Page 5 of 7FACTORS FOR SUCCESS OF ICT-SUPPORTED NON-FORMAL EDUCATION
Simply using ICTs in NFE programs does not make for effective NFE programs. For the potential benefits of ICT integration in NFE to be realized, several factors need to be considered.
The first of these is the need for a coherent policy for integrating ICT in NFE. A meta-survey of ICT integration in 44 countries in the Asia Pacific region conducted by UNESCO Bangkok in 2003–2004 (Farrell and Wachholz 2004) showed countries at different stages with regard to policies pertaining to the integration of ICT in the education system. While all of the countries surveyed had stated that the development of ICT capacity was important to national development, few had grappled with the policy questions related to ICT applications in education, especially in NFE. Few policymakers demonstrated a commitment to ensuring that ICT would be adopted at a mass level.
A policy framework is essential as it provides a vision of desired outcomes and outlines a roadmap for how these outcomes are to be achieved. In such a framework, the vision of NFE would have to be broad-based and all-encompassing and within the overall framework of lifelong learning. Accreditation frameworks for the integration of NFE and formal education would have to be worked out, particularly because at present in many countries these frameworks are either weak or non-existent and NFE is marginalized. Also, a gender equity perspective would have to inform policy formulation to ensure that women as well as men have equal access to ICT and ICT-supported education programs, and gender concerns are addressed at all stages or phases of such programs.
A second factor for success of ICT-supported NFE is providing technology infrastructure and ensuring access. ICT-based non-formal literacy programs have often suffered from inadequate infrastructure and technical support. This was highlighted in a study on the use of ICT in education in seven of the E-9 countries (Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt, India, Mexico, Pakistan, and the People’s Republic of China) undertaken by UNESCO (UNESCO 2006). The study recommended that the Literacy Decade should be considered as an opportune time for policymakers to set up the required infrastructure — for example, phone lines, reliable electricity supply, and connectivity.
While CLCs are regarded as a viable strategy for giving rural communities access to ICT, there is a need for innovative and cost-effective ways of broadening access to prevent the exclusion of marginalized communities. Women’s access to ICT is a major problem in some communities. ICT should be located in local institutions that poor women feel they can access without difficulty or restriction (Dighe and Reddi 2006).
Landlines and desktop computers are available in multipurpose community access centres (e.g. telecentres, schools), but there are difficulties in making them available in poor communities. Ongoing development of low-cost technologies is a key to provide ICT for the poor. Currently, Wireless Fidelity (WiFi) promises to provide low-cost broadband ‘last mile’ connectivity in densely populated areas and wireless mobile text messaging is spreading in a range of countries and commercial and public service uses. Research, development, and piloting of low-cost technologies amenable to poor communities would need ongoing support, particularly from social and commercial entrepreneurs.
A third factor in the success of ICT-supported NFE programs is to make them people-driven rather than technology-driven. Case studies undertaken in different countries of the region demonstrate this. Often, however, there is a tendency to invest in technology without making a parallel investment in people. According to Reddi (2004), ‘the bulk of the investment in any project generally goes toward overhead costs and few resources are left for project activities. A parallel investment in people, in good quality social research and community mobilization and involvement, rarely takes place.’
A process of de-mystification of technology has to take place so that poor people can begin to understand how technology functions and the possibilities it has to offer. This process cannot be rushed and people’s pace of learning has to be respected. This has particular relevance for women as they would first need to get over the perception that technology is for men and not for them. It would be necessary for women to feel comfortable with technology, for they are likely to be hesitant in adopting new technology unless they can begin to use technology to respond to their needs.
The impact of ICT also depends on attitudes, expectations, organizational climate, and management styles. It is possible that intermediary organizations implementing ICT projects are hierarchical and bureaucratic in their style of functioning. Any hands-on experience in the use of technology can become a major hurdle in such organizations, and overcoming resistance and negative attitudes is a challenge that has to be overcome. The bottom line is that the focus of ICT-supported NFE programs has to be on people, on organizations and processes, and not just on technology.
