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Can technology in classrooms make every child smart?

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Effective ICT integration means replacing chalkboards with smartboards, using projectors, digital libraries, smart devices, full time internet access and co-opting tech-savvy teachers.

Over 500 educators, school leaders and government officials from 40 countries across the Middle East and Africa gathered at Dubai’s Grand Hyatt Hotel for two days to brainstorm on how technology can augment the quality of education in developing countries to build future-ready skills.

The Microsoft in Education Global Forum (GEF) is held annually with the conviction that a superior education system that has technology at its core is the key to socio-economic progress.

The youth bulge and the alarming rates of unemployment in the Middle East and Africa are a major concern noted during the forum. Speakers emphasized the urgent need to leverage technology to build a balanced set of skills required in today’s competitive work.

But while technology today is ubiquitous and linking all aspects of our modern life, schools in Uganda and the better part of Africa still lag behind in as far as integrating technology into classroom learning is concerned.

Most African countries’ National ICT Policies outline strategies for adopting ICT into the mainstream educational curricular as well as other literacy programmes to provide for equitable access for all students. However, inspiring as the policies appear, effective integration of ICT to achieve curricular goals remains elusive.

I have visited schools in UAE, Bahrian, Singapore and Malaysia where education leaders are now overhauling their entire curriculums and aligning them with smart technology offerings. The idea is to exploit modern technology in ways that can deepen and enhance the entire learning process in the classroom. It is more inclined towards stimulating active engagement and equal participation.

Effective ICT integration means replacing chalkboards with smartboards, using projectors, digital libraries, smart devices, full time internet access and co-opting tech-savvy teachers. Learning with visualizing and modeling tools, especially in the sciences, gives students a chance to experiment and observe reality and to explore topics in graphic ways that help in understanding. This method of curriculum delivery inspires learning through projects where students are intellectually challenged and stay more engaged on their tasks.

A primary four child who learns about the human heart or digestive system by way of 3D graphics and videos in a classroom equipped with a smartboard would certainly have a faster grasp of the topic more than their counterparts in a chalkboard classroom.

Such is the power of technology that even a tablet device worth less than US$80 can have a profound effect on a child’s learning experiences and rate of absorption in the classroom several times more than the actual impact of a teacher relying on traditional teaching methods.

Despite these technologies becoming more affordable by the day, the current set up in most African schools does not guarantee their benefits to children, making the task of preparing them for tomorrow’s competitive jobs an enormous one. For most schools, technology integration means teaching students basic computer skills and software programs. In fact, several schools especially in rural areas remain generally under resourced in terms of ICT infrastructure.

The teachers themselves lack the proficiency to deliver a technology driven curriculum. Many have stubbornly refused to embrace the whole idea of a technology that competes with their authority in the classroom. The few that have acquired ICT skills choose to make better use of their new qualification to seek better paying jobs outside of the teaching profession.

The cost of ICT education equipment such as computers, smart devices and software remain prohibitively high for most schools. While a few parents can afford to buy devices for their children, it is useless if these can’t be integrated into the entire school infrastructure. This is coupled with the high cost of broadband that hampers the effective use of the internet as an academic resource.

Most of the available educational content is not relevant to the Ugandan curriculum and its role in improving general learning is only secondary. This is a very critical area that requires the services of highly skilled content developers to come up with original educational content that is compatible to all media formats such as interactive multimedia, web-based, audio and visual, and aligned to the curriculum.

Evidently, the status quo will not change overnight. But a vigorous government driven agenda, supported by multilateral organizations and international aid agencies to equip schools with the right technology will give every child an opportunity to realize their full potential and succeed in and outside of the classroom.

Government intervention through private-public partnerships is also a strategy that has gained currency among Ministries of Education aiming for effective ICT integration. For example, Microsoft, which has so far invested US$750 million in education technology solutions over the last fifteen years has ongoing partnerships with African governments such as Kenya, South Africa, Ivory Coast, Tunisia, Morocco and Nigeria to broaden ICT integration into the education system.

Contributed By Abdul Basti K. Ashaba

1 COMMENT

  1. The idea is to exploit modern technology in ways that can deepen and enhance the entire learning process in the classroom.

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