Digital literacy as a fourth literacy has become necessary to talk about in education and eLearning. Although reading, writing, and mathematics are respected as the basis of being literate, literacy in this day is not complete if a person is not capable of accessing and creating digital information.
Education as an important vehicle drives the economic development and human welfare of a nation. It is important to note that the changing educational environment, the diverse educational needs of students, the high expectations from the public, the work environment, and periodic policy reports demand educational change not only at the education system level but also at the school-based level in local and international contexts.
Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and digital literacy have the potential to transform our economies and systems of education. Therefore, our ICT policy and educational practice must evolve to help bridge the digital divide, and our teacher educators must be positioned to use ICT in their professional practice to help address challenges faced in developing digital literacy.
Digital Literacy and E-learning
Digital Literacy is the ability to use ICT to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both intellectual and technical skills. Whereas e-learning refers to the utilization of ICT tools, services, and digital content in education. E-learning presents enormous opportunities to significantly facilitate the effectiveness of delivering the learning contents and gaining access to a vast pool of educational information if appropriately utilized, and it has also gained global recognition as a method to improve the teaching and learning processes aimed at creating an economy powered by technology and propelled by information and knowledge. E-learning in schools is used both by students and staff in the process of exchanging information and gaining knowledge, as well as for communication and easy access to educational information at a cheaper cost.
A digitally literate person possesses a variety of skills (technical and cognitive) required to find, understand, evaluate, create, and communicate digital information in a wide variety of formats. This person is able to use diverse technologies appropriately and effectively to retrieve information, interpret results, and judge the quality of that information; Understands the relationship between technology, life-long learning, personal privacy, and management of information; Uses these skills and the appropriate technology to communicate and collaborate with peers, colleagues, family, and on occasion, the general public. Such a person uses these skills to actively participate in society and contribute to a vibrant, informed, and engaged community.
The lesson of the last two-three decades, for education just like all other sectors, is that nobody can drive to the future on cruise control. Many schools and educational institutions, businesses, and corporations that fell asleep at the wheel are struggling. For many, the struggle came unexpectedly from competitors, who had appeared to be trivial from afar but raced past the late moments of the 20th century to become the new industry leaders. Others were overtaken by smaller, more entrepreneurial, and innovative players who took advantage of the intersections or entry points that rapidly advancing technology began to create. The educational setups and institutions that positioned themselves properly are championing and still mastering the digital terrain.
For the transformative potential of ICT to be fully realized in Ghana, effort must be made to understand and integrate local knowledge and local literacy practices into intervention programs. Many communities, both rural and urban, lack the needed educational content. It is proper then that we develop local language and content curriculum in digital formats. Interventions should not only focus on equipping people with digital skills to access information from around the world, but participants’ generative and productive capabilities should also be developed to contribute local knowledge to the global discourse. Programs must be culturally and ideologically sensitive to local contexts.
The nation will make significant progress if it considers structuring the integration of ICT in education, developing national digital literacy skills, and reducing the digital divide. For instance, public-accessible e-learning, and educational resource sharing systems, such as digital education resource banks (an online repository of learning objects) relevant to the Ghanaian educational system produced or identified by Ghanaian educators/teachers, students and supported by corporate organizations. The learning objects on such education resource bank may include but not limited to lesson plans, multiple-choice questions, simulations, animations, learning activities, website links, photographs, study guides, audio, and video clips, etc.
However, this is met by Internet accessibility and connectivity challenges. To facilitate digital education/learning these challenges cannot be ruled out, and to include the unserved and underserved across the country. Ultimately, this will go a long way to support the government and private initiatives to bring development and promoting digital inclusion in Ghana and in the process, bridging the digital divide.
During this COVID-19 pandemic, some schools including universities and businesses in Ghana made it possible to develop e-learning/online platforms for students to access. Schools, libraries, and learning centers of lower and higher levels must be supported to build educational resource platforms where content developed by the teachers and students can be uploaded to be freely shared or accessed by learners and educators in the country and the rest of the global community.
Thus, schools and learning centers can partner with relevant bodies to enrich and roll out e-learning programs to the rest of the country based on the following objectives:
- To ensure that quality educational resources reach remote schools and disadvantaged communities.
- To train teachers and students in e-learning and the integration of ICT in the teaching and learning process.
- To improve or enhance the quality of education in schools.
- To promote the spirit of teamwork/partnership between schools within the country.
- To enhance 21st Century skills, innovative teaching/learning practices in schools and ensure education transformation.
- To narrow or bridge the gap between urban and rural schools.
ICT, therefore, provides an array of powerful tools that may help in transforming the present isolated, teacher-centered, and text-bound classrooms into rich, student-focused, interactive knowledge environments. Consequently, digital learning is increasingly being suggested as an alternative to or a way to enhance, traditional educational approaches since it can overcome many of the challenges involved in reaching underserved students.
The writer is Director of Operations, Institute of ICT Professionals, Ghana)
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