ICT ACCESS AND ENHANCING QUALITY AND EQUITY IN NIGERIAN HIGHER EDUCATION
Salihi Ibrahim Ateequ
Department of English, Federal College of Education, Yola
This paper aims to discuss access to, and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in teaching and learning in higher education institutions in Nigeria. It discusses how some factors hinder or encourage the use of computers for teaching and learning by academic staff and students in institutions in Nigeria. The paper tries to show that there is relationship between access and use of ICT in teaching and learning in the country. Access and use of ICT has the potential to enrich understanding of the changing nature of teaching and learning in an increasingly technology-mediated environment. The paper sets out to explain the need for more informed understanding of access to ICT for teaching and learning in Nigeria’s higher education context.
Keywords: Access, ICT, quality, equity, education
In the past few years, concepts of the digital divide and theories of access to ICT have evolved matters that include issues more than just physical access to computers. Studies have started considering the conditions or criteria for access and broadened the concept by including additional components. Terms such as “real access”, “real conceptions of access” and “social inclusion” give some indication as to the change in thinking about access to ICT. These broader views of access are particularly applicable in the Higher Education context. However, in examining the applicability of the existing theories of ICT access, it could be found that no single model fully encompassed that range of resources required for access to ICTs in Higher Education in Nigeria. Framework for ICT access describes what people use, need and draw on in order to gain or acquire access to specific ICT uses and practices in terms of different kinds of resources namely technology resources, resources for personal agency, contextual resources, and online content resources.
Access to ICT
A discussion about access to ICT must make explicit what its envisaged purpose is, or might be. It is in connection to this that Matsepe-Casaburri (2003) states: “There is no doubt that ICTs can be very effective tools. The question is, tools for what?” Most policy statements endorse broadly sweeping, apparently self-evident, purposes relating to the information age, the knowledge society or the digital age. The United States National Telecommunication and Information Authority (NTIA, 1995), for example, called the Internet the “key to the Information Age” which should be part of a universal service for all Americans, and e-education as the platform to “ensure that all learners will be equipped for full participation in the knowledge society.”
Jarboe (2001) stresses the economic importance of ICT, stating that access to information technology is crucial for governance and economic development. Access, according to Burbules & Callister (2000), becomes essential because exclusion will mean severely limiting life chances. This leads some researchers to focus on the value of social equity and inclusion. Warschauer (2003), for example, argues that the very resources that people need access to are the same resources to which they will be able to contribute. Thus access and use are closely inter-related: access to resources and the use of resources are inter-dependent.
Cantoni et al., 2004; Mason, 1998 agree that ICT offers opportunities for improved education and enhances efficiency. This is supported by Johnson & Aragon (2003) who add that ICT also provides new opportunities for learning through facilitation of contextual, social, active and reflective learning processes. ICTs can create access to learning opportunities, improve the quality of learning and teaching and deliver lifelong learning. In addition, ICTs can accommodate differences in learning styles and remove barriers to learning by providing expanded opportunities and individualized learning experiences. As correctly observed by Burbules & Callister (2000) ICTs can enhance effective teaching, learning, and research, thus providing easier access to and input into the world of international scholarship.
In a study conducted in 1995, for example, the percentage of computers available to 15-year students at secondary schools in the United States is 73% and in the United Kingdom 78% (NTIA, 1995). The situation in Africa in general and Nigeria in particular, is very dismal. Despite this sad situation, however, there has been a growing recognition that access to technology itself is necessary but insufficient. Internationally, researchers have been cautioned for their pre-occupation with physical access (van Dijk, 2003), suggesting that there is an over focus on conditions and not criteria (Burbules & Callister, 2000). It is advised that efforts to bridge the digital divide must be primarily about people, not technology.
Van Dijk (2003) explains that different kinds of access are experienced at successive stages and are conditional on one another. Mental access (motivation) is required first, and once this has been achieved, a person can mobilize material access (hardware). This will lead to skills access (which incorporates strategic, instrumental and informational skills) and only then is access to full usage obtained.
Working from on-the-ground initiatives, Bridges (2001) developed a bottom-up theory by examining what worked best, what failed, and why. He concluded that access to technology was critical but that access to computers and connectivity alone was insufficient to sustain their use. He set out 12 determining factors ascertaining whether or not people had ‘real access’ to technology (making it possible for people to use technology effectively to improve their lives).
Technology resources: physical and practical
Access to ICT as physical technology is the primary access required for use in teaching and learning. In general, physical access is at the forefront of all accounts of access, albeit using slightly differing terminology. Most studies acknowledge the necessity for technological access, whether it is called physical access (Wilson, 2000; Warschauer, 2003; Burbules & Callister, 2000; NTIA, 1995) or technological access (Kling, 2000; Kvasny, 2002) or material (van Dijk & Hacker, 2003). In addition, many studies assert the importance of availability. Bridges (2002), Warschauer (2003 ) and Kling (2000) mention that the technology should be accessible; Kling (2000) and DiMaggio & Hargittai (2001) mention that it should be adequate; and Bridges (2002) further mention that it should be appropriate. Kvasny (2002), Warschauer (2003), Burbules & Callister (2000), and NTIA (1995) extend this category to telecommunication infrastructure, including all the physical infrastructure needed to get connected, the cost to the individual, and maintenance of that infrastructure. However, Bridges (2001) also mentions affordability.
