The world we live in is a result of constant change. What might be there one day is never there the next. The changes that we have all beared witness to represent a significant period in our lives. For myself, these changes have been technological in their nature. From the time when I first laid eyes on my family’s Microbee computer equipped with MS DOS until today when now I have the power of a computer in the palm of my hands. Technology has come a long way since then but has an even further way to go.
Today we see technology everywhere we go and there is more and more emphasis on its use in society due to the capacity and ability of it. Businesses use it, governments use it, and individuals use it. Moreover, this makes learning how to use it appropriately in life extremely important. Education is the one industry that can make this happen and schools can be leaders in their communities through their recognition of the value of ICT in society. They have the opportunity and the means to prepare their students for further technological developments in the future. Teachers can take the initiative and integrate more use of ICT into their curriculum. Schools can once again be the saviour of society but only if they do not ignore the needs of society and refuse to fulfil their role in preparing their students for what already lies ahead in the future.
What is ICT?
It was not until later on in my teaching career that the term Information and Communication Technology (ICT) materialised before me and opened my eyes to what this meant in education. The term ICT simplified means any technology that has to do with information and communication. Information can come in many forms such as sound, video, text, and images, so when you think of what technology there is available that produces these aspects of information and sometimes a combination of all these, we refer to such technology as mobile phones, digital cameras, video cameras for example. Today information and communication technologies are the one thing and so the repertoire of technologies expands further to encompass computers and computer related products, email, MMS and other forms of communication (Finger et al., 2007).
Why use ICT?
Today we do not need to go any further than our own home or even room, to see some form of ICT in our lives. Whether it be a computer, plasma TV or mobile phone, we all have them in some part of our lives. In today’s society, people as consumers of ICT, all strive for the one dream – the dream of a connected life. This makes ICT a lifestyle choice for much of the population. In addition, this lifestyle choice is changing the way we communicate, increasing the rate of consumerism, and changing how we interact and gather information (Sherringham, Dec 2008/Jan 2009). ICT has invaded and transformed many aspects of our lives to the extent that we live in an environment that is dominated by technology which itself is consumer-driven (Semenov, 2005). No matter how we perceive its presence, there is no denying that it is an important part of our lives and that it is here to stay.
ICTs will continue to be a significant part of our future as it connects itself to more and more parts of our lives. It will continually evolve and change because as consumers we all like choice. We like to use ICT for personal growth, creativity and joy, consumption and wealth (Semenov, 2005).The consumer’s demand for new and different ICTs will ultimately drive the market diversification and specialisation. Changes in the market are already occurring - products and services arrives quicker to the market, the shorter life span of products on the shelves, and even the specific target market segments (Sherringham, Dec 2008/Jan 2009). We live in a time of “unprecedented opportunity”, “rewards”, “change” and “fulfilment”, and what we have witnessed over the past decades is only a small sample of what will emerge in the future (Sherringham, Dec 2008/Jan 2009, p. 31). This is just the beginning, as we will see the technologies we use be “improved and elaborated” (Carr, Feb/Mar 2008, p. 27).
The rate of consumerism that will result from such a proliferation will inevitably lead to the affordability of new technologies. This will in turn mean greater accessibility and availability to the public especially to those in isolated places and are in the low socio-economic parts of the population. The implications that this will bring to those who use ICT are widespread. ICT has tremendous potential to help the world overcome lingering social issues through its capacity and ability to create knowledge, communicate it and store it in a most efficient and effective manner. For example, ICT can help preserve cultural traditions through its capacity to communicate globally, but also it can help weaken linguistic barriers (Semenov, 2005). Semenov (2005) believes that ICT can also help change the age and gender distribution in the workplace enabling women and young people to use ICT and work in ICT environments alongside the traditional gender of this type of work such as men.
On a national front, Australia like many other developed nations faces similar issues such as skills and education, security, water and energy management, health and the ageing population. The role that the ICT industry has in enabling solutions to these issues is widespread acknowledged as being vital (Moon, Feb/Mar 2007). For the nation to achieve the goals it needs “to become a highly ICT literate and truly technology proficient society” (Head, Dec 2007/Jan 2008, p. 9). The ability of ICT to transform and improve our way of life is something that society must never ignore. ICT will help improve the quality of our lives (Semenov, 2005).
