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ICTs and education

Increasingly, we are beginning to hit the wall with respect to Internet use because of constraints that involve people. We lack users with the skills necessary to use full potential of the Internet. We lack the innovative entrepreneurs who could develop the content and apps that would attract more of our people to the Internet.

The problem is illustrated by the puzzle of Sri Lanka’s low Internet user population (25 percent) and low use of Internet from the home (11 percent of households) despite the country offering the lowest broadband prices in the world. At these prices adoption should be rocket-like. It is not, because education is the constraint.

Why do we not use MOOCs and associated ICTs to accelerate the education and skills development that is holding everyone back? Conventional approaches to education and training require considerable time to produce the human resources needed for high-productivity sectors. Sri Lanka cannot afford to wait.

One way of speeding up the process would be to complement the role of teachers (at all levels from basic education to university and vocational education) with emerging open educational resources (OER). Effective use of OER depends on reliable and high-capacity broadband access, since much of the content is in the form of videos. Learning and assessment requires interactivity which also requires reliable and high-capacity broadband as well as low latency (round-trip time for a packet to reach a designated end point and return).

In the first stages, high-speed broadband access in schools and places of tertiary education may suffice. However, the optimal use of OERs occurs in the context of “flipping” the conventional model of educational delivery, wherein what was earlier done in school or university settings is now done outside school hours and premises and vice versa.

The limited hours spent in face-to-face contact with those with more knowledge or engaged in the same quest for knowledge (teachers and fellow students) is utilized for collective reflection, discussion and deeper exploration of content already “learned” through OERs outside school. In other words, the delivery of knowledge or first exposure to it will now happen through OERs and the active engagement with it that results in learning will occur in the classroom. For this to happen, ubiquitous and affordable broadband access is necessary.

It must be noted that such an OER-based transformation has not been attempted in any developing country yet. The cultural aspects of attending conventional schools, including the discipline imparted to students, must be carefully addressed. Therefore, it is important that a comprehensive study be undertaken by education and ICT experts if this path is to be explored.

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