Vygotsky (1978) affirms that ICTs are never used in a vacuum, but are shaped by the social and cultural context where the use is taking place. Their location is also very important. The implications are that, when investigating access to physical ICT, we need also to ascertain their location, availability and adequacy for use or fitness of purpose (Murdoch, 2002; Mkhize, 2004).
Having the time to use the physical resources is a criterion for access. This component can be further broken down to include control (where, when, and to what extent people use computers) and also whether people are competing for use, or if that use is monitored or limited (Di Maggio & Hargittai, 2001; Kvarsky, 2002).
Garnett & Rudd, 2002; Bridges, 2002; Warschauer, 2003 correctly stress that scarcity of suitable content is a factor contributing to the schisms of digital divides. Although some studies of ICT use in developed countries may not identify content as critical, it cannot be easily ignored in the context of Nigeria. Boldi, et al (2002), on the other hand, contend that the African continent generates only 0.4% of global online content and, if South Africa's contribution alone is excluded, the figure drops to a mere 0.02%. They further affirm that English remains the dominant language of publication for African producers, despite the fact that English first-language speakers comprise no more than 0.007% of the whole African population. Certainly the lack of local content has been identified as an essential issue to increase access to ICT for the majority of Africans, who have called for local content (Mbeki, 2001) and information to bridge the digital and knowledge divide to ensure that Africans can access information that can shape their lives in the languages of their choice (Matsepe-Casaburri, 2003).
In order for individual students or academics to use ICT meaningfully for teaching and learning, they need access to personal, collective and contextual resources. While it is necessary to stress the importance of context, it is equally important to identify specific resources which need to be accessed by individuals in order to give them agency (Lehman, 2003). The need for accessing personal resources allows an individual to exercise agency, to give meaning to objects and events and to act with intent. What we need to know is which human resources are particularly necessary to enable teachers and learners to become agents who can mobilize resources and purposefully use ICT, and how these may differ according to purpose.
Warschauer (2003) posits that different types of knowledge are required for the use of new technologies and they exist on a continuum. A more unusual element in this resource group is that of trust, that is, whether, for example, people have confidence in and understand the implications of the technology they use, in terms of privacy or security (Bridges, 2001). Given anxieties and fears which exist generally about technology in higher institutions, it is very important to find out about individual interest in and attitude to using computers in general, and to explore a person’s interest in and attitude to using computers for learning and teaching specifically.
Personal resources, therefore, includes a person’s interest in and attitude to using computers (generally and specifically for learning), as well as his or her knowledge and skills in using a computer. Indicators include interest, purpose, experience, knowledge, training, and skills.
In order to use ICT, people need access to resources in and from the context in which they function. These resources make up the structures that empower and constrain social action and that tend to be reproduced by that action (Sewell, 1992). These resources determine how conducive the environment is to using ICT and how enabling the context is of the integration of ICT for teaching and learning, specifically in a higher education institution.
Kinds of resources must be identified to form part of the structure of human institutions, groups and organizations, those resources needed to be accessed in order to utilize ICT successfully for teaching and learning. Two kinds of resources could be identified from the literature, these being social resources (in the form of networks and support) and formal enabling frameworks of various kinds.
The importance of community support has been recognized by Carvin, 2000; Warschauer, 2003; and Jarboe, 200 1. Warschauer (2003) describes having access to the community and social resources as having the capital to support access to ICT. Kvarsky, 2002; Garnett & Rudd, 2002 maintain that by being able to draw on these networks, people can receive information and guidance from formal technical advisors, colleagues, friends or family. Having friends and family also using computers encourages use (Murdoch 2002). Networks of encouraging family and friends provide important emotional reinforcement in form of positive interest (Di Maggio & Hargittai, 2001). Social networks therefore provide both practical and emotional support, while shared social agreement that computers have value also encourages use.
Research findings (Lehman, 2003) show that many staff and students are using ICT more than occasionally as part of teaching or learning practices, and students are using ICT to support their learning more than staff are asking them to. Another finding (Johnson & Aragon, 2003) reports that:
· There is relationship between the number of years’ experience students have using computers and their self-rating of ability, and the frequency and range of their use of ICT.
· Students who seldom use ICT – that is, those who never or rarely use ICT or have a very narrow range of use of ICT (for example, use them frequently for only one or two specific activities) are more likely to rate their computer ability as average to poor (50%) and have less experience using a computer (38% used a computer for four years or less) than those that use a range of ICT frequently (where only 26% rate their ability as poor to average and 25% have used a computer for four years or less).
· There are differences in frequency of computer use with regards to age. The older the staff member the less frequent the use and younger students (under 20 years old) report more frequent use of computers overall (63% use more than occasionally) compared to older students (over 40 years old) where only 40% of students use more than occasionally.
Much work done on ICT in education has tended to focus on the technical hardware and software, while it is becoming evident that these are essential but insufficient factors. Those working in higher institutions of education in Africa, and in Nigeria in particular, need to move beyond the rhetoric of ICTs as artifacts which simply need to be acquired, to the recognition that integrating ICT in teaching and learning requires access to a much fuller range of resources. If we see personal resources, contextual resources and content resources also as important, we can plan differently and better design educational interventions.
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