Bridging the knowledge divide: Educational technology for development
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In the introductory chapter of the book under review, editors Marchell, Kinuthia and Taylor stress the importance of making use of information and communication technology (ICT) products and services as main potential advantages of economic, social and cultural enhancements in our current regional economies and societies. While ICT products and services are recognised in this work as powerful mechanisms for development, the power which is invested in them has been able to take “commerce, service provision, and governance away from communities that have been unable to bridge the digital divide” (p. xxvii). A key ingredient in solving this issue is education, the role of which is to ensure that ICT is made an integral part of its development, delivery and content to help solve all disadvantages and paradoxes resulting from the digital divide.1 Hence the key factor is to change ways of information delivery through different pedagogies and designs of instruction. Bridging the knowledge divide presents examples of best practices, case studies and principles of educators and policy advisors in ensuring equitable educational technology for development around disadvantaged and underrepresented communities.
A very well-structured, well-developed and thoroughly analytical project, the book is a tremendous addition to our current gap in education and curriculum design, where information technology has been growing so fast that traditional instructional designs are not able to catch up fast enough. In the midst of an abundance of research on challenges faced by our educational systems under this very rapid growth of information technology, Bridging the knowledge divide takes a different look at the heart of this paradox, offers an interesting scientific and structural approach in examining the problem of knowledge divide and gives sustainable recommendations on solving the fundamental paradox of education before solving the paradox of the digital divide. Such an approach does not jump to conclusions in closing up the knowledge divide. Rather, it outlines four sections, each of which has a few chapters which are structured so that problems are well identified, and findings are intriguing enough to lead the reader to think profoundly about what works and what does not work to bridge the knowledge divide as far as information technology is concerned. Hence the sections adopt very fundamental strategies in dealing with problems of knowledge divide and offering fundamental solutions to overcome boundaries. To illustrate these strategies, this review will discuss their approach.
The first section, divided into five chapters, is entitled “Flexible education for empowerment”, helping us to recognise the importance of flexible education in community development. The core element in solving the problem of knowledge divide, according to these chapters, is first and foremost building an inclusive and cohesive community to overcome poverty and social exclusion. Instead of discussing how we should deal with information technology within communities, this section outlines fundamental changes needed to empower individuals and groups in the communities. Once those infrastructure changes are implemented successfully, the delivery of as well as access to information technology will be facilitated. Basically, the section sees empowerment as the first and fundamental step. Once that is achieved, all other steps including information technology delivery through flexible education will take place very successfully. The first two chapters in this section discuss the necessary step which Martin Franklin and Rogen Hosein see as community development. They explore the delivery of flexible education through community centres and gender empowerment. The other three chapters offer examples of designs and sources of delivery through analytically and empirically investigated case studies, which include the Institute of Distance Education (IDE) at the University of Swaziland, South Africa, and the University of Chester in the UK.
A few important points are worth mentioning about this section, which also apply to all the subsequent sections in this book. First, a variety of research methodologies are used in analysing case studies. In the case of Swaziland, data collected by the Registrar’s Office at the University helped the researchers examine the role of IDE and its significant contribution to increasing access to higher education for both males and females, increasing the number of female participants. Another consequence was better academic performance of female learners compared to their male counterparts. The importance of this analysis and the success of IDE programmes provide insightful implications for promoting and developing distance education programmes in other countries. This section also serves as a model for gender empowerment. In the South African case study, a mixed-method analysis of quantitative and qualitative designs is applied to provide a thorough analysis of how universities can be fair and equitable access mediums for all students as far as ICTs are concerned. As for the University of Chester, the assessment method applied to evaluate a distance-delivered learning programme for employees in work places is a good example of reaching out to everyone in the community for empowerment reasons, including those in their offices and work places.
Other sections of the book adopt similar approaches in terms of examining ICT and knowledge divides. All sections consistently see the role of flexible education to be the key practical resolution, but not the ultimate solution. For instance, Section 2 on “Managing and communicating knowledge” discusses specific technologies and their roles in facilitating flexible education. The power of massive ICT growth and information that is accessible to individuals and organisations has even redefined the meaning of “knowledge”. An example is Short Mobile Messaging (SMS) which, particularly in developing countries such as Uganda, is an important medium that is powerful enough to allow for information exchange at very specific levels and degrees. It is an exciting experience for initiating virtual communication, but perhaps it can even be an ultimate practical solution for distance learning. Other examples of distance learning tools and strategies such as video conferencing and open and distance learning (ODL) are also presented in this section. While these tools and strategies work in some contexts, they are not very efficient in other contexts.
The third section is the largest one in Bridging the knowledge divide, giving the lion’s share to higher education and devoting a whole section to flexible delivery in higher education. The seven chapters in this section discuss different case studies of flexible delivery. These chapters are empirical studies using different research designs to increase the importance of the results and the magnitude of implementing some of the strategies in other contexts, other regions and other countries. The fourth section may be looked at as another post-secondary example, but with a more specific focus on teacher training using flexible delivery. Its chapters include e-learning strategies, costs, new computer technologies and digital literacy approaches. The analysis and results are impressive in many ways and very convincing in many other ways.
The level of case study analysis and other types of research design in the book are well-structured and results are well-interpreted. Conclusions from most chapters are convincing and consistent with general trends that could be applied to many countries in the world.
Bridging the knowledge divide: Educational technology for development is a tremendous contribution to the new trend of distance learning which is still under discussion in many universities and educational institutions all over the world. Some institutions are better at implementing this new instructional design than others. Also, there is no doubt that the book has captured very specific areas of dealing with distance learning and ICT integration. Still, the content of the book raises a very crucial question concerning the choice of case studies it presents. The tendency of choosing developing countries such as Uganda, Namibia, Botswana and the West Indies may be due to the intention of sharing good stories of success about developing countries at the ICT exchange levels. However, if education is culturally and economically embedded in the development of the country (and of the region) – meaning if education is one other sector that develops with the development of the country at many levels – which is proven to be the case, a number of successful stories in this book may not hold a lot of truth except for those particular cases presented. It is even fair to say that implicitly the content is yet again another hegemonic approach to duplication and replication of policies whereby the developing world is seen as a consumer of technology and information technology imported from the developed world. If not, why did the book not mix successful and unsuccessful stories from both developing and developed countries where technology and ICT may succeed and/or fail to bridge the gap of the knowledge divide?
The term “digital divide” basically refers to inequalities between people who have access to and know how to use ICT and those who do not.