Effective planning and program design is the fourth factor in the success of ICT-supported NFE. There is a need to take stock of existing infrastructure and to plan for hardware and software possibilities, taking into account connectivity, affordability, and capability. Equally important is the need to understand the existing information systems of the poor before ICT is introduced. There is a need to understand how ICT and culture intersect, because cultural factors can be a hindrance to ICT adoption in rural areas. This is particularly true for women. Green (2004) therefore advocates that great care be taken to ensure gender-sensitive program design.
Community participation in planning and designing ICT-supported interventions is vital. Experiences in many countries of the region have shown that ICT projects are more useful and sustainable when communities support and commit to them. However, it is important to recognize that communities are not homogenous and they are often divided along class, gender, and sectarian lines. It is necessary to ensure sustained and ongoing consultations with members of the community, particularly the poor members and women among them, to enable them to help make crucial decisions with regard to physical location, timing, and the use of ICT. The poor benefit from ICT when they know and control the technology and related know-how. Rather than simply giving the poor access to information, project designers and implementers should listen to the ‘voice’ of the poor in various decision-making processes.
Capacity-building and training comprise the fifth success factor in ICT-enhanced NFE. There is a need to train NFE functionaries, program administrators, and support staff. Moreover, it is necessary to provide skills training programs of various kinds to ensure that the poor use ICT effectively. Malaysia’s experience has shown the importance of organizing training in basic computer use so that the rural communities are not left behind in the nation’s ICT development process. Such training programs need to be organized on an ongoing basis to ensure operational use of ICT as well as their maintenance and upkeep by the members of the community. This would help instil a sense of ownership among the community.
Women would require gender-sensitive training and ongoing support. Women trainers have been found to be effective in training other women because aside from passing along skills, women trainers also serve as role models.
In addition, the potential of ICT for enhancing and supporting professional development of non-formal education, literacy and development personnel, planners, administrators, and educators should be explored.
A sixth factor for success in ICT-supported NFE is the development of content that is relevant to the learners. ICT can play an important role in stimulating interest and engaging learners, and it can be a useful tool in developing learning materials that are culturally and linguistically appropriate. One such literacy course offered by a CMC in the Madurai district of Tamil Nadu, India enables learners to create their own personalized content using digital cameras, computers, presentation software, and CD-ROMs. The successful experiences of many countries using technologies like television, radio, and video have shown that even ‘low tech’ devices can be very useful in creating a literacy conducive environment (UNESCO 2006), with women, for example, using these technologies in creative combinations with traditional media such as folk songs, dance, and theatre for self-expression and communication.
A seventh factor for successful ICT-supported NFE is planning for sustainability. Because their operating costs tend to be high, most ICT projects tend to close down as soon as the project funds are used up. It is therefore essential to address the problem of sustainability at the planning stage itself. The ‘user pays’ model is the default strategy for generating income for operations and maintenance. However, this business model tends to marginalize the poor, particularly the women among them, because they cannot afford to pay the user fees. Partnerships among stakeholders that will draw on the strengths and assets of various groups and ensure the coordination of efforts of various institutions, ministries, and organizations could address this problem.
Ensuring multi-stakeholder partnerships is the eighth factor for success in ICT-enhanced NFE programs. In such partnerships, the principal role of the government would be to facilitate the creation and equitable diffusion of infrastructure and the adaptation and scaling up of successful pilot projects. In addition, the public sector should provide the lead through strong policy interventions and substantial public investment (Gurumurthy and Singh 2005). The private sector could play an important role in supporting development of content and applications in the local languages. NGOs could partner with the government to ensure the participation of various disadvantaged groups, and to facilitate capacity-building.
The ninth factor for successful implementation of ICT-supported NFE programs is continuous monitoring and evaluation. The literature on ICT-supported development in general tends to be anecdotal and descriptive and there is a paucity of data from well-designed evaluation and research studies. While this is changing, it bears emphasizing that there is a need to undertake honest stock-taking of what worked and what did not work and for what reasons. Formative evaluation is necessary to identify the problems or stumbling blocks so that timely corrections can be taken to ensure that the objectives of the ICT project are met. Considering the multi-dimensionality of non-formal education, an interdisciplinary research approach would be useful to understand the complexities of ICT for NFE projects. Ethnographic action research (Tachhi et al. 2003) has been found to be useful in understanding the information needs of the poor in specific contexts.