A couple of weeks ago, I was at the first ever annual Minnesota Google in Education Summit, an event dedicated to showcase how Google intends to change the Classroom experience with its innovative products. During the entire summit, there were very enriching conversations and presentations between what was a mix of IT professionals and Education Professionals.
1. Integrated Technology into Education
I always knew that technology had the ability to change the way Education is delivered and accessed. It has even begun doing so. In fact, I am literally living these transformations myself. As an Information Technology professional in an Educational environment, and as a student, I am an eyewitness of the amazing changes technology is bringing to Education. From Smartboards, and very advanced networks to the latest computer systems to teachers and a lot of persistent talks about one-to-one initiatives, the Education system in the United States, and I believe on the rest of developed countries is evolving for the better, and at a very rapid pace.
Just for the record, the definition of one-to-one computing is essentially providing every staff member, teacher and student with a portable laptop, notebook or tablet PC for continuous use both in the classroom and at home (Gateway).
At the Google Summit, my beliefs and hopes about the convergence of technology and Education in order to create something totally innovative, a whole new learning experience for educators and students, have been consolidated. By the time, I left the Summit, Technology in Education had a greater meaning for me.
However, I could not help but thinking about Africa. What does all this mean for a continent of 54 countries ? How much impact can technology have on its Education System, and perhaps on its development process? Could this even be possible?
As I was pondering on these questions, something very interesting happened on Wednesday, May 15th. At the Google I/O Conference for developers, Sundar Pichai (Google’s Senior VP for Android, Chrome, and Apps), showed a video presentation about how Malaysia had deployed a nationwide 4G network and is implementing a nationwide one-to-one initiative by handing out to students Chromebooks.
I also had read a couple of months ago reports that Thailand is going to be handing out more than 1.7 million tablets for students and teacher in what is being described as the biggest ever single handout of devices in the educational sector in the world, according the news website http://www.digitaltrends.com/.
Now, this is really good music to my ears, because it is a very inspiring answer to the latter on of my questions (Could this even be possible?). If Malaysia and Thailand, both emerging countries, can pull this off, then it is darn possible for Africa to do so as well.
If the possibility issue is solved, then what would it mean for Africa to introduce Technology in Education? How much impact could it have?
2. Is One Laptop per Child feasible in Africa?
I remember, when I started College back home in 2007, the University I went to, was one of the early adopters of what is called now a One-to-One Initiative. The University handed to every single student and teacher a laptop. It was meant to give us an edge when it comes to learning. We had access to the Campus Wi-Fi to conduct researches, and to interact with each other. It was far from being an ideal situation because we were kind of exploring new territories. However, I remember that the fact of having a personal laptop sparked creativity among my fellow college mates. Some students started learning programming languages on their own. Others got into making music or designing. Projects like an online newspaper for students rose up. I also remember some students blogging out students’ event like the student council election. There was a lot energy, and eagerness to expand knowledge and discover new things. It was something amazing to witness.
A few weeks ago, I came across an article that one my Twitter friends poster back in 2012. The article described how children, from two remote villages in Ethiopia, were given tablet computers in an experiment conducted by the One Laptop per Child Organization.
The goal was to see if illiterate kids with no previous exposure to written words can learn how to read all by themselves, by experimenting with the tablet and its preloaded alphabet-training games, e-books, movies, cartoons, paintings, and other programs, according to the article.
The tablets were just dropped in boxes in both villages without any instruction or guidance.
After a few months of observation, the results were astonishing. These kids that have never landed foot in a classroom were spotted reciting the “alphabet song” and spelling words. One kid, reportedly, was seen opening a paint program and wrote.
Not only were the kids able to instruct themselves, they actually hacked the devices to unlock features that were locked down like the camera and the Desktop settings.
I know that this experiment alone, or even the first example I gave, does not prove much. However what my examples definitively showcase is that, with technology, student’s creativity and ingenuity can be pushed to unimaginable boundaries. Entrepreneurship can be unleashed at very young. Education can be transformed to something totally unseen before. Online learning can become a reality in our countries. A whole economy has been built on Information Technologies elsewhere, and the same thing is possible in Africa. We can, finally, close the digital divide, and give a big push to our ongoing development process.
3. Changing African Decision-makers’ Mind
I always say that I am a firm believer in the ability of Technology to change the world beginning by Education. I do believe that, African decision-makers need to realize that the investment in Technology that will help us educate the people of Africa’s nations, reduce illiteracy, and potentially create a new segment of services economy, is key to Africa’s development, and Africa’s competitiveness.
Koffi Chris Assigbe
IT Network Administrator, District of Minnesota, USA.
Resources & References
Gateway (2013). One-to-one laptop initiatives. Retrieved from http://i.i.com.com/cnwk.1d/html/itp/K12WhitePaperHiResFinal05.pdf
Google (2013). Google i/o 2013: Keynote. In YouTube. 15 May. Retrieved 26 May2013, from http://youtu.be/9pmPa_KxsAM
Talbot, D. (2012). Given tablets but no teachers, Ethiopian children teach themselves. In Technology Review.29 October. Retrieved 26 May 2013, from http://www.technologyreview.com/news/506466/given-tablets-but-no-teachers-ethiopian-children-teach-themselves/
Trevor, M. (2013). Tablets for thais: Govt to hand out 1.7 million devices to students and teachers in ‘one tablet per child’ initiative. In Digital Trends, 22 March. Retrieved 26 May 2013, from http://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/government-to-hand-out-1-7-million-tablets-to-students-and-teachers/