Thursday, February 14, 2008

ICT Integration in School Education: A Sociological Proposition

Otojit Kshetrimayum*

This article has been published in Journal of Indian Education. Vol. XXXIII. No. 1, May 2007. p. 62-70.

The paper argues that sufficient considerations should be made at the socio-cultural levels in attempts at integrating ICT in school education. One of the major factors for the effective integration of ICT in school education depends on the school’s culture. This paper draws an inference from this perspective on the Computer Aided Learning programme under Sarva Siksha Aviyan in India. This paper suggests that school structures, classroom dynamics and student behaviours should be in coordination with teacher belief for effective ICT integration in school education. Long-range planning for software developers and schools of education should include a vision that nurtures decision-making and development by teachers, rather than implementing systems solely from the level of policymakers.

There have been new directions in information and communication technology (ICT) with regard to teaching and learning processes. From a pedagogical point of view, ICT appears to offer more educational benefits than other, more traditional, teaching methods. ICT can be used for simulation, visualization and modeling; as cognitive tools; as assessment tools; in wireless and computing; for e-learning environments; for facilitating learning communities; and for project work and authentic tasks. Wegeriff (2004) shows that a combination of pedagogy and software design can exploit the ambivalent nature of computers to make them serve as both interactive agents/ tutors, and as passive ‘learning environments’ within the one educational exchange.
The integration of ICT in school education as an instructional or educational technology is steadily escalating, just as it is in other sectors of society. Whereas in the 1980s the introduction of ICT was mainly fostered in the schools by a fragment of local initiatives, we find in the 1990s there has been a substantial increase of interest from policy makers, which has led to various policy actions. There are a number of arguments to support a policy encouraging the use of ICT in teaching. However, in many cases, it has been a case of fitting the curriculum to the computer rather than the computer to the curriculum.
In India, computer-aided education at the primary stage was allowed as an “innovative” activity under the District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) since 1995. Such a provision still exists under the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA), which is the central government’s flagship programme for universalizing elementary education of ‘good quality’. Of late, several IT corporate houses have also initiated projects for computer-aided learning in elementary and secondary schools. Under the SSA, several states have launched meaningful programmes of computer-aided learning (CAL) at the elementary level by developing multi-media based content related to the curriculum at the primary or upper primary stages of education. However the quality is uneven and the entire effort lacks a sense of direction and purpose and a clear understanding of the future course of action (Rahman and Jhingran 2005).
Integration: A Conceptual Understanding
The integration of modern Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) into teaching-learning process has the potential to augment tools and environments for achieving these objectives of education and learning at schools. Using of ICTs in education means more than simply teaching learners to use computers. Technology is a means for improving education and not an end in itself. The real question must focus on integration into teaching practices, learning experiences, and the curriculum. Integration includes a sense of completeness or wholeness and incorporates the need to overcome artificial separations by bringing together all essential elements in the teaching and learning process– including technology.
Integration is not defined by the amount or type of technology used, but by how and why it is used. Technologies must be pedagogically sound. They must go beyond information retrieval to problem solving; allow new instructional and learning experiences not possible without them; promote deep processing of ideas; increase student interaction with subject matter; promote faculty and student enthusiasm for teaching and learning; and free up time for quality classroom interaction- in sum, improve the pedagogy (Earle 2002: 7). Integration of ICT or Computer Aided Learning (CAL) in school education does not mean placement of hardware in classrooms. Moreover, integrating technology is primarily about content and effective instructional practices. However, for an effective integration of ICT in school education depends on various factors like social-cultural dimensions; environmental, personal, social and curricular factors; and factors extrinsic and intrinsic to teachers. Nevertheless, ICT should improve the pedagogy. The emphasis of CAL is not just on the acquisition of knowledge in specific subjects but on helping learners to acquire creativity, curiosity, and enterprise.
Social factors affecting technology integration
Sutherland (2004) argues that much of the hype around e-learning is fundamentally flamed in that it fails to take into account the social, cultural and historical aspects of learning. The main barriers to adoption of computers in teaching and learning are not primarily technical but are organizational and social in nature. The blockages are i) lack of information on suitable materials in each discipline, and ii) unwillingness of the authorities to recognize and reward effort put into improving teaching, whether by utilizing or by producing computer based teaching and learning materials; recognition for courseware designers; suitability of existing courseware; and courseware delivery (Derby 1992).
