Background to the project


Early work reveals problems with ICT adoption

Early work on the role of ICTs in education revealed persistent challenges, for example with the availability of technology, teacher capability, and integration of ICTs into teaching and learning [1] ; the low ranking of South Africa was already evident. Internationally, the benefits of ICTs in education have been found to be marginal, especially when compared with other educational initiatives, and are shown to be very dependent on strategic thinking, good planning, and careful integration into teaching and learning [2] . ICTs in education continue to be difficult and bring fewer benefits than were hoped for, despite significant investments of time, energy and public money.

Research in South Africa is fragmented

Local research into ICTs in education has sometimes been fragmented and focused on only parts of the educational landscape. For example, doctoral research in recent years has looked only at tertiaries or only on pedagogical design issues [3] [4] . It is necessary to see the patterns at all levels of education from primary to tertiary, and even in adult education. It is also necessary to understand the potential for ICTs at all stages in the development, delivery, and assessment of technology-assisted teaching and learning. However, some of the broader issues and challenges in South Africa are now known [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] and there are moves to address some of the evident problems [10] . Some recent work has taken a much more contextual approach to understanding the role of ICTs in the performance of disadvantaged students [11] . At this stage, it seems clear that there is inadequate attention to issues of culture, and how that affects the approach to using ICTs in education.

Gaining the benefits

To gain the real benefits, a systemic and transdisciplinary approach is needed. We need to draw on more than ten years’ local and international experience with “e-Learning” so as to understand the evidence of success and failure. We also need to recognise and adopt good management practice and apply generic theories of information management and technology management that make it possible to deal with the "bigger picture", some of which have been available in related domains of study for some time now [12] [13] [14] . Equally, there is an emerging domain of study concerning technology in the community context [15]. This is directly concerned with education as a core feature of community development and improvement, and has been exercised by members of the research team in leading two international conferences in Cape Town: CIRN 2005 and CIDC 2006; during these conferences there was plentiful evidence of the cultural differences that exist once ICTs spill out of business and government, and into society at large. Education sits at the boundary of business, government and society, and faces the additional "soft" challenges that come with close association with each.

The received benefits in education are few and far between. For example, primary schools working with disadvantage (whatever form that disadvantage may take) are making very slow progress if they have even started at all, and the benefits are not at all clear when teachers perceive themselves to be over worked, under paid, and subject to continual, whimsical, change imposed from above. It has become clear that success demands a very clear understanding of the individual needs of teachers (first), and then a balancing with the needs of other key stakeholders. Parents, governors, suppliers, service providers and communities can all benefit from an investment in ICTs in schools and colleges, and the nature their potential interest and rewards needs to be understood.

It is considered that this combination of educational research and information management practice, with adequate attention to the softer issues, will lead to new and original ideas that will ensure the delivery of real benefits from the significant public investment in ICTs in education.

Managing the change

Change at the national level inevitably takes time. Ten to fifteen years is not untypical for deep systemic changes to work through from conceptualisation and initiation to full implementation, and even then the delivery of the intended or hoped for benefits is often flawed. Even in government in highly developed countries, huge sums of money are wasted on IT investments that are ill conceived, poorly designed and ineffective in execution [16] . In the specific matter of e-learning, the world has more than 10 years' experience of e-learning and the "tipping point" is in sight - but only in selected segments of the world of education. What is particularly interesting, for example, is the emergence of corporate e-learning [17] , and the success that is seen when learning objectives are very focused, and very tightly linked to short term, personal success, as in the case of corporate employees undertaking learning that is specific to their job function, and critical to successful promotion.

Summary

Research into ICTs in education is fragmented, it is strongly biased to e-learning (which is, after all, only part of the story) and it needs to be brought together with an overarching understanding of the nature of education and the needs of the nation. Some would argue that a specific “reference model” is needed - a device that identifies a scope, defines terms, and provides a common framework for the resolution of difficulties.
The is a need for better-informed management of education. Inadequate attention to managerial issues will always lead to disappointment, because however much enthusiasm there is at the working level, change can not happen from below. The world of business has vast experience with successfully managing ICT-mediated change – why not tap into it and revisit the ways in which we can most effectively manage education? One European expert in e-learning, with years of experience and an international presence, has opined that it is all to do with strategy: a school (or other institution) with no strategy will never be able to manage change, and will never be able to benefit from ICT investments [18] . Achieving a full and proper strategic view of what is needed is the primary motivation for this project.
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  3. ^ Koch, A. (2006) A conceptual model for a Co-operative Education Management system for tertiary institutions in South Africa. Doctoral thesis. Cape Town, Cape Peninsular University of Technology
  4. ^ Madiba, M. (2009) Investigating Design Issues in E-learning. Doctoral thesis. Bellville, University of the Western cape
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  10. ^ Khanya (2008) Khanya Annual Report for the period March, 2007 to April, 2008
  11. ^ Rahimi, F. (2010) The role of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in a higher education institution: with specific reference to disadvantaged students, cultural aspects and motivation. Doctoral thesis. Pretoria, University of Pretoria.
  12. ^ Davis, F. (1989) Perceived usefulness, perceived ease of use, and user acceptance of information technology. MIS Quarterly, 13 (3), pp.319-339.
  13. ^ Lambert, R. & Peppard, J. (1993) IT and new organizational forms: destination but no road map? Journal of Strategic Information Systems, 2 (3), pp.180-206.
  14. ^ Ward, J. & Peppard, J. (2002) Strategic Planning for Information Systems (3rd Edition). Chichester, Wiley.
  15. ^ Gurstein, M. ed. (2000) Community Informatics: Enabling communities with information and communication technologies. London, IDEA Group Publishing.
  16. ^ Anon (2010) Labour's computer blunders cost £26,326 bn. The Independent. Available from: http://www.independent.co.uk. [Accessed 24 August 2010].
  17. ^ Madiba, M. (2009) Investigating Design Issues in E-learning. Doctoral thesis. Bellville, University of the Western Cape
  18. ^ Mann, P. (2009) ICTs in Primary Schools.