With the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a commitment to inclusive and equitable quality education at all levels was made a priority. This post will focus on inclusive education and the role ICTs can play.
‘Inclusive education is a process of strengthening the capacity of the education system to reach out to all learners (…). As an overall principle, it should guide all education policies and practices, starting from the fact that education is a basic human right and the foundation for a more just and equal society’ (UNESCO 2009)
The importance of inclusive education and the role of ICTs
Learners with disabilities at all levels of education, from preschool through to adult education, are vulnerable to exclusion from educational opportunities. For learners that do not have access to primary education this also results in them not achieving the necessary basic skills for long term social and digital inclusion. In effect, this will limit their access to other educational opportunities, as well as, employment. Therefore, providing inclusive education is key so that no one is left behind.
On the one hand, ICTs can play a supportive role in facilitating educational processes by providing innovative ways of transmitting, storing and transforming information. On the other hand, it should also be expanded to include the goal of inclusive education as laid out in Goal 4 of the SDGs which is to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.
Within the area of education, attention has increasingly shifted away from tech-centric approaches, which see technology as drivers of change towards a more people-centric approach that recognises diversity. It is important to remember that ICTs are not stand alone solutions, but are tools with the potential to support wider change purposes. This is true in all ICT4D projects. With this particular approach, ICTs can be a valuable tool for learners with disabilities, who are vulnerable to the so-called ‘digital divide‘.
There are quite a few examples of areas in which ICTs in the field of education can bring opportunities for the 1 billion, including:
- Improving access to educational materials
- Providing free and open access to software and learning content (strengthening access and sharing)
- Adjusting the teaching content and pace to the particular requirements of individual learners (child-centred approach)
- Distance teaching and learning; tackling spatial marginalisation
- Bridging language, literacy and disability-related barriers
- Providing education in emergency and transitional situations (e.g. refugee camps)
Where to start?
As we have continuously argued in this blog, only context-driven and needs-based approaches can enable ICTs to be used to maximum effect to drive inclusive change processes. For example, as noted by a teacher student in Malawi, where teachers have no electricity in their homes, it is not context appropriate to provide devices like tablets for them to prepare lessons.
In education, technology shouldn’t be the starting point but the needs of learners and the specific local context. Often, insufficient attention is paid to the underlying intent or purpose of using ICTs. So, what is the core need that the use of ICTs will address?
In most education projects, the people intended to benefit do not belong to one homogenous group. Instead, they are often diverse in terms of their potential to engage. In order to genuinely identify local needs and context, a participatory approach is required, which actively involves all actors, who make up both the enabling and the restricting environment throughout the programme design: learners, teachers, parents, communities, policy-makers.
As with all ICT4D projects, access to ICTs in education for persons with disabilities can be hindered by physical barriers, cognitive barriers, content barriers (when operating language of device or software is different from learners mother tongue), didactical barriers (where teachers lack the skills to facilitate inclusive education, and financial barriers (costs of devices, hardware and software). RD’s earlier blog post put the spotlight on the Krousar Thmey Foundation in Cambodia, which runs a project providing ICT classes to visually impaired children. This is an example of a project working to overcome a physical barrier.
In a model policy document for inclusive ICTs in Education for Persons with Disabilities, UNESCO attempts to assist states in the process of developing policy in order to achieve the wider goal of inclusive education across all educational sectors and settings. The model policy provides a blueprint for short, medium, and long-term action and also a possible audit tool for identifying current progress in relation to key objectives and actions.
In short, when it comes to education projects, the point of departure should not be technology, but it should be inclusive education and how to achieve this should be guided by the local context and its particular demands. In essence, the same logic can be applied to all ICT4D projects.
If you are interested in learning more about ICTs and inclusive education, I recommend that you take a look at the following resources:
Zero Project Report 2016, Focus: Education and Information & Communication Technologies. This is an international study on the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It includes Innovative Practices, Innovative Policies, and Social Indicators from more than 150 countries
UNESCO’s 2014 Model Policy for Inclusive ICTs in Education for Persons with Disabilities. Where the focus is upon the use of ICTs to support the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD, 2006)
written by VM