Hung and Koh (2004) have proposed a socio-cultural framework to IT integration. They have given four dimensions for IT integration, which are inter-related and would impact efforts in it integration: school structures, classroom dynamics, teacher beliefs, and student behaviours. The first dimension- school structures- considers the school’s culture, workflow processes, which are in place, the design of the curriculum structure, reward systems, and the kinds of overarching beliefs and include physical infrastructures and designed set-ups of school buildings and classrooms. The classroom dynamics dimension includes the pedagogies practiced and implemented during curriculum and non-curriculum time organised by the school. The third dimension is concerned with the individual teacher beliefs, which strongly influence classroom behaviour and the propensity to change classroom behaviour. The fourth dimension involves student behaviours as manifested in the classroom, with teachers as either disseminators of information or as facilitators of knowledge construction. They claim that all four dimensions of the framework must be interrelated and lead to the consistent outcomes desired by the school. They further assert that consistent changes in all dimensions of the framework are necessary over time in order to see IT infused in the school. Incremental changes in any one of the dimensions may yield minimal change; whereas consistent changes at multiple dimensions of the school- from school structure to student behaviour- would yield maximal change.
Change starts with the individual teacher, who upon catching the vision is willing to take risks, to experience confrontations or encounters in rethinking teaching and learning. Integration involves preparation of the teacher, commitment by the teacher, following-up on that commitment by the support team, and resolving teacher concerns arising during the change process (Earle 2002:10). Chanlin et al (2006) have identified four factors that influence teachers’ use of technology in creative teaching- environmental, personal, social and curricular. Environmental factors are concerned with issues related to computer facilities. Personal factors are related to a teacher’s personality and beliefs. Social factors that influence an individual’s effort in the use of technology and creative teaching in classrooms also play an important role in the process and production of creative teaching outcomes. The curricular factors involve issues related to the goals and instructional setting within particular courses. These research-based findings reflect that not only creative teaching environment and personal factors influenced the integration of computer technology but also social and curricular factors surrounding teaching and learning issues. Thus we observe that the factors affecting technology integration according to Chanlin et al, i.e., environmental, personal and social, and curricular are in congruence with Hung and Koh’s socio-cultural dimensions i.e., school structure, teacher beliefs and classroom dynamics respectively.
Baylor and Ritchie (2002) examine the impact of seven factors related to school technology (planning, leadership, technology use, teacher openness to change, and teacher non-school computer use) on five dependent measures in the areas of teacher skills (technology competency and technology integration), teacher morale, and perceived student learning (impact on student content acquisition and higher order thinking skills acquisition). The degree of teacher openness to change was repeatedly found to be a critical variable as a predictor in this study. Teachers, who are open to change, whether this change is imposed by administrators or as a result of self-exploration, appear to easily adapt technologies to help students learn content and increase their higher level thinking skills. It also shows that as these teachers incorporate these technologies, their own level of technical competence increases, as does their morale. The study asserts that although administrators contribute to the positive interactions of technology in a school, of greater significance was teacher attributes.
CAL under SSA in India: A Sociological Proposition
The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) is to provide useful and relevant elementary education for all children in the 6 to 14 age group by 2010. There is also another goal to bridge social, regional and gender gaps, with the active participation of the Panchayati Raj Institutions, School Management Committees, Village and Urban Slum level Education Committees, Parents' Teachers' Associations, Mother Teacher Associations, Tribal Autonomous Councils and other grass root level structures in the management of elementary schools in the management of schools. It is a response to the demand for quality basic education all over the country. The SSA programme is also an attempt to provide an opportunity for improving human capabilities to all children, through provision of community-owned quality education in a mission mode.
Glaring feature of SSA is that it lays a special thrust on making education at the elementary level useful and relevant for children by improving the curriculum, child centred activities and effective teaching-learning activities. Many argue that ICT enabled education is a possible route for improving the quality of education delivery and thereby tackling – albeit partially – the issue of drop-outs. Well designed educational content can act as an important supplement to text books and routine classroom interactions, especially using the power of multimedia and simulation to explain abstract and hard-to-understand concepts and to sustain interest and curiosity even in an otherwise dull school environment. The objectives of CAL at Elementary level under SSA are to facilitate effective delivery of curriculum content; to act as an effective supplement for teachers to improve learning levels in the school since it facilitates practical and experimental learning; to serve as a means to attract children to schools with the multimedia i.e., audio-visual form of learning on various subjects of classroom teaching and thus hold their attention, thus tackling the challenge of dropouts and achievement of enrolment.