Another reason why we should all use ICT is that we live in a “knowledge economy”. This is an economy where it is vital to have the ability to produce and use information effectively (Weert, 2005). It is a time when ICT is pervasive and permeates throughout all industries in the economy whether it may be health, education, environment or manufacturing (Moon, Feb/Mar 2007). The significance of ICT in the Australian economy was emphasised in the recent article by Alan Patterson, CEO of the Australian Computer Society, in his statement that the “ICT industry now rivals mining in terms of the contribution to the economy” (Patterson, Jan/Feb 2013, p. 8). Eight years earlier, Sheryl Moon stated that “ICT was leading the resource sector boom” with particular mention of how the mining industry was profiting from the use of ICT (Moon, Feb/Mar 2007, p. 38). In addition, mining has now also become a knowledge-baed industry (Carr, Feb/Mar 2008). In other sectors of the economy such as manufacturing, ICT contributes to 85% of productivity growth whilst in the services sector the figure is less at 78% (Moon, Feb/Mar 2007). Weert (2005) confirms that “technological change and innovation drive the development of the knowledge-based economy through their effects on production methods, consumption patterns and the structure of the economies” (p. 16). This means that if we want to survive in this type of economic environment it is critical for all of us to believe that ICT matters and that it is important to understand that we have sufficient skills in ICT to give us all the comfort that we would like (Tate, Jan/Feb 2013).
Despite this, the most significant fact to remember when understanding society’s motivation for using ICT is that we as consumers have a thirst for knowledge and seek more means of knowledge creation. Knowledge is the most invaluable asset for any business to have today (Weert, 2005). It dominates all aspects of our lives through the widespread use of ICT and this had led “towards the development of new knowledge and new attitudes towards knowledge” (Weert, 2005, p. 17). Hence the term “Knowledge Society”. In the life we live today, human capital is therefore most important and the knowledge that we create and store is a “commercially valuable asset” (Weert, 2005, p. 17). The knowledge utility of today and the future will be in high demand, as knowledge will become “ubiquitous and a consumer right” (Sherringham, Dec 2008/Jan 2009, p. 31). In all aspects and levels of our lives whether it be individual, business or social, “we will be charging ICT with one of the most important tasks humanity will ask of it; we will be asking ICT to manage and deliver the knowledge that will underpin the world” (Sherringham, Dec 2008/Jan 2009, p. 31).
Preparing generations of the Future Connecting the Past to the Future
Connecting the past to the future has long been the sole responsibility of schools. At the time of the Industrial era, public education was the saviour of society as it placed emphasis on human labour or machine-power in schools to adhere to social
pressure at the time (Hargreaves, 2003). Many at the time did not see what took place as a success or as a means to economic enlightenment. This was due to the social effects of the time such as housing, clothing and population increases (Industrial Revolution, n.d.). However, the technological developments that emerged created a ripple effect in terms of the advancements in technology since then. Therefore, the way we live today is a result of the changes that took place. This acts as an indicator of the success of the public education system at the time.
Now the emphasis in society is on “brain power” and the most invaluable asset to have in society today is knowledge (Hargreaves, 2003, p. 18). History has dictated that schools reprise their duties in this new age of knowledge in creating skilled workers, keeping developed nations economically competitive, and developing universal literacies as a platform for economic survival (Hargreaves, 2003). Moreover, schools should not forget that the Knowledge Society in which its walls dwell within is also an “ICT-integrated society” (Weert, 2005, p. 16).
This means that as “technology impacts on every part of our economy”, it is important that schools integrate technology into the learning process (Moon, Feb/Mar 2007, p. 38; Argy, June/July 2007). The educational methods that were a success in the past are now irrelevant in providing people with the skills they need to be successful in a Knowledge Society. In the 21st century, there is widespread clarion calls for changes in schools (Head, Dec 2007/Jan 2008; Weert, 2005; Frampton, February/March 2008; Szeremeta, 2005; Semenov, 2005). This has no doubt placed tremendous pressure on educational institutions of today. However, these changes are desperately required if the nation’s economy is to be economically competitive. The educators of today must be innovative and transform their way of teaching (Semenov, 2005). As a result, the Australian economy will see innovative ideas emerging in the many careers that these young motivated people will choose (Argy, June/July 2007).
Schools must not shield their students from this reality but develop intelligence as well as promote significant learnings. Creativity and independence needs to be present amongst its students (Abbot, 2001). The professionals of tomorrow are the students of today and therefore need to develop key competencies. Schools must impart on knowledge on how to have a creative life and an inspired and innovative career (Szeremeta, 2005). Teachers must find ways of integrating learning into the workplace and not just see ICT as a course undertaken separately in preparation for the Knowledge Society and economy (McNair, 2001). It is imperative that the educators of today and the future provide students with “opportunities in, engagements with, and inclusion within high-skill world of knowledge, information, communication, and innovation” (Hargreaves, 2003, p. 21).
In a world of constant and rapid change brought on by the rise of ICT and globalisation, “a strong and improved public education system is essential to producing a vigorous knowledge economy” and all children must be “properly prepared for the knowledge society and its economy” (Hargreaves, 2003, p. 21).
