ICTs in Higher Education - shifts focus on learners

The phenomenal growth of information and communication technologies (ICTs) is transforming institutions of higher education and has shifted the focus from the teacher to the learner.

Speaking on ‘ICTs in Higher Education: Who Stands to Gain?” at the main campus, Prof Asha Kanwar, Vice President of the Commonwealth of Learning (COL), remarked that 21st century learners areyoung and comprise of more women.

The crowd at the talk.

The crowd at the talk.

“Half the world’s population (6.5 billion) is under age 20. In Malaysia, approximately 65% of the population is under 30 and women comprise 70% of students in higher education,” she noted.

Prof Kanwar shared that Malaysia has 102.59 mobile subscriptions per 100 people, 4.93 broadband users per 100 people and 55.8 Internet users per 100 people (2008), and 23.15 computers per 100 people (2006). “At one Japanese university, all students had mobile phones and on an average each student sent 200 messages per week for study purposes, as opposed to seven voice mails per week. Only 43% used PCs sending only 2 messages per week,” she said, pointing out that mobile phones were found effective in reaching out to grassroots and remote communities.

She said everyone involved - the government, institutions of higher learning, teachers and learners - stands to gain from the ICT growth but “the real beneficiaries are the learners”. The emphasis of government and institutional efforts are on the learner and their learning styles, while teachers prepare study materials in multi-media formats and provide learner support services.

Prof Kanwar shares her insights on ICTs.

Prof Kanwar shares her insights on ICTs.

She commented that the ‘new learner’ in the early 1980s looked for new education, training and skills for personal and career advancement, while the digital natives of the 21st century are technology-savvy. She foresees the emergence of a still newer learner, the ‘ultimate learner’, who is groomed right from pre-school days through the school years and higher education to be a lifelong learner equipped to handle ICTs and is motivated to learn in all circumstances.

On the question to what extent the ‘ultimate learner’ is achieved in Third World countries, she said that it is just an abstract notion now but will eventually become a reality. “In South Asia and Africa, the technology that is growing phenomenally is mobile phone. Learning will happen through the technology that people have access to,” she clarified. 

Earlier in her talk, Prof Kanwar said that analysts estimate that by 2020, 40% of the global workforce will be knowledge workers with a need for tertiary qualifications. The World Bank finds that for countries to achieve sustainable economic development, the Age Participation Rates (APRs) of 18 – 50 years old in higher education must be 40-50%, but APRs are less than 15% of this age group in much of Asia.

She felt that building more brick and mortar institutions to cope with the rising demand will not work for most countries, and that open and distance learning emerges as a viable option as countries struggle to improve access, enhance the quality and cut the costs of higher education.

WOU Vice Chancellor Prof Wong Tat Meng presents a souvenir to the speaker. At left is School of Foundation & Liberal Studies Dean Prof Mogana Dhamotharan who chaired the session.

WOU Vice Chancellor Prof Wong Tat Meng presents a souvenir to the speaker. At left is School of Foundation & Liberal Studies Dean Prof Mogana Dhamotharan who chaired the session.

Some 70 people, mainly from higher learning institutions, attended the talk, including Dato’ O K Lee and Cheah Eng Kooi from FMM, and WOU Vice Chancellor Prof Dr Wong Tat Meng.