Some of the CAL programmes under SSA in various states of India are briefly highlighted in the subsequent section.
Computer-Aided Learning in Elementary Schools (CALiES) in Assam
The Government of Assam, under the aegis of the Ahom Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan Mission introduced ICTs to assist and supplement classroom transactions for improving the quality of education delivery since 2003-2004. Piloted as “Computer-aided Learning in Elementary Schools (CALiES)” in 500 elementary schools in Assam, this innovative programme has three dimensions of implementation: Multimedia based educational content, Delivery of teacher training and Provisioning of computer hardware. This programme has now been rechristened as ‘Smart Schools’.
‘Headstart’ in Madhya Pradesh
'Headstart', one of the largest computer-enabled education programmes India, is aimed at making the learning process interactive and interesting through computers. Initiated by the Rajiv Gandhi Shiksha Mission (RGSM) of Madhya Pradesh government, this is a project essentially aimed at improving the quality of learning through the use of computers in the classroom in primary and middle schools. Launched in the year 2000 as a pilot project in about 648 schools, the programme was later expanded to over 2,718 rural schools across the state at the elementary level.
CALP (Computer Aided Learning Programme) in Rajasthan
This programme has the following approach: computer awareness and literacy among teachers and students, healthy teaching learning process through CALP, more conceptual clarity of the nstudent through CALP, re-enforcement through spot assessment of the children, and improvement in quality of education. Upto 2006-07, the programme has covered 1100 Upper primary Schools with 1.5 lakhs and 3300 teachers.
CALtoonz in Delhi
This computer aided learning through computer animations was launched in September 2005 in 200 schools of the Department of Education, Delhi. The main features of CALtoonz are content delivery through animated films (text is used only for definitions etc.), visual support, audio support, live interactive experimentation, all types of exercises in enough quantity for practice, question bank along with answers, more information provided extensively for each chapter to be based on need and educational content based games.
From the above description it can be concluded that Computer Aided Learning under SSA has been in the forefront to make teaching-learning in schools more interesting and effective. However as discussed in the preceding section, effective CAL in elementary school education depends on various social-cultural factors. One of the most significant factors is teachers’ attitude and perception. In order to further optimize learning environments in primary education, teachers should be aware of the potential of ICT to contribute to the power of learning environments and to stimulate pupil’s active and autonomous learning. Moreover, teachers’ skills with regard to the use of ICT as a means to support powerful learning environments should be fostered (Smeets 2005).
Williams et al (2000) claim that to be skilled and knowledgeable is the key to effective implementation of ICT in teaching and learning. They further add that training alone is unlikely to be effective in the development of ICT skills and knowledge, and enhanced use of ICT in schools. A more holistic approach is required comprising appropriate training, ready access to ICT resources, and ongoing support and advice to encourage progression beyond any formal training. The effect of technological innovativeness on class use of computers is more significant than personal factors such as age, gender, computer attitudes and computer experience. Teachers with a high degree of technological innovativeness also seemed to observe less organizational constraints in regards to the introduction of Computer Mediated Communication in school (Braak 2001). Informal ICT education, such as ‘just-in-time’ learning, is most influential. Furthermore, supportive and collaborative relationships among teachers, a commitment to pedagogically sound implementation of new technologies, and principals who encourage teachers to engage in their own learning are viewed as highly useful factors (Granger et al 2002).
To conclude, we can say that school structures, classroom dynamics and student behaviours should be in coordination with teacher belief for effective ICT integration in school education. Long-range planning for software developers and schools of education should include a vision that nurtures decision-making and development by teachers, rather than implementing systems solely from the level of policymakers.

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* The author is a Research Scholar in Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.