Introduction / Background
Computers have been used in the classroom for the last twenty-five years. However, their usage changed from simply teaching basic computing skills in the 1980s to teaching how to use them in a more creative manner and applying them in the context of teaching and learning of other subjects in the 1990s (Becker, 1993). This has created the need to investigate students' perceptions and attitudes towards this change as they are the major stakeholders affected. Moreover, being aware of and understanding students perceptions will assist in improving the quality of education provided. Many studies have therefore been conducted to satisfy the need to elicit students' perceptions towards computers and, as the technology develops and spreads, the research domain has also expanded to cover new areas, such as the growing usage of computers outside schools and using the Internet (Harris, 1999; Hayward et al., 2002b; Livingstone & Bober, 2004; Mumtaz 2001).
Computers as an educational tool and computer skills as a subject have been utilised and taught in Saudi secondary schools since 1991. However, although the Ministry of Education's policy has been regularly evaluated from the teachers' perspective and attitude towards using computers in their teaching practice (Ministry of Education, 2005a), independent research had to fill in the gap created by concentrating solely on teachers' attitudes and ignoring students' attitudes towards using ICT. Moreover, extant studies have not been updated, despite recent technological advances in educational technology, to examine students' perceptions of ICT, and cover students' growing usage of computers outside of the school.
The Educational System in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia, a developing country, attaches a great deal of importance in education. The Ministry of Education was founded in 1954 and is charged with responsibility for boys' and girls' schooling. Junior colleges, teacher training, special needs, and adult education are all under the responsibility of the Ministry of Education (Ministry of Education, 2005b). Education is not compulsory in Saudi Arabia, yet all school age children go to school. Most children study in state schools. However, in recent years, many public schools have been established in the larger cities within the Kingdom. In accordance with the Islamic law practiced in the country, girls' and boys' education is strictly segregated in terms of school buildings and teaching staff.
The overall aim of the study is to investigate Saudi Arabian secondary school students' perceptions of and attitudes towards ICT and their usage of it inside and outside school. The study thus aims to address the following questions:
1. What uses do students make of ICT out of school?
2. What uses do students make of ICT in school?
3. What are students' perceptions of and attitude towards ICT?
The Independent ICT in Schools Commission concluded in their report: 'ICT brings considerable benefits to bear on the learning process, albeit benefits with different weight in different situations' (The Independent ICT in Schools Commission, 1997, p.14). Teachers in the UK have been encouraged to use ICT in their classrooms and to integrate it within the subjects of the National Curriculum. ICT is the third core subject along with Literacy and Numeracy, and is therefore considered a fundamental and important 'skill' in the educational process. The Independent ICT in Schools Commission mentioned several benefits of integrating ICT in education, for example, computers use a full range of media: sound, vision, text and numerical data which may promote successful learning. Using computers also gives teachers more varied options not possible or available before, such as the combination of class or part-class teaching with individual computer based teaching and distance learning. …