Page 6 of 10ICT Regulation and Improving Access to Education
That ICT can play a substantial enabling role in improved delivery of education is well accepted in Asia. In this section, we wish to highlight the idea that regulators concerned with access to education should be aware that ICT policy must act in coordination with other policies that address the basic social, cultural, and economic issues associated with improving access to education. For example, a policy focused on increasing computerization in schools by itself would arguably have far less impact than if it were coordinated with a policy to make computers and technology more affordable. One can go further and argue that an effective way to tackle the issue of affordable access would be to take a strong stance encouraging competition at all levels in the information technology supply chain, regardless of the nationality of any participant with significant market power. Such an approach would perhaps lower prices more effectively than a plan to subsidize technology purchases for lower income households. Similarly, and more directly linked to the issue of computerization of schools, is whether there exists a clear policy on ICT competencies for teachers as well as for continuing teacher professional development in technology integration.
The other obvious advantage ICT policy offers is the possibility of increasing access to education through distance learning. Coupled with a drive to increase access to computing technology in rural and less urbanized areas, this could broaden access to education for all. (See the chapters on "Education for All in the Digital Age" and on "Distance Education in Asia Pacific" in this volume.)
However, there are still a number of questions about whether and to what extent ICT use in education is beneficial without due consideration of its actual impact on student learning and curriculum goals. One pertinent critique from a 2005 study of ICT in education policy in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries has been that education planners and technology advocates think of the technology first and then investigate the educational applications of the technology later. A case in point: tablet Personal Computers (PCs) can be beneficial in educational settings, but their Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) screens are not as easy to read as paper.8 This raises the more abstract but nonetheless important policy question of how computers would be integrated into curricula at all education levels (primary, secondary, and tertiary) and how teaching practices would have to be modified or adapted. The same study also notes that there is little compelling or unequivocal data to back up the belief that "ICTs can empower teachers and learners, promote change, and foster the development of 21st century skills" (Trucano 2005).
We do not believe that this implies that any policy seeking to promote the use of ICTs to improve access to and the quality of education is doomed to failure. On the contrary, we believe that this critique strengthens the case for regulators to take a more coordinated and holistic approach to devising ICT in education policy and regulation. Such an approach would address several questions. First, what are we seeking to achieve? Second, what factors need to be in place in order for technology use to benefit users and students (e.g. improving ICT penetration rates in rural areas)? Third, what can be implemented with minimal administrative delay and to the greatest effect?
Also, given the critical role of education in any country especially in the age of knowledge workers, it would be prudent for the regulators to devise appropriate metrics to measure the effectiveness of any ICT policy aimed at improving access to education, and to arrange for such data to be regularly collected in order to determine what works and what does not.