|The paradigms of e-Education: An analysis of the communication structures in the research on information and communication technology integration in education in the years 2000–2001|
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Generally speaking, globalization is the rapid increase in cross-border economic, social, and technological exchange. Guillén (2000) defines globalization as a process leading to greater interdependence and mutual awareness (reflexivity) among economic, political and social units in the world. According to Rosenau (1999), globalization can be described as the emergence of altered global structures and driven by a skill revolution, an organizational explosion, and a continuous flow of ideas, money, goods, and people that is rendering long-standing territorial boundaries increasingly obsolete and fostering an extensive decentralization of authority.
One could think that globalization is only a matter of industry and business, and that education as a moral process is no part of this development. However, if we understand education as part of the information business, education systems can be seen as the core of the globalization process. Governments are trying to compete on the global markets by placing the onus of policy on education to produce the “human capital” most appealing to global competition (Webster 2001, 268). Also Rinne (2000) emphasizes that educational policy has become an ever more important part of economic, trade, labor and social policy in western countries.
The EU’s new initiatives, like creating the European Higher Education Area (Prague 2001), are supporting life long education, integration of work and education, student mobility and joint study programmes. These initiatives can be seen as a part of the global development of education like business and “training society” thinking (Panzar 2001, 241), where the emphasis is on producing competitive skills and labor for the markets. In the political discussion this development is called economic and cultural integration but we can see it also as part of cultural globalization to differentiate it from the purely economic aspects of globalization.
One concrete global development is the development of mega-universities, university networks and virtual universities, that can offer competitive training programs for students recruited from all over the world – but of course in major languages only.
Technology has been seen as an overwhelming driving force with the emergence of a few global providers dominating the educational market. This domination is not only economic domination but also cultural. Just to mention some phenomena and examples of the development of globalization in the education sector, we can look at the development in the electronic publishing and new trends in higher education. The majority (80%) of all the websites in the world are in English and the majority (80-85%) of scientific publications on the Internet are in English (Peraton & Creed 2000). This means that internationally distributed information is changing the language we use for acquiring information in education – first in higher education and then in other levels of education. Small cultures and languages are in danger of disappearing due to the competition in the international information (and education) markets. Because of competition in publishing markets, only the biggest international publishing and entertainment companies are able to produce high quality electronic learning materials.
Globalization and the new information society – or information age - we are living in, is changing our thinking about our culture and education. According to Nash (Nash 2001) information can be seen as a “material foundation” of the information age. From that point of view, culture can be seen as a constitutive element in the information age insofar as everything is framed and structured by information and communication media. Institutions and people make decisions and represent life through cultural codes and reality is always mediated through language.
Culture is important in the information age in two different ways: information capitalism shapes culture with this explosion of the mass communication system (cultural globalization) but on the other hand, local cultures have shaped the development and use of information and communication technology (localization). Beck (1999, 93-99) for example describes this dialectical process as “global localization”, emphasizing that these two dimensions of cultural development are dependent on each other.
It is a fact that there is more information available around us than ever, local or global. The overflow of information is not only changing our thinking but also our relationship with information. According to Rosenau (1999), in the global information society the relevance of information seems to become less obvious. To note that people have become more skilful in relating themselves to world affairs is not to say they are necessarily more informed about them. It is getting more and more difficult for people to check the relevance of information. What is true and what is false? How should the research on ICT in education respond to these challenges?
According to Cleveland (1999), education for the “Global Century”, as he describes globalization must help individual people to think critically and holistically. The widening spread of knowledge is also creating a “skill revolution” where commanding and controlling is becoming obsolete. The skills needed in the working life are critical thinking, consultation, negotiation and collaboration skills (Cleveland 1999). According to Reich & Goleman (1999), when the work gets more complex and collaborative, the emotional and social skills become more important success factors for individuals. Goleman thinks that there is also a danger in trying to use technology to teach people these skills. With a CD-ROM or an Internet-based training program, we do not have the face-to-face contact that is so invaluable in learning and practicing skills. This is to emphasize that it is important to keep the balance between local and global activities in global education markets.
None of these new skills are dependent on the level of information one may possess. A way of putting the relevance of information in perspective is to conceive of analytic skills as working knowledge—premises and understandings of how the world works and which people apply to any situation that arises, regardless of the fullness of the information they may have (Rosenau 1999). This changing landscape of information and skills revolution has a huge impact on education processes, content and on educational management and institutions. Are there any ways of using ICT in a more human and more critical way?
The recent developments can mean an uncontrollable process of globalization in our education but it also can offer new perspectives to solve educational problems. Unfortunately there are not very many research programs exploring ICT and global development in education. Some findings and follow up studies have been done by international educational agencies like Unesco’s World Education Forum (WEF) (Peraton & Creed 2000) and OECD/CERI (OECD 2001).
One of the major problems in education globally is still access to basic education, not to mention the digital divide in the developing countries. 113 million children are still out of the school system globally. 110 million of them are living in less developed countries (Sauvageot 2000). According to WEF’s global evaluation (Peraton & Creed 2000) new technologies have not been able to increase significantly the access to basic education. Instead, to some extent it has increased the gap between the haves the have nots with regard to access to quality education. The potential of ICT in widening the access to education has not been fully utilized. Of course one can ask why this has not been in focus when researching ICT and education, and in developing applications and policies for ICT in education. If ICT is the solution, what is the problem?
According to Peraton and Greed (2000, 12) access to computers is still seen as the major problem in most countries by teachers. It is quite ironic that it is considered as a problem also in rich countries like Finland, France, Norway, New Zeeland and Belgium, where the actual student computer ratio is less than 10. This “self made” digital divide may be one indicator of research and development based on narrowly focused research on ICT in education. Are we developing structures and pedagogical models, which are not functioning properly even in rich countries and, certainly, not sustainable and affordable for developing countries?
Another problem with integrating ICT into learning worldwide is that the teachers consider their skills insufficient – regardless of the actual level of training they have received in ICT and education (Peraton & Greed 2000). This may also be an implication of the individualistic approach in teacher development, which has concentrated on the skills of teachers’ – not on the dynamics of change in schools and education as a system. This all can indicate that the research on ICT in education is not necessary focusing on the real problems of education but is rather concentrating on ICT as a technical entity in schools or learner and teacher as a user of that technology. Many of the models to integrate ICT into education are based on an old, once in a lifetime training model and traditional classroom model of organizing education. This model may become obsolete in a networked, constantly changing society.
If we look at the recent developments in the education sector globally, we can summarize the implications and demands of global information society in the education system as follows:
Demand for widening the access to education for all.
Continuous life long learning, (e.g. fading the boundaries between preset and inset, formal education and working life).
Global versus local cultural developments.
Creation of new educational networked organizations (e.g. global virtual universities, virtual schools, multinational educational consortiums, etc.).
Changing of educational management from hierarchical institutions to equal distributions of network organizations, from commanding to negotiating.
Demand for more flexible and general skills (e.g. meta-skills such as problem solving, searching information, learning skills, etc.).