Technology on wheelsMobile ICT labs can help address several gaps in Nepal’s efforts to promote ICT education
Among the plethora of ways to support the integration of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in education in developing countries like Nepal, establishing mobile ICT labs is arguably one of the most feasible solutions. Put simply, ‘mobile ICT labs’ can bring technology to classrooms in locations where road networks are available. Such initiatives have been developed throughout the world—in countries including Philippines, Malaysia, and Kenya. Turkey’s ‘Fireflies Mobile Learning Units’ project, which was set up by the Education Volunteers Foundation of Turkey, is another example.
Mobile ICT labs—equipped with technological learning and teaching software and access to the internet—can help address several gaps in Nepal’s efforts to promote ICT education. Most significantly, it would help mitigate the digital divide by ensuring that schools have some access to technology, albeit for a limited time.
It also addresses a commonly cited failure in many ICT education approaches: the inability to provide local teachers with the technical knowledge to conduct their classes. Mobile ICT labs can house technical experts who can fill that gap. These experts do not necessarily conduct classes but assist teachers in their efforts to incorporate ICT in their lesson plans and syllabi. In the process, teachers can always feel that support is at their doorstep. Similarly, experts can ensure that technology is being incorporated in meaningful and purposive ways.
Another boon is their capacity to reach a greater number of students. Mobile ICT labs might cover six schools in a week, which means in a month, each school can host four complete days for ICT-driven learning. Visits by mobile ICT labs can be planned according to the school’s need and schedule. By and large, at least all schools will be engaging learners in teaching and learning through digital means—in a manner that is supportive and not imposed on. As argued by Raj Dhingra in his Tedx talk ‘Can technology change education? Yes!’, mobile ICT labs not only provide on-hand IT support but also hold the potential to reach out to an unprecedented number of students in a short time span. As a single installation will serve at least six schools and benefit a large of number of students, the costs for ICT education are significantly reduced. The vans can also foster partnerships across schools by serving as a community hub for ICT education. In these networks, learning-exchange and more opportunities for meaningful dialogue on the role of technology in education can be fostered.
At the outset, given Nepal’s infrastructural shortcomings, including a poor road network, setting up these mobile labs will undoubtedly be a challenging task. Careful planning is a necessary prerequisite. The post-earthquake impact is still noticeable in many public schools in Nepal; many are still in the process of rebuilding their classrooms, let alone creating a decent ICT lab. Therefore, establishing mobile ICT labs can serve as a pragmatic strategy to help integrate technology in education as envisaged in our national policies.
Ultimately, it must be understood that we cannot simply disregard the use of technology in education owing to our own contextual constraints. Instead, we need to strive for the best possible solution to use technology effectively for teaching and learning—within our own limitations and pedagogical settings. Mobile ICT labs, a project that stems from our contextual realities, could be one solid step forward in this regard.
Shrestha is a PhD student at Dublin City University, Ireland.