Schools as factories of Knowledge Workers
In a world where ICTs dominate our socio-economic environment, the knowledge worker already exists. They are the people who you might see wander around creating mobile offices so that they can complete tasks wherever and whenever their needs dictate (Sherringham, Dec 2008/Jan 2009). This fact is supported by the strong shift in the usage of mobile phones from being used on a personal basis to now a mix of personal and business usages today (Mackay, 2012). The presence of knowledge workers in our lives has already given society its characteristics, its leadership and its profile (Hargreaves, 2003). Knowledge workers exist today because of the increasing dependency of existing businesses, industries and professionals on ICT to promote their growth and increase their productivity. Employers are looking specifically for people that can fluently use ICT (Semenov, 2005). According to Sherringham (Dec 2008/Jan 2009), in the future, there will be no distinction between ICT and business as managers will just simply expect ICT. Szeremeta (2005) best summarises the significance of ICT to businesses and organisations today in his statement in relation to the institutional changes that are required to secure the needed supply of ICT in society. He states that “ICT has become a product with great name recognition. It has been proclaimed the new language that people and organisations have to master” (Szeremeta, 2005, p. 65). Knowledge workers are present today because we already live in a Knowledge Society, a society whose dependency on ICT and knowledge creation is vital now to have in order to prosper and survive.
Unfortunately, the knowledge worker is a rare breed and this is as true now as it was four years ago. There is a drastic short supply of people out there with ICT skills. In 2008, the ICT skills vacancy index rose by a staggering 17.5% during the year (Head, Dec 2007/Jan 2008). Last year there was a recorded net decrease in the number of people with ICT skills in the economy. In 2012, the shortage of ICT skills continued to grow by up to 14,000 extra and is predicted to grow to 35,000 by 2014 (Declining enrolments threaten future of ICT, July/Aug 2012). This was a result of not only the low number of graduates doing ICT, but also that many of them were international students that inevitably took their skills back to their home countries (Ridge, March/April 2012). Moreover, Australia is facing an “aging ICT workforce” thus having a huge impact on our economy. In a knowledge economy such as the one that already exist in Australia, technological change and innovation are significant in furthering its development.
The lack of ICT skills in Australia is a direct result of the lack of industry interest (McIntosh, May/June 2012). This in turn has been widely understood by many in the ICT industry to be the consequence of the deficiencies in the interest of the ICT industry that the ICT curriculum should generate for students in schools. In addition, there are absences in the necessary skills and innovation that is required (Patterson A. , May/June 2012; Frampton, 2008; Head, 2007/2008; Argy, 2007; Wong, Sept/Oct 2011). A lack of interest in ICT careers means that a digital economy estimated to be worth $100 billion and an industry that promotes productivity and growth will continue to suffer unless schools invest in their students’ future more and integrate ICT more readily into the curriculum (Patterson, May/June 2012). When interviewed about the impact on Australia if schools don’t encourage more people to work in ICT, Michael Harte, the CIO of the Commonwealth Bank, said, “it is in the intellectual capital of our people that our future wealth will be built. We need creative and agile thinkers who can make things happen in this increasingly digital world” (McIntosh, Just don't bore them, May/June 2012, p. 39).
To summarise, it has been said, “education is critical to ensuring that no one is excluded from participation in a knowledge-based economy and society” (McNair, 2001, p. 25). Schools are the manufacturers of knowledge workers and as such need to listen to the calls of an industry whose role is vital the nation’s economic prosperity. No interest in ICT means no production of knowledge workers that have the capability to gather and interpret information and knowledge in all its forms in yet an information rich environment (McNair, 2001).
Developing a highly ICT literate and technology proficient society
As discussed earlier, Australian consumers all want the connected life. According to Phillip Argy (Argy, June/July 2007), this dream is fastly becoming a reality as Australia continues to go through a transitional period over the next 10 years that will see the nation’s citizens living in a fully ICT integrated life including home, liesure, work services and environment. If this is the reality that Australians are facing, then it is imperative that alll sectors of the community become excited and comfortable about the benefits that new ICTs will bring (Argy, June/July 2007). The reasons why this is so critical have already been stated repeatedly in this paper. However, it is important to emphasise that without a society that is not only appreciative of the benefits of ICT but also skilled in its uses efficiently, the prosperity and productivity that ICT has brought to the Australian economy in the past will cease. Yet, despite this, there is still a large portion of the Australian community that are ICT illiterate as a result of their lack of access and/or skills of technology.
The significance of the role that schools play in ensuring the economic prosperity of Australia was discussed in the 2008 document on educational goals for young Australians (MCEETYA, 2008). In relation to the significane of ICT in education it stated “in this digital age, young people need to be highly skilled in the use of ICT” (MCEETYA, 2008, p. 5). Whilst this document superseded the previous goals stated in the Adelaide document in 1999, which also made mention of the importance of ICT in education, the Director-General of Education in Queensland stated also in 2005 “the use of ICT is a vital part in equipping students with the critical thinking and creativity skills they will need for the knowledge economy” (Finger et al., 2007, p38). Such evidence highlights the widespread acknowledgement of the critical role that ICT sets in society and the imperative value that education can have to help achieve this.
