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30.04.2004 Education

Practical Application Of ICT To Enhance University Education In Ghana

By Obeng, Thomas Kwaku

The hypothesis that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) might raise the quality of life in developing nations pre-dates the evolution of the Internet. Telecommunication and the Internet are now on the policy “radar screen” in every nation and multinational organisations. Over the past two decades, there has been considerable debate over the extent to which ICT is transforming the economies of the world. Central governments, businesses and international organisations have invested heavily in ICT in anticipation of greater productivity increase and economic transformations.

To me and many others, the application of ICT is more relevant in the developing world like Ghana because there are so many things which have not been done and which ought to be done in order to move the nation forward. A renowned professor G.O. Ajayi, OAU, Ile Ife, Nigeria, shared the multi-purpose application of ICT as he put it “ICT is now regarded as a Utility such as water and electricity and hence has become a major factor in socio-economic development of every nation. ICT now plays a major role in education, learning and research in general, agriculture, health, commerce and even in poverty alleviation by generating or creating new jobs and investment opportunities…” This declaration and indeed other opinions shared by others point to conclusive evidence that ICT has some real and material applications for countries like Ghana because countries can leverage ICT to totally transform and modernise their economy. This article therefore seeks to look at how ICT could enhance and improve education delivery in our educational system with particular emphasis on University education

Education is key to a knowledge economy and to compete effectively in global context, we need an educated and skilled labour force so as to create, share and use knowledge; vibrant system of research and innovation to be able to tap into global knowledge, assimilate and adapt it to our local need. One cannot rule out that knowledge and human capital are increasingly important to successful economies. The skills to productively transform knowledge and information into innovative products and services will largely define successful knowledge economies. Since knowledge and information have become the most important currency for productivity, competitiveness, an increased wealth and prosperity, nations have and continue to place greater emphasis and priority on human capital development.

Governments in the world over are thus focusing on strategies to increase access to and improve the quality of education. Policy makers find themselves asking certain key question- what defines and constitutes quality education in today's global information-based economy? Has education kept pace with a rapidly and technologically changing world? Are there good models for reforms that we can follow? The world today is different from what it was some decades ago. Comparing the past and the present bring to the fore an amazing technological advances in science, commerce, health care, transportation and many. Key competencies are changing rapidly and as such individuals need knowledge, skills, competencies to meet changing economic conditions, job requirements and technology, encourage risk taking, flexibility and adaptability so as to function independently, use tools interactively and work well with others.

However, education systems in Ghana have not been well suited to the changing demands of open society and market economies. Knowledge economy issues vary for countries depending on size, technology position, economic situation and education levels of population but knowledge and education are important in every case. Critically looking the classroom/lecture theatre some years back and today's average classroom, you will discover that nothing substantial has changed. This is because students continue to use paper and pen/pencil in hand, teachers still write quite extensive notes on the blackboard where students furiously trying to copy all that is written and said, expecting to memorise all the facts and spit them out during exams. Even though much have changed as a result of advances and innovations of science and technology, education and the away student learn, and teachers teach have almost and largely remained unchanged

A closer look at our tertiary institutions like the Universities and the Polytechnics points to the fact that there are serious lapses and limitations. Our Universities continue to focus on traditional academic objectives, not in support for the economy. Also there is a relative weak links in the connection between industry and Universities. Instead of Universities being driven by the demands of industry, programmes are organised independent of industry and in some cases little is known about the expertise base in the Universities.

We have had and continue to experience this problem. There are majority of students who will like to further their education but the sad thing is that academic facilities cannot accommodate and support the greater demand for higher education For example, it is estimated that about 40% of qualified students who apply for admission actually gain admission into the various Universities. What happens to the remaining 60% is anybody's guess. What has University authorities done over the period to change this unpleasant situation? We keep on yearly basis demanding from central government new buildings like lecture theatres, halls of residence and other traditional forms of infrastructure but time and time again we have not been able to make tertiary education available to all or those who choose to have it.

What kind of training and education do students receive? Is it linked to innovation or just maintaining the status quo? Are the subjects and the methods of teaching relevant to the demands of industry and society today? Are our Universities conducting research in an innovative way applicable to the needs of knowledge-based economy? These are real critical issues, which I believe the vigorous adoption of ICT can help to overcome so that University education becomes more accessible, practical, responsive and beneficial to the changing needs of modern society. I do recognise the fact that most of the universities are making effort to develop and embrace ICT and access to the internet is available in most campuses, however, ICT ought to be elevated to another level in order to realise its immense benefits.

In the first place the use of ICT can to a greater extend, reduce the pressure on University admission process and thereby make it more accessible to many. With growing number of computer literacy in the country, ICT centres could be established nationwide in selected areas. This can be done using wireless technology if the area is quite remote and access to telephone facilities does not exist or difficult. These centres will have the state-of- the-art ICT facilities. The Universities could then be linked to these centres. A rotating system of admission can thus be practised so that students will stay on campus for some well-defined period, then give way to others but continue the programme online in these centres. Admission could then be organised in such a way that one group attends lectures on campus for some defined time whilst the other group can do the same programme online. When the first group completes a specific programme/course, then the second group also come in and do the same period on campus. Course assignments and projects could then be done online. With this approach, a lot of students will be covered and the same lecturer can deliver to many students. There will be less pressure on both academic and other facilities. This will therefore require that reading materials and lecture notes will be online so that it would be accessed by students on the Internet.

