In yet another eye-opening interview, IT News Africa spoke to former Senior Adviser to UK Government, Jamie Martin at the recent Education Innovation Summit held in Johannesburg.
Martin, who was responsible for overseeing radical reform of the school system in the UK, is also a part of Deloitte’s UK and Dubai offices, while also an adviser on strategy, focused on Africa, to international education companies/VC funds.
Martin has worked on fundraising, operations and growth with education start ups in South Africa & Ghana. He has also been involved in the growth strategy, fundraising ($80M) & market entry for a Middle East school chain and several due diligence projects for top private equity firms on education assets.
In this interview, Martin spoke of the need to change the mindsets of parents, teachers and students as well as the challenges facing edtech in Africa and the governments’ role in combating these challenges. Martin also spoke of the opportunities created by blended learning and cloud technologies in revolutionising the education system on the African continent?
Do you think Edtech requires a change of mindset from Government, teachers, students and parents?
Yeah, I think so. I think the biggest change in mindset will have to come from the teachers and parents who traditionally have seen technology as a problem and barrier in education, not an opportunity. So lots of schools ban the use of mobile phones, while I do actually understand why they do that because when it’s not done the right way mobile phones can disrupt learning. The mindset we going to have to change is to see the equivalent of banning mobile phones to that of banning books, you know you would never do that in a school, so how do we make sure that the technology is used the right way so that the mindset changes and everyone sees it as an opportunity.
Do we need to get students into the mind-frame that when they are in a class that the devices are for classroom use?
Yes! I think sometimes education technologies strength is the vision and the optimism and its weakness is naivety. So how do we get students to understand that your phone is for fun and games outside of school but when you are in school it’s for learning. So it definitely is a part of changing their mindset.
In your opinion what are the biggest challenges in Africa with regards to technological innovation in education?
I mean there’s an obvious one and that’s connectivity, so WiFi penetration across the continent is around 29%, we obviously need to get those numbers higher. The second one is device availability, obviously having a device is determined by income and that is a huge problem. Thirdly, teacher training. Today in teacher training college, people are not being taught well in general on how to effectively use technology in education.
Who do you think the onus lies on with regards to pushing this technological drive in education, the private or public sectors?
So I think there is one place where the government plays a big role and another whether they should get out of the way. The government has a big role in encouraging infrastructure development. I would really urge the government to give more kids the access to WiFi and access to low-cost devices as a priority and partnering firmly if necessary with telecom companies and other businesses to make that happen.
The area I think the government needs to stay out of the way is in setting the parameters around how to use technology in the classroom. Let’s get that determined by the teachers and get them innovating and doing things differently. I think if the government tries to lay out too many parameters on how to use, they just going to stifle innovation.
Do you think African governments are open to this type of collaboration?
I think it varies. I think it varies across South Africa, let alone the African continent. I think that unfortunately there is just a big variation. I think we need to see, on the infrastructure side, we need to start to see connectivity as basic infrastructure. In South Africa, we have a good road network and connectivity should be viewed the in the same light. Around the continent, there is a need to improve basic infrastructure such as roads, so why not improve WiFi network at the same time.
Do you think that the cloud technology is important in education?
Cloud technology is potentially transformative for people who live in rural areas because anyone can access it, that’s the beauty of the cloud. It is also amazing for collaborative projects as well, as it allows two people in different locations access the same content. So yes the cloud has enormous potential
So yes, the cloud has enormous potential in education. I do think in terms of using it, I think it has to be as grassroots as possible. I do slightly worry about the government saying”great cloud platform, we will select the platform and what goes on it”, again I would much rather they grant access to the cloud and then leave the content selection to schools, teachers and entrepreneurs.
What is your opinion on blended learning, where do you draw the line between education and technology?
I’m extremely keen on blended learning. I think sometimes education and technology can be quite naive when it comes to self-directed learning. They think oh well we have youtube and Wikipedia why do we have to go to school? Well, they are not going to learn much, there has got to be a teacher and the role of that teacher is going to be incredibly important in blended learning.
Blended learning is powerful because I think it uses the best of technology, low-cost, faster delivery etc and the best of human teaching, directing kids, making sure the work is getting done and attending to areas where the machine isn’t smart enough to. So for me, I think the line is drawn at no teacher involvement.
What did you think of the Education Innovation Summit 2017?
It was really exciting. I really enjoyed it and I think that IT News Africa has brought a really good group of people together. It’s great to see that it’s not just people from South Africa that are here but people from all over the continent. I said this during my talk here, when you look at who’s attending this conference you begin to realise that although education isn’t working at the moment, the fact that a big group of talented individuals are coming together to try and make it work, I think that is very exciting.
By Dean Workman