Despite such opinions, Australia is still faced with an undermanned and underskilled industry. The recent 2011 ICT literacy report from the National Assessment Program (NAP) highlighted that schools are still not adhering to the needs of the digital economy. It found that many students are still relatively limited in their use of ICT. In addition, the year level where students are at the age when they start to think more about a career, that is Year 10, the number of students demonstrating an achievement are achieving it at a Year 6 level (Fraillon, 2012). Such facts are confronting and concerning as they clearly demonstrate that Australia's ICT literacy level is not currently up to the standard that is required for the continuation of the country’s properity and productivity.
In order to achieve an ICT literate society the skill level must be able to reach beyond the boundaries where it is expected to excel, and that is mainly the metropolitan areas. The capabilities and accessiblity of ICT must expand to include everyone including those people of differenet race or region. This, after all, lies the true nature of ICT as discussed earlier in this paper, its ability to break down barriers whether it be that of the distance it needs to travel or the indigenous population of a country whose traditional cultural values rely tremendously on this technology. However, this was not proven to be the case in 2011 NAP report. According to Fraillon (2012), there were differences in the ICT literacy levels when it came to geographical areas. In addition, there was also found to be a considerable gap between the indigenous and non indigenous students. The statistics indicated that in Year 6 and 10, only 31% and 36% of the indigenous students achieved the proficiency level required (Fraillon, 2012). These facts clearly are not the characteristics of an ICT literate society. Therefore, it is crucial that all citizens and businesses maximise their ability to effectively use ICT (Argy, June/July 2007).
ICT for Learning and teaching
In recent segments of this paper, it was stated that ICT has influenced many aspects of our lives. The education sector of the economy just so happens to be one part of society that has undergone radical changes and transformations as a result of the increasing presence of ICT. The implications that ICT has on learning and teaching are significant. ICT brings new possibilities to the classroom due to the very nature of it being innovative. For UNESCO1, ICTs has “great potential for knowledge desimination, effective learning and the development of more efficient education services” (Semenov, 2005, p. 4). It is their belief that the challenge for the education systems that exists lies in “how to transform the curriculum and teaching-learning process to provide students with skills to function effectively in this dynamic, information rich, continuously changing environment” (Finger et al., 2007, p. 34).
There are many advantages that ICT can bring to teaching and learning in schools. For example, various learning styles and abilities can be facilitated with the help of ICT. This enables those who are socially, mentally and physically disadvantaged to become more active in the learning process (Semenov, 2005). Learning can become more effective with ICT as it involves more senses in a multimedia context. There is also evidence to suggest that ICT increases the level of engagement with students creating a positive impact on all student groups (Triggs & Sutherland, 2009). In additon, Semenov (2005) believed that ICT can provide a “broader international context for approaching problems as well as being more sensitive response to local needs” (p. 61). Moreover, ICT can empower teachers and students to build rich multisensory and interactive environments (Semenov, 2005).
Integrating ICT into the curriculum for teaching and learning is simply about being able to understand and exploit the potential of ICT in education (Sutherland & Sutch, 2009). For this to occur, teachers need to take the initiative and start the transformation process as they are the key (Sutherland & Sutch, 2009; Finger et al., 2005). The young people of today are already familiar with the new technologies that exists, teachers need to take a risk and imagine the potential of these new technologies in the classroom (Sutherland & Sutch, 2009). However, as these risks are associated with integrating ICT in schooling, it is important that school leaders provide their teachers with professional development support services throughout the entire process.
To conclude, the many reasons highlighted in this paper serve to help promote the integration of ICT in education. We live in a rapidly changing world that is dominated by ICTs and is driven by our need for more knowledge and knowledge creation. Thus, the existence of ICT both in the present and the future is a direct result of society’s everlasting desire to improve its way of life which include education, business, industries as well as in our own personal lives.
The implications of these influences on our lives for education are both important for the students of today and the future. For educators, ICT in education will provide the required 21st century skills for its students enabling them to be successful and competitive in their future careers. The presence of technology in the classroom will increase student attention through increased motivation. There is also evidence to suggest that ICT will also increase student attainment levels.
In addition, it is vital for the schools of today to not only listen to the calls of society in which it dwells, but also to adhere to them. History has proven how successful society can be if it is educated correctly for the necessary skills that is required. Such is at the root of all schools today. We live in a Knowledge Society that demands that its knowledge workers be proficient workers in knowledge and knowledge creation, and only ICT can enable this to happen.