Secondly, ICT could enhance both academic and business research by university lecturers. With the advent of Internet, researchers will have the opportunity to access a lot of information for various assignments in a more innovative way. By a click of a button, researchers can have full access to various kinds of information and even know relevant areas of critical concern and interest. It will also offer them the chance to know the demands of industry and conduct research to meet industry's expectation. It must be stressed that a country without systematic, coherent, innovative and coordinated research culture rarely develops scientifically and economically. In no doubt the Universities are research centres and innovative research can best be conducted by the use of ICT. Thirdly, students will have full access to all kinds of information for their study and writing of dissertations and thesis. It is a common practice that students find it difficult to get the right study materials for their respective programmes. Most students complete their chosen programmes without even having the chance to read some of the internationally acclaimed articles and journals. It is also usual to see that most dissertations and thesis by students never see any practical implementation. They are rather kept on the shelves only to collect dust. This can be attributed to the fact that the writing of these thesis and dissertations are not thoroughly researched into due to lack of access to relevant information. With ICT, students during their learning process can access different information and even know the paradigm shift in most literature as this will make them current and know the dynamics of industry. It will also offer them to be trained in way that meets the job market requirements. The final project will be carried out in an innovative manner so that it becomes more practicable than before.

Another application of ICT is that ideas could be shared online and lecturers could enhance their skills remarkably through the creation of online communities. This will allow and provide the opportunity for researchers and lecturers to share information and ideas. If Universities are able to link with world-renowned databases they will be able to compete favourably with other institutions in terms of research and this can generate income to supplement whatever come from the central government and other donor agencies. Even the teaching methods could as well be improved whereby students will no longer write note during lectures because the lecturer has compiled everything on the Internet. This brings about efficiency. Registration of courses and details of examination and other services could be offered online so that pressure during course registration would be minimised. It takes an average of 5-10 days for students to go through registration. There will be no need for completed students to travel many kilometres just to collect academic transcript and other documents as all these could be offered online. ICT and for that matter the Internet makes work process less cumbersome and drastically reduce all bureaucracies and red-tapeism.

It could as well be used to reduce administrative cost. Telephone is expensive in developing countries and many filing and records' keeping is done manually. The use of Internet, intranet and extranet could reduce administrative cost because the same information on the Internet can be sent to all departments without having to do it individually. Instead of sending notices of meeting to lecturers or those concerned this can be done online with less cost. Communication both within departments and outside the departments can enhance greatly by the use of intranet and extranet.

One significant application of ICT is its ability to solve the problem lack of University lecturers. With the current state of acute shortage of academic or faculty staff facing our Universities, we could leverage ICT through videoconference so that students on various campuses pursuing the same or similar programme/course could be linked to benefit from a lesson, which is being delivered in other campuses for which they lack lecturers simultaneously. Therefore with few lecturers, the universities through this institution network can benefit from tuition from other universities.

Actions needed

We as a nation should recognise education as number one priority and view ICT as an important investment area both as pedagogical tool and as means of enhancing the development of expertise. A huge financial resource is therefore required so that our Universities are equipped with modern ICT facilities and this calls for private-public sector partnership and involvement. The government has a leading role to make this achievable and I implore the management of GETFUND pay special attention and make it a policy to help universities to upgrade not only their building infrastructure but ICT infrastructure as well because gradually nations are heading towards virtual system of education and we cannot stay behind.

I also believe that ICT should be used as a tool in other subject so that students irrespective of their course or department are made to offer some basic courses in ICT. It should be a tool to change the traditional content of course so that students become innovative and employable. A student at a University is expected to have basic knowledge in ICT. Its integration with other subjects will lead to greater change.

Students can also be asked to pay little for these facilities. If students are asked to pay something in bulk for all their internet services, that will achieve greater impact than asking students to pay upon each visit. The idea is to inculcate into them the habit of using these ICT facilities. It is reported that students at the University of Cape Coast have 24 hours of Internet access per every semester. Even though this is woefully inadequate as compared to other students in the developed world like Sweden who have 24 hours per day, I believe this could be improved and built upon. Since it is a national agenda to deepen Internet access and adoption of ICT, some form of subsidies can be given to whip up students interest for the start because once that is achieved it will go a long way to alter behaviour.

The Universities should be the nerve centre of knowledge, innovation and its application to real life situation because their continued existence is to solve the needs of society and this responsibility could be better served when these institutions of higher learning are current in terms of modern ICT infrastructure. A relevant education is more important today than ever before because today's networked world demands a workforce that understands how to use technology as a tool to increase productivity and creativity. If our Universities will be able to play their role and contribute to national development through research and providing innovative education then much effort has to be put in to integrate ICT as pedagogical tool and as a component of subject contents. It will also require full managerial commitment and support. The initiative should emanate from the administrators.

We want to see Ghana develop and our universities have a significant role to play and they can do better when they adopt policies in tune with the changing economic order where technology wear the pants. A lot of theory has gone into information technology and it is time that we give practical meaning to this new technology. If we want to keep pace with what is taking place globally, we should see education as the passport to develop a vibrant economy and ICT is capable to enhance education especially University education so that they will be able to perform their mandated functions to the benefit of mankind. We are looking up to the day when every Ghanaian desirous to have University education will be able to have irrespective of location. Ghana is in transition and our universities should be able to carry the country to destination of economic development and prosperity.

As the population growth is always increasing and there is the need to expand academic facilities and other infrastructure to accommodate the ever-increasing demand for University education, such requirement cannot be indefinitely met because time, space and resources limit such traditional way. As policy makers consider other alternative, the only viable, effective and scalable option will be ICT adoption by the Universities. Thomas Kwaku Obeng Luleå University of Technology Sweden Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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