A review of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics’ survey on ICT integration and e-readiness in education across the Caribbean and Latin America.
Over the last few months, particularly after the release of the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) examinations results of the June 2012 sitting, there has been extensive debate across the region about the quality of education, and the extent to which computers are assisting with instruction and learning. As healthy as those debates might be, they are often based on conjecture and anecdotal evidence, and do not necessary provide a clear picture of what obtains in individual countries, or across the Caribbean region as whole.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Institute for Statistics (UIS) has published the results of its 2010/2011 study, ICT in Education in Latin America and the Caribbean: A regional analysis of ICT integration and e-readiness. The impetus for the exercise is the global emphasis that been placed on better integrating ICT in education to facilitate nation building and the realisation of Information Societies. For example, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), speak to:
- achieving universal primary education (goal 2)
- eliminating gender disparity in primary and secondary education (goal 3)
- making available the benefits of new technologies, especially information and communications (goal 8, target 8.F).
Additionally, in its action plan, the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) set the following two targets in relation to education:
- connect all secondary schools and primary schools with ICT (target 2)
- adapt all primary and secondary school curricula to meet the challenges of the Information Society, taking into account national circumstances (target 7).
The UIS publication on ICT integration and e-readiness has been guided by the above targets, as well as those stated by other regional and international groupings. Hence the report ought to provide some insight into the extent to which ICT has been integrated into and is being used in education across the Caribbean.
With the assistance of in-country statisticians and consultants, the UIS surveyed 38 countries in the Caribbean and Latin America to collect data along the following themes:
- policy and curriculum
- ICT integration in schools
- enrolment in programmes using ICT, and
- teachers and ICT.
Our discourse will be limited to countries in the Caribbean and/or those that are members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), as listed in Table 1. It is important to note that although the UIS consulted all of the listed countries, some countries did not provide the requisite data, and would have been omitted from certain metrics.
Most of Caribbean countries have formally demonstrated some commitment to ICT in education, which may be in the form of policies, plans, regulatory provision, and/or body. Table 2 shows the results in relation to the sample group.
Second, ICT in secondary schools is better in quality and is more established than at the primary level. In most countries, priority has been given to the ensuring that the requisite systems have been instituted at the secondary level, so that at the very least, students are computer literate, in order to meet a basic requirement of the job market. Additionally, in the English-speaking Caribbean, CXC has introduced IT and computing subjects, which has reinforced the need for schools to be properly equipped to deliver those curricula. Hence, among other things, secondary schools tend to have better connectivity (Figure 1), more frequent use of computer aided instruction, and smaller student-to-computer ratios (Figure 2) than primary schools.
Third, gender inequality does not appear to be as grave an issue across the Caribbean region. However, the UIS survey is limited to primary schools. At the secondary level and to varying degrees, students may have some choice as to whether to pursue IT-related subjects, and hence the extent to which they are exposed to computers and computing. Nevertheless, teachers are still expected to integrate computer or Internet aided instruction into the learning process, thus exposing students to the technology.
Finally, teachers are essential to the learning process – those who are qualified in ICT, those who teach basic computer skills, and those who integrate ICT tools into the teaching of other subjects. Table 3 generally suggests that across the Caribbean, there are still too few teachers proficient in ICT/computing.
Overall, and according to UIS, the Caribbean showed,
…much higher integration levels of ICT-assisted instruction and the essential infrastructure, including basic hardware (i.e. computers) and Internet connectivity, than most Latin American countries from South and Central America.
However, based on concerns that have been expressed by policymakers, educators, and even the public at large, there is considerable room for improvement. Hence athough there might be high ICT integration in the region, as per the UIS report, there might still be challenges with respect to the effectiveness of technology in the classroom and in the learning process, which are yet to be studied.
Image credits: Sura Nualpradid (FreeDigitalPhotos.net)