The current digital transformation has brought about sweeping change that not only affects the political and economic sectors of a country, but most importantly, introduced a number of important social changes as well triggered by the growth of knowledge in the information and communications technologies (ICT); namely in the field of education.
As we have seen, education in the 21st century is incomparable to previous generations and is unlike anything we have seen before. The topic of education has been a nuanced one in Asia Pacific, which is one of the fastest developing regions in the world. Despite their similarities, many countries in the region have vastly different socio-economic and cultural landscapes that contribute significantly to each of its society's pursuit of knowledge. With 45% of the world’s youth calling Asia Pacific home, it’s a sad reality to know that many young people in the region are struggling to find a balance between what they are being taught in schools and the whirlwind digital ecosystem that they are expected to traverse once they graduate.
Furthermore, the fact that many young people living in the region’s developing countries have no access to educational resources, let alone the ability to secure employment, has not only widened the disparities between rural and urban areas but also exacerbated underlying issues like socio-economic inequality and social exclusion amongst youth.
In this situation, various questions arise; will digital education be able to bridge this gap? Would students be able to reconcile their current learning strategies with the ever-evolving, fast paced digital technologies outside the classroom? What should we do as a society to ensure that no one gets left behind?
One of the methods proposed by institutional stakeholders would be to take advantage of the rapidly growing and increasingly tech-savvy mobile technology subscriber base in Asia Pacific. With almost half of the population already having access to mobile devices, a number which is expected to rise exponentially by 2020, it is absolutely crucial that higher education institutions and relevant government bodies seize the opportunity to leverage the versatility of mobile technology to boost educational reform and provision in areas where it is most needed. Mobile technology like smartphones, laptops, tablets and others offer a more customizable and flexible form of learning for students, regardless of their location.
An analysis of case studies discussed in the book “Mobile Learning in Higher Education in the Asia Pacific Region: Harnessing Trends and Challenging Orthodoxies” highlighted the sustainable utilisation of mobile learning strategies within the Asia Pacific region. In Japan for example, a mobile app known as SCROLL aims at linking learning in formal and informal environments to enhance opportunities for students to engage in informal learning. This allowed users to record everyday learning experiences with their smartphones and, if they chose to do so, share these experiences with other learners. The initiative was implemented in various communities and universities across Japan; with new configurations constantly being added to further improve and refine the system.
In South Korea, a pilot project employing the use of mobile instant messaging (MIM) was conducted to alleviate social and cultural challenges faced by international exchange students when it came to learning the Korean language and conversing with Korean speakers. The interesting aspect about this experience is that users are able to facilitate language contact with each other in other locations around the world and do not necessarily need to be sitting next to each other. This allows international students learning Korean to combine MIM texts and visual tools in order to grasp the language skills in a short amount of time.
In addition to mobile technology education, another mode of digital learning has also surfaced and gained traction in the region in recent years. Massive open online courses or MOOCs enable greater participation and the ability to address common issues prevalent in education such as inequity and inefficiency. Although MOOCs in the US are spearheading the digital education revolution, the ones in Asia Pacific are not far behind; with homegrown MOOCs thriving in countries like the Philippines, China, Malaysia and India. Many of these initiatives can be seen predominantly in a higher education setting like India’s Delhi University and the University of the Philippines’ Open University’s MODeL, to name a few.
Considering that MOOCs is a relatively new system, there is still much to be done in terms of research and availability of resources. Due to this, several overriding issues have surfaced such as low completion rates as well as language barriers; as most lessons are conducted in English, and inadequate learning support in developing countries. Even with these inevitable teething problems, MOOCs have facilitated greatly access to education, but it is only a matter of time that we would be able to see if marginalised groups that deal with the issues mentioned above are also allowed access to this method of learning without being left behind by the strong current of rapid digitization.
Intelligent tutoring systems (ITS), on the other hand, are computer-based learning environments that employ AI to give students a customised educational experience. This system not only provides students with a personalised mode of study but also uses hints and remediation, cognitive and metacognitive scaffolding, affective support, and alternative teaching approaches as tools to engage with students and fuel motivation. One of the major factors for ITS’ popularity is its ability to be deployed in situations where there is a lack of adequately trained educators. Although some ITS activity has been documented in developing countries in Asia Pacific, with a specific focus on cultural factors, mobile gadgets and language support, most of the research has been done in developed nations like Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong.
Clearly, there is still a lot to be done in terms of evolving the digital education scene in Asia Pacific to make it accessible and adaptable to all communities across the region. In cases like these, it is important that the governments of these countries work closely with non-governmental organisations and tech support groups to build infrastructure that will allow for the continuous sharing of knowledge on a digital platform that is not only user friendly, but is considerate of cultural boundaries and regional and socio-economic factors.
By Shalini Julia John