Human rights and digital equity: UNESCO Bangkok resources help bridge divide
Asia-Pacific is home to a stark digital divide that limits the potential of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to open up new worlds of learning in areas where the right to education often remains out of reach.
Despite internet coverage expanding rapidly around the world and even into rural areas, only one out of seven people in least developed countries (LDCs) are online, a significantly smaller number than the 47%, or approximately one in two people, who use the internet globally, according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
These disparities are well pronounced in Asia, as highlighted by a recent UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) analysis of the e-readiness of 30 Asian countries, which looked at their ICT-related policy, curriculum and basic infrastructure (electrical and telecommunication capacity; numbers of computers, computer laboratories, ICT support services and Internet).
The report found markedly uneven levels of ICT use in education in the region. Some countries excel in ICT-assisted instruction and have the latest infrastructure; however, in the majority of Asia-Pacific countries, ICT in education is limited to the privileged few.
Also of concern were “internal digital divides”, where only urban centres “quickly adopt ICT while it remains out of reach for rural and remote regions,” as noted in a 2014 UNESCO-UIS report. There is also a divide in the way ICT is employed at schools, with developing countries sticking to computer laboratories, while developed ones have moved on to technology enhanced classrooms.
These obstacles stand in the way of the urgent need to promote education that leaves no one behind and that focuses on equity, inclusion and quality, as outlined in the Incheon Declaration for Education 2030. The role of ICT in facilitating this goal was outlined in the Qingdao Declaration, a branch document of the Incheon Declaration focused on ICT, which emphasized the potential of digital learning environments to enable lifelong learning by opening up new pathways. The many dimensions of the digital divide, as outlined here, put a cap on that potential.
UNESCO Bangkok has been working to address these challenges and support teachers who might not have stable access to the internet. The ICT in Education Programme has created tools and resources, including a teachers’ portal on useful online resources, as well as nine offline teaching and learning resources. The UNESCO-curated digital resources for teacher educators and teachers have been openly and freely shared and distributed as CD ROMs to more than 120 countries worldwide.
Two new directories of these resources were launched in November 2016, in partnership with Chungdahm Learning Inc, a leading digital learning provider from the Republic of Korea. Two directories, including “Science” (lower secondary) and “Classroom Productivity”, were released in both DVD and USB formats and are also downloadable from the UNESCO website. This is part of UNESCO Bangkok’s “Supporting Competency-Based Teacher Training Reforms to Facilitate ICT-Pedagogy Integration” Project, supported by the Korean Funds-in-Trust.
The “Directory of Free Educational Resources for Teachers: Science”, mapped against core curriculum standards for lower secondary science across the Asia-Pacific region, aims to provide teachers and teacher educators with a new collection of curated free (or open) digital science contents. A group of science educators in the region collaborated with UNESCO Bangkok in order to develop a quality content evaluation framework, which in turn guided the review and rating of the resources, which include animations, simulations, interactive presentations, quizzes, Web quests, videos etc., which are freely available on the internet.
The “Directory of Free Educational Resources for Teachers: Classroom Productivity” is a collection of free quality software that educators can install directly on their computers. It includes a collated set of freely available productivity tools, such as content authoring software, mind-mapping software, graphic editors, office suite among others.
For the resources to reach the target educators in need, the Resource Distribution and Training Centres (RDTC) network, consisting of about 20 teacher education institutes (TEIs) in 13 countries across the region, was established in 2013. In 2014-15, a total of 38,720 original and reproduced CD ROMs were distributed through the RDTC network and around 3748 teachers and teacher educators were trained on the effective and pedagogical use of the resources.
ICT in Education at UNESCO Bangkok aims to continue to support Member States in narrowing the digital gap, and ensuring that all users in Asia-Pacific have access to equitable and quality education.
By ICT in Education Team
ITU. (2016). ICT Facts & Figures 2016. Retrieved from www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Documents/facts/ICTFactsFigures2016.pdf
UNESCO. (2015). Regional Seminar for UNESCO RDTCs Outcome Document. Retrieved from www.unescobkk.org/fileadmin/user_upload/ict/Workshops/RDTC_15ch/OutcomeDocument_RDTCRegionalSeminar2015.pdf
UNESCO UIS. (2014). Information and Communication Technology in Education in Asia: A comparative analysis of ICT integration and e - readiness in schools across Asia. Retrieved from www.uis.unesco.org/Communication/Documents/ICT-asia-en.pdf