Information Communications Technology, the Third Educational Wave and Impact of COVID-19

Since the hunters and gatherers stage of societal evolution, the world has seen three major transformations, from the period of settled agriculture, to the period of industralization, and the information revolution. This corresponds to the first, second, and third wave of development.

The first wave of development was propelled by the agricultural revolution. This occurred between 1750 and 1900. Through farm mechanization, enclosure, crop rotation, and selective breeding, the period saw a massive increase in agricultural productivity and vast improvement in farm technology. England reaped most of the advantages of this age.

The second wave of development emerged from the agricultural revolution which later gave birth to the Green Revolution in the 1940s. This occurred between 1760-1850 where society saw major changes in manufacturing, mining, and transportation. This wave had a significant impact on the socioeconomic conditions and every aspect of life of those who lived in England. Countries such as the United States, Germany, most of Europe and Japan later caught up with England. 

The third wave of development that saw dramatic societal changes taking place in the later half of the 20th century is referred to as the information revolution. This third wave of development based on Information Communication Technology has been variously referred to as the New Economy (NE), the weightless economy, and the digital economy. This wave of development, according to people like Castells, a development expert, has three key features, all of which are based in micro-technology. It is global; networked; and knowledge-based (K-Economy).

The main catalyst for the third wave of development is due to advances in the information and communications technology (ICT) and the successful embrace of ICT by several countries. It began with the invention of the integrated circuit (IC), the basis of most electronic devices that influence our lives today.

A similar developmental trend has occurred in higher education, over the years. The first wave of educational development could be likened to the emergence of the traditional ivy league schools. Such schools dating from the 11th century restricted themselves mainly to a close circle of professors and students from the upper strata of society and lived in relative isolation, the proverbial ,”ivory tower”. Such traditional academic institutions educated a very privileged minority. The activities of such institutions were hidden and confined to the hallowed walls of such institutions.

For example, this type of traditional university might do scientific research on solar

power and solar lighting, and not concern itself with how the millions in society, most of them living in off the grid communities, unable to read, might learn of the benefits of the new solar lights, how they might acquire them.

This trend changed and gave rise to the second wave of educational development, the “partner academic institution”. The Partner institution recognizes its commitment tothe community it serves. This type of higher educational institution has developed relationships with government, ethnic and tribal organizations, industry, business, churches and mosques. The university has become a full partner in the work of social and economic development.

The second wave of educational development has expanded educational opportunities by erecting buildings, with classrooms, lecture halls, dormitories, etc. This way of expanding educational opportunities requires huge sums of money to create the environment that will house the teachers and the students.  And those from our rural communities who want to learn must leave those communities and go to the cities of the nations, since small villages cannot have lecture halls and classrooms and dormitories.

With the emergence of the information revolution, higher education has seen a shift from the partner educational institution based on classroom learning (brick and mortar) to one based on information communication technologies (ICT).  With the advent of the information revolution, the college professor is no longer the sole source of knowledge on any subject. With this model of education, the college professor now becomes a guide to learning.

The third education wave is based on new technology-driven educational models such as blended learning (convergence of two learning environments, the traditional face-to-face learning environment that has been around for centuries, and electronic learning), distance learning (the delivery of education to students who are physically separated from the instructor), mobile learning (the art of using mobile technologies to enhance the learning experience) and other related new learning models.

Under this third wave of educational development the computer and all of the new communication technologies can connect learning communities scattered throughout the world. And teachers and instructors can be anywhere in the world that has instruction that students need.

Enter COVID-19, a new pandemic of the 21st century that has changed our way of live I ways unprecedented in the history of humanity. As a response to the pandemic, most academic institutions were mandated to make a transition from face-to-face teaching to the virtual environment. So, most universities have gone online on a scale never seen before.  This decision was abrupt, hasty, and rapid without any contingency plans in place. This exposed a number of challenges for most of the institutions. Most institutions lacked the capacity to move to the virtual environment/ The technological infrastructure as well as Internet connectivity for most of the schools was a challenge.  In addition, there was lack of adequate faculty preparedness, inadequate technical support, as well as students who lacked access to connecting devices as well as reliable Internet connectivity.

In spite of the above challenges, digital transformation of the educational sector through online teaching and learning has become the norm rather than the exception. This has now become the new DNA of educational institutions the world over.

We still cannot predict the impact of the pandemic on education and other societal institutions. But teaching and learning as we know it will never be the same. This creates an opportunity to rethink what the future of education would look like and put in place measures to adopt to the new normal.

Osei K. Darkwa, Ph.D.
Visiting Professor, University of Illinois-Chicago

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