EDUCATION: Liberty, e-Quality, Humanity

  • by Valerie Dee (bento gonÇalves, brazil)
  • Inter Press Service

The Jul. 26-31 9th World Conference on Computers in Education (WCCE), titled 'Education and Technology for a Better World', has brought together 650 education experts and information and communication technology (ICT) specialists from 44 countries in the city of Bento Gonçalves. Nearly 500 participants are from different parts of Brazil, and the others come from all six continents.

Organised by the International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP), the WCCE is supported by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the Rede de Informacao Tecnologica Latino-Americana (RITLA), the Brazilian ministries of science and technology and of education, the education secretariat of the state government of Rio Grande do Sul, and a number of Brazilian universities and companies.

The conference 'is about putting computing and education people together, which strikes a spark' of creativity, said Franco Simini, a professor of biomedical engineering at the Universidad de la República in Uruguay.

'Technology, if well-used, can enhance a new trend of collaborative learning in education,' he said. 'In future, all education will be a combination of distance learning and face-to-face teaching.'

The goal, he said, is 'tertiary education for all' - just as in the last century it was primary education for all.

The experiences and outcomes of the conference will be disseminated through the publication of a handbook of guidelines on ICT in education, conference proceedings and articles in professional and research journals. Live TV coverage of sessions at the conference was also broadcast on the Internet, allowing people all over the world to participate via the worldwide web.

Eagerly awaited is the Bento Gonçalves Declaration, to be approved at an assembly Friday, of which Simini was one of the drafters.

Maximira André, of the Serviço Nacional de Aprendizagem Industrial (SENAI) at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, said 'some people act: others observe.' The active ones have come here to the conference to learn, share, and make new contacts and discoveries, she added.

Commenting on the name of the conference, André said 'a better world, yes. But better for whom?'

'There is a lot of talk about 'digital solidarity' (in the Declaration) but this could simply mean 'charity.' With our history of selfishness and competition, humanity now has the chance to use ICT for inclusiveness, and for a more egalitarian world,' Simini said.

Gleice Moreira, a professor at the Núcleo de Tecnologia Educacional (NTE, Educational Technology Unit) in the northern Brazilian state of Acre, said 'the conference, for me, is a wonderful opportunity to find out about positive experiences in education and technology, in other universities and different countries.

'It is also an opportunity to organise collaborative endeavours and exchanges,' she said.

Moreira said this should by 'multiplied' by everyone attending, by talking about it and acting upon it when they go back home.

'What stood out for me was the presentation by NASA (the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration)' which detailed opportunities for cooperative ventures. 'I had no idea it was possible to participate in activities with them. Well, there was no way I could know! I think this is really great. I want to make a collaboration happen in Acre, and I have already made a contact as a first step to arranging this.'

She said free software, or freeware, for education was a positive trend, as it increased the accessibility of ICT applications. 'Free software really reaches people' who used to be excluded, she said.

'What is happening here is about the democratisation of information. In June the Brazilian government supplied computers to rural schools. Children got to see and handle computers for the first time.

'A father came to school to collect his daughter, and when she told him what she had been doing, his first reaction was 'but I can't afford a computer!' The teacher reassured him that it was provided for free, and his second reaction was astonishment, that his child should have access to this modern technology.

'So many things just couldn't be done, without computers,' Moreira said.

Just look at the photo on the conference poster - a small girl raptly gazing at a computer screen, with a look of delight and not a trace of fear - said André: that is what the conference is about.

Among the innovations presented at the conference was haptics, 'the study of human touch and interaction with the external environment via touch.' The Haptic Technology Enhanced Learning (hapTEL) project at King’s College, London, directed by Margaret Cox, is developing specially engineered gloves producing sensory information from online virtual three-dimensional environments to train students of dentistry, nursing, medicine and veterinary science in the fine motor skills needed in their professions.

Andrew Fluck of the University of Tasmania, Australia, described his department’s development of e-Examinations: tests online for the ICT generation of university students who are more familiar with keyboards than with pen and paper for producing examination scripts. The range of materials that can be used in test questions, for example, videos, is also enhanced, he said.

'What most impresses me,' Fluck said, 'is this guy in Brazil running a complete teacher training degree based on ICT.'

IFIP, created by UNESCO in 1960, has organised WCCEs at intervals of four or five years since 1972. The participants at these conferences tend to be activists who are passionate about the use of ICT in education.

This year, as at previous editions, the WCCE has been the venue for drafting the Bento Goncalves Declaration, which will be posted on the Internet for comment, discussion and amendment by all those concerned.

'We want it to be a living document,' said Sindre Roesvik, the Chair of the WCCE and education director for the northern Norwegian municipality of Giske. 'Over 200 delegates, presenters and session chairs have contributed on paper to the text. It focuses on how to get things done, rather than what needs to be done.'

In terms of advocating the use of technology in education for a better world, 'the Bento Goncalves Declaration is perhaps the most complete. The top priority of the conference declaration is its political use. Everyone and anyone can use the Bento Goncalves Declaration to lobby policy-makers,' Roesvik said.

The document will be placed online at 'in a few weeks’ time,' he said. As presented in preliminary form at the conference, it will cover eight main themes, focusing on concrete action in the learning environment, research, curricula and initiatives, in order to better serve learners, teachers and collaborative communities.

From a global perspective, an update on the 'One Laptop Per Child' (OLPC) initiative was presented, highlighting the Ceibal Project in Uruguay and an Australian government initiative to distribute computers to indigenous schools in the Northern Territory.

The quiet revolution, harnessing ICT for digital democracy, may well last longer than the Ragged Revolution and contribute to freedom, equality and humanity.

© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service