THE cost of computers need be no barrier to poor countries using new technology to bring quality education to millions more
children, experts told the conference.
Wadi Haddad, the general secretary of the previous global education conference at Jomtien 10 years ago and now president of computing company Knowledge Enterprise, told The TES that within five years computers will not need wires to connect to the Internet - a decisive factor in countries where phone lines are scarce.
The introduction of broadband will enable computers to download text, sound and video from the airwaves, removing the need to buy separate televisions and video-recorders for schools.
The cost of supplying hardware could plummet if schools take on computers free of charge as they are discarded in favour of upgrades by businesses or government departments. This could be encouraged by offering tax credits on the computer donated. The difficulty, said Mr Haddad, a former education adviser to the World Bank, is producing the educational software that can run on the two-year-old computers.
"The teacher can switch from being a repository to an organiser of knowledge," he said. "And it will mean we don't have to build large schools and bus childre around for efficiency purposes. The school can be in a church hall or a house because you are supporting the learning with technology at a distance."
This is happening in Ghana in community learning centres, used by students, teachers and businesses, making them the new centre of village life - the watering holes of the computer age. Many on their first visit to a centre have not seen a computer before.
Mr Haddad said this approach could open up the breadth of subjects taught in the 30 per cent of the world's schools that have only one or two teachers, as pupils can tap into information provided by education experts on the Internet. He cited as an example the New Deal network in the United States which provides online material about American history.
He said: "Schools today are modelled on the factory system of the industrial age. Now we must rethink education for the information age. It's time to be creative."
Other innovations in poor countries include computers powered by dynamos - invaluable where the electricity supply is unreliable - and radio stations in a box and powered by dynamo, solar power or batteries, for broadcasting programmes and campaigns geared to local communities.