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Connecting Education with Information Communication Technology in Africa

The adaptive nature of ICTs means that technology can be used to support traditional teaching patterns as much as it can be used to support moves to resourced-based and open learning. It should be noted that, one of the myths of ICT and education is that ‘merely providing ICTs to schools transforms the learning process, and merely connecting to the Internet changes the learner’s world’.

The introduction of ICT into education at all levels cannot be seen as independent of educational reform  more generally, nor of the context within which this takes place.

Understanding the term ‘information and communication technologies’ (or its acronym ICT) needs to begin with how the term technology itself is used. This term is derives from the 17th-century use of the word to describe ‘systematic study or the terminology of a particular art’. Over time, the word came to be increasingly associated with ‘practical arts’, finally leading to a ‘familiar modern distinction between knowledge (science) and its practical application (technology), within the selected field.

The full integration of ICTs and leveraging the Internet for education requires clear vision and strategy, and most importantly, commitment accompanied with investment in equipment, broadband connectivity, learning resources, and technical support.Education and the Internet are important global assets, and have transformed the lives of billions of people. Considerable progress has been made in education and Internet connectivity worldwide over the last three decades, but the intersection between these two is far from reality in Africa. Commitments and actions of the policy makers, teachers, principals and parents are essential to unlock the potential of the Internet for learning and to meet the global education for sustainable development.

The last two decades have seen a variety of innovations in education delivered over the Internet. Many countries, including Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Dominica, Finland, Ghana, India, Kenya, Korea, Malaysia, Namibia, Nepal, Peru, the Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, Turkey, Tanzania, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay and Zambia have been making progress in drawing up comprehensive polices for ICT in education, providing students and teachers with necessary equipment (e.g. one-to-one computing), connecting schools to the Internet and supporting the development of National Research and Education Networks (NRENs).

Progress with Open Educational Resources (OER), Massive Open Online Classes (Courses), cloud computing, and mobile learning has also created options for expanding learning opportunities anywhere and anytime.

Education is the basis for social and economic development. For Africa, a skilled workforce that utilizes ICTs effectively is a key factor in determining its competitiveness in the global digital economy and for harnessing its natural resources for sustainable growth. The region faces considerable challenges in education ranging from the absence of quality teachers, outdated or unavailable learning and teaching materials, and inadequate physical space (school infrastructure) for fast-growing learners.

Over 110 million school children between 6-18 years of age are out of school in Africa. Thirty-seven million young peoplerequire technical and vocational training and/or other forms of education that facilitate paths to their employment. Only about 6 percent of secondary school graduates find places in higher education in sub-Saharan Africa.There is no reliable data on the use of the Internet for learning in Africa. Schoolnet projects typically begin with equipping selected “league schools” with computer labs, training teachers, and where possible, providing students and teachers with learning materials.

Despite efforts over the last two decades, there has been limited success in rollout of ICTs and the Internet in African schools, because of lack of resources and the absence of a holistic and integrated vision and strategy.

There is a great need for governments to advance inclusive knowledge societies, taking into account the Internet universality principles adopted by the UNESCO’s General Assembly that advocate for a human rights-based open and accessible Internet to all.

Policy makers have crucial roles in creating the necessary ecosystem for ICT integration in education. The improved connectivity in the region and the vast learning resources that are available over the Internet can be harnessed to advance access and quality of education in Africa.

Policy makers primarily need to articulate a holistic vision for a blended form of learning by crafting and implementing an ICT for education policy that covers the entire spectrum of learning (pre-primary, primary, secondary,  higher education, distance, on the job and lifelong learning). Through the ICT in education policy:

  • Policy makers need to address three interlinked areas proposed by the Internet Society Enabling Environment Framework – namely, promoting infrastructure investment, fostering entrepreneurship and skills, and promoting supportive governance. 
  • The need to ensure affordable broadband connectivity is available to schools, colleges and universities to facilitate real time interaction. Efforts are also needed to extend access to electricity, that often constrains the use of Internet for learning. It is also essential for policy makers advocate for and promote 21st-century buildings that make blended forms of learning a reality. 
  • Regulators and decision makers in educational sectors in Africa, need to create an enabling environment for private sector investment in infrastructure and content. They need to set the principles and rules that promote services, applications and human capacity development.

ICT in education initiatives should also ensure that teachers are given a prominent role, their skills upgraded, and incentives put in place to reward their efforts in ICT integration in teaching, learning and assessment processes. All education and training involves processes of communication between an educational provider and learners, and it is essential to develop an understanding of the modes of communication most appropriate to a particular teaching and learning process.

There are must be a need to strive to participate in the global efforts for promotion and exchange of Open Educational Resources (OERs) as outlined in the Paris Declaration of OER. They need to support local efforts that promote creation, adaptation and exchange of learning resources.

Inclusion and attainment of the educational goals of SDGs, attention should be given to gender equity and unconstrained access to learning powered by technology to disabled people.

Furthermore, there is a need for addressing digital safety issues, either through capacity building for youth, teachers and children and by creating legislative frameworks and enforcing them. Governments need to support all technical, legal and institutional means to reduce risks to children.

Significant gap exists in applying ICTs for job creation and using it for training youth to tap into global ICT Enabled Services. This requires initiatives that stimulate a blended form of learning that combines traditional and online education in institutions, for example by encouraging access to state of the art education available through Open Educational Resources. The stakeholders in educational sectors in various African countries, must be supporting access to broadband infrastructure, and ensuring that budgets for NRENs are allocated centrally.

Regulators can also play a great role by ensuring schools have access to high bandwidth under favourable commercial terms, allocating a portion of the Universal Service Funds and providing them with preferential access to the radio frequency spectrum.  Data and research are key to assess the impact of the investment of ICTs in education. Therefore, investment  in data gathering on ICT access and use by students and teachers, and support centers of excellence that undertake research and disseminate it to improve learning from previous experiences.

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