Not Quite the Best Investment, but Pretty Good
It would be churlish to claim that ICTs are the best educational investment. After all, take away the teachers and the schools and there is not a lot left. On the other hand, taking away the ICTs would only take a school back a few decades, but it would keep functioning.
Nevertheless, ICTs represent a pretty good investment, and one that would rank pretty high in the pecking order once the basic requirements of a school or university are met. Consider the following:
- One of the primary tasks of an educational system is to equip its students for later life, and to assist them in responding effectively to job opportunities. Many of today’s students will work in an office environment and many of them will be spending eight or so hours a day in front of a computer screen. They may not necessarily be using the same programmes or the same applications that they learned in school, but many of the ancillary skills they pick up — typing, using a filing system, email, creating visual presentations etc — will be the same. In the same way that one would not design a cookery school without stoves and ovens, so one would not design a school to prepare students for living in the information society without computers.
- A further task of the educational system is to prepare students for lifelong learning and to help instill the skills of finding information, and then analysing, digesting and repurposing it. Those tasks are all possible without computers, but so much easier with them.
- In order to instil these talents in students, the teachers must first capture their attention and their imagination. It is much easier to do that with technology than with textbooks or with chalk and talk. Many students these days will already have a computer at home and they will be easier to reach through the medium they associate with fun.
- Finally, consider the alternative … The cost of a computer is equivalent to providing a class with a couple of books each. But, providing the computer is linked to the internet, the students and their teacher will then have access to the boundless library of the worldwide web, which is constantly updated and which contains a hugely diverse range of views and experiences. By contrast, their textbooks inevitably provide a pre-digested view of the world, and one that is out of date the day it is printed.
Available evidence on the benefits of ICTs in school is sometimes mixed and hard to interpret, because the benefits of a good education are only observed years later. But the “Programme for International Student Assessment“, housed by the OECD, is generally acknowledged as the most rigorous monitoring and evaluation programme. The latest survey (2006) shows that fastest gains in reading standards of any country observable in the Republic of Korea, where students improved their reading standards by 31 points — equivalent to a whole year’s worth of teaching — between 200 and 2006. Not coincidentally, Korea also scored top in the ITU’s Digital Opportunity Index (DOI) for 2006, the most respected measure of an economy’s ICT performance.
It is important to conclude with a note of balance: no one is suggesting to throw away the textbooks. Furthermore, ICTs alone are pretty useless without well-trained teachers to exploit them, technicians to maintain them, and schools to house them. But, as part of a balanced educational budget, ICTs have an important and growing role to play in preparing students for the challenges of tomorrow. ICTs are not quite the best educational investment, but they are pretty good.