, and receive instantaneous responses. Postings are wide and varied. Subscriptions are currently restricted to current AAIE members and former heads of schools, but the possibilities associated with the listserv concept are endless. There is nothing to prevent significant extension of the concept to developing countries, their schools, their students, their teachers and their administrators.

Staff development can occur at significantly reduced costs. For example, online journal access is plentiful. The Journal of Technology Education is a fruitful starting point (JTE, 1999). The Agency for Instructional Technology publishes TECHNOS Quarterly, which examines the policies and pedagogical implications of the electronic revolution (AIT, 1998). Educom Review monitors computer and communications developments (Educause, 1999). The Journal of Information Technology for Teacher Education is a refereed international journal concerned with the implications of teacher education of all aspects of information technology (JIT, 1999). The University of Wisconsin's Center for Materials and Computing offers a free database of educational journal annotations, many of which are available online (CIMC, 1996). The Distance Education Clearinghouse, located at the University of Wisconsin, provides daily distance education headlines as well as a comprehensive series of links to various distance education sources. "News Resources and Trends" is an archived summary of weekly items of interest on technologies used to enhance education. From SyllabusWeb, produced by Syllabus Press, Inc.,The Newspage Network is an award winning online news service that provides daily updates of breaking events. It is customized to focus on Distance Education and related topics, including Long Distance Learning/Remote Education; Video and Multimedia Conferencing; Miscellaneous Interactive Multimedia Applications; Collaborative Computing; Telecommuting; Online Services; Electronic Publishing; Fax-On-Demand; Telemedicine. Information Technology news items from The Chronicle of Higher Education. This service allows one to find out what is in each issue of the Chronicle. A Chronicle subscriber can gain access to the entire newspaper on line through The Chronicle's World Wide Web site, Academe Today. Edupage is a summary of news about information technology, is provided three times a week by a Washington, D.C.-based consortium of leading colleges and universities seeking to transform education through the use of information technology. Reuters Technology Summary provides an up-to-the-minute coverage of the day's top stories as compiled by Reuters Online Report. USA Today's Top Tech Reports Stories for the day, (and previous days), including Special Reports and Internet Update. Reports are gleaned daily from USA TODAY, the Associated Press, Ziff-Davis and the Newsbytes News Network. The Ecola Directories Newsstand includes over 3,800 international publications with links to current newspapers, magazines and computer publications. InfoSearch Broadcasting Links is an alphabetical directory of web sites for television networks, cable, and local broadcasting stations. News Releases and Highlights provide individual announcements and releases made by agencies and others.

There are unquestionably endless possibilities associated with technology. Many initiatives, as noted above, exist and will ultimately provide educational opportunities to tens of millions of people. The resulting information, knowledge and economic development are positive benefits. These initiatives reflect a political, cultural and economic will on the part of participating institutions and individuals.

Where individual students and local populations desire an education, but where governmental or educational institutions are unable or unwilling to provide that service, individual success nonetheless remains possible. There is little that prevents an individual from online access to the resources noted here. For a practicing school administrator in an established foreign school--an American or international school, for example--in a developed or developing country--there is little that prevents the development of online courses offered by that school. In this way, local students who wish to experience an American or international curriculum, or elements thereof, may well constitute a population of learners for these schools that is as yet untapped.


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