Digital technology: The future of face-to-face participation in higher education?
Op-ed by Madelene Henriksgaard, International Coordinator at Stockholm University, and participant in the ASEF Capacity Building Training on Equitable Access to Higher Education in Edinburgh, UK, from 24–27 November 2019
Who has access to higher education? Can technology make a difference to the lives of persons with disabilities accessing and succeeding in higher education? Is digital technology the future for an inclusive higher education? So many questions springs to my mind thinking about access, equity and the future of higher education. Currently, I work within the Swedish higher education sector and everyday meet students from all walks of life, from all over the world. Personally, I believe that digital technology can be the future for inclusive participation in higher education.
Learners with disabilities at all levels of education are vulnerable to exclusion from educational opportunities. UNICEF (2019) states that one in five school-aged children are not in school; children with disabilities, from ethnic minorities and poverty are more likely to be left behind. UNESCO (2019) highlights ‘children with disabilities’ as the majority of those who are not in education. Inclusive education is outlined as putting the right to education into action by reaching out to all learners, respecting their diverse needs, abilities and characteristics and eliminating all forms of discrimination in the learning environment UNESCO (2019).
Inequality in access to higher education has become an important topic globally. Disadvantaged groups need to receive quality education, which requires the development and implementation of inclusive policies and programmes. The Sustainable Development Goal 4 aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” (United Nations, n.d.). By 2030, no one should be left behind in education.
Information communication technology (ICT) such as VR, AI, tablets, iPhones, video-casting and interactive screens can be found in classrooms across the globe and have been great facilitators in learning. They have lowered the threshold for learning which makes education available to people who otherwise may not have access to classrooms. Globally there is a growing interest of using technology in education. Even the concept of ‘Information Communication Technology for Inclusive Education’ (ICT4IE) was introduced to make educational programmes more effective and efficient (Stilz & Wissenbach, 2016).
ICT tools, together with the internet, facilitates outreach programmes seeking to reduce the lack of information about higher education in disadvantaged groups. In my role, managing a scholarship programme, I offer physical face-to-face and virtual face-to-face meetings and information sessions. I want to provide an opportunity for all students to access the information in their preferred mode; either participating online or offline.
Earlier this year, I conducted an eight weeks field study within communication of inclusive education for development and social change in Nepal. I looked at disability rights advocates’ work of raising awareness through communicating an education agenda for all. Nepal opened my mind to further promote technology as a tool to remove inequalities in reaching out to disadvantaged groups. The advocacy campaigns “Nothing about Us, without Us” and “Leave no one behind in education” were spread across the country through advocates social media and websites. Unfortunately, this op-ed does not make justice of all I learned in Nepal.
The global discourse around technology in education revolves around accessibility to all. However, UNESCO highlights some barriers, including: physical (not accessible), cognitive (for learners with intellectual disabilities or specific learning problems), content (language/software), didactical (teacher lack skills), and financial (cost of device, hardware and software) (Watkins, 2014). In addition, Atherton, Dumangane and Whitty (2016) questions online learning as lacking social capital and networking benefits. All of the above barriers need to be minimized for technology to be accessible and successfully used in higher education.
Access and equity to higher education are large topics and hard to properly discuss in a short article. The potential of ICT is clear, both for knowledge and lifelong learning. Technology does not drive inclusive education, but it provides the potential. ICT can facilitate participation if used correctly and with caution. Calderon (2018) argues that institutions need to adopt blended modes, types and forms of delivery to suit a variety of stakeholders. Hence, the future of face-to-face participation in higher education is digital technology.
Everyone has the right to higher education. All of us need to take action for everyone to feel included. Is your organisations website and communication material accessible for the target audience? Are you providing online information sessions and recording lectures? To create an inclusive educational system, there also needs to be an inclusive society. I have provided you with what, now it is your turn to think of how, where and when! How, where and when can you facilitate for persons with disabilities to access, participate and succeed in higher education?
Stilz, M., & Wissenbach, K. R. (2016). ICT based inclusive education. https://konnektiv.de/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/giz2016-ict-based-inclusive-education.pdf
Atherton, G., Dumangane, C., & Whitty, G. (2016). Charting Equity in Higher Education: Drawing the Global Access Map. London: Pearson
Calderon, A. J. (2018). Massification of higher education revisited. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/36975860/Massification_of_higher_education_revisited
UNESCO. (2019). Inclusion in education. Retrieved on 2019 November 22 on https://en.unesco.org/themes/inclusion-in-education
UNICEF. (2019). Education. Retrieved on 2019 November 15 from https://www.unicef.org/education
Watkins, A. (2014). Model policy for inclusive ICTs in education for persons with disabilities. Retrieved from the website of UNESCO https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000227229.page=11
United Nations. (n.d.). Sustainable Development Goal 4. Retrieved 2019 November 15 from https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg4
The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely by the author(s) and do not represent that of the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF).