Research shows wide digital divide in South Pacific
Research into the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in education in the countries of the South Pacific shows that up to 17 per cent of the Pacific population enjoys Internet access although access to ICT in primary schools averages one per cent, with tertiary-level urban access rates as high as 70%.
Rural students and rural teachers have far lower ICT access that urban students and teachers, the survey showed, putting rural Pacific Islanders at a social and economic disadvantage.
The Pacific eLearning Observatory at The University of the South Pacific surveyed 60 ICT and education experts – including members of the Pacific Internet Society, PICISOC - across the region to assess their opinions on ICT in education, its current status in the Pacific, the perceived challenges to development, and recent developments.
The survey showed that training and capacity building, curriculum development, infrastructure, policy planning and top-down government support are perceived as the most important factors in ICT development. Current initiatives in the region range from early-stage policy formulation and the construction of ‘ICT centres’ for rural communities, to the construction of databases and online portals to support educational administration and the delivery of learning materials.
Monitoring ICT development is important to USP because 42 per cent of its 22,000 students are distance-based learners, and access to ICT impacts directly on the design of learning delivery modes. USP provides extensive ICT access to students via USPNet, and conducts long-term planning to help provide students with a better service.
The research concludes that in spite of the challenges to improving ICT access in education in the Pacific, the importance of the Internet in education is widely acknowledged as a priority by learners and policy decision-makers alike, and education institutions can use the kind of information gathered in this survey as part of a strategy for providing improved education services in the region.
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