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From the conclusion to Martin Ebner’s 2013 paper:
“Cell phones are seen as very powerful tools to offer opportunities in teaching and learning for enhancing education in Sub-Saharan Africa. The existing mobile infrastructure can help to overcome many of the longstanding challenges in education, that have inhibited access to traditional educational products e.g. books and schooling. Mobile learning with OER is an advantage for further developments in education. Especially for people in deprived and sparsely populated areas, providing access to educational services and offering a wide range of educational material will be a big step towards better education.”
From your perspective and experience do you think that the potential of mobile technologies for education in Sub Saharan Africa (or elsewhere in the developing world) is being realised ? What do you see as the opportunities, challenges and productive approaches?
This is an exciting and provocative topic and question. First, there is no doubting the fact that mobile technologies provide a huge opportunity for providing access to education in sub-Saharan Africa. Major challenges which now exist, and which mobile technologies can be leveraged to provide solutions include poor power supply, unavailability (or where available, prohibitive costs of) reading resources, especially books, and increasingly, crises, which have proved damagingly disruptive.
With mobile technology, it is now possible to charge batteries during the slim window of power supply, or to use low cost power banks to keep mobile phones and tablets running. It is also possible to distribute high quality reading materials as pdf, even to those who have weak and inconsistent internet access. And, when violent crises disrupt the possibility of f2f contact, remote access through mobile technologies becomes truly a powerful and essential means of continuing with the learning process (I enjoyed this with my students during a recent crisis that led to a lockdown of the city for weeks).
But the question is, is this being realised in sub-Saharan Africa? Maybe I can talk about Nigeria, and by virtue of its population, what happens in Nigeria can be seen as a reflection of the situation in sub-Saharan Africa, at least. The answer is: not yet. The shift to technology enabled teaching and learning is slow, generally. And the leap to emerging technologies is even slower. A major reason is lack of training. There are no skills available to implement these approaches. And the attitude of most is that institutions or government should provide such mass training. This is something that will be difficult to achieve in the short term. So, although the potential is there, it is not yet being realised. However, there are pockets of individual, and sometimes institutional efforts being made across the landscape with good results. These efforts demonstrate both the viability of mobile learning technologies as part of an integral technology based learning approach as well as prove that if more practitioners and institutions take up the challenge, the impact will be significant.
I have been following the Global Learning Xprize program that is supporting the development of tablet-based self-directed learning for early elementary learners for basic reading and math skills. http://learning.xprize.org/
It is very exciting that 200 teams from around the world are looking to provide some or all of the technology and curriculum. I wonder how the Global Learning Xprize initiatives are being viewed by participants in this forum. Looking forward to this discussion.
Thanks for flagging this. I was unaware of this programme and just discovered that there several teams from developing countries participating in this exciting initiative. On the African continent – South Africa and Kenya are fielding several teams! I will definitely be tracking this – literacy and numeracy are critical foundational skills that have not been receiving the focus they deserve! You have been following its development what are your initial thoughts on it?
Nice response. I agree with you and the problems you flag are more or less the same in our developing countries and in some developed ones too. Taking up the challenge needs some form of incentivization – something that will make it worth while to make the necessary changes – some form of recognition of innovative teaching and learning that could help drive the process. In Higher Education its my opinion that the focus on giving more recognition and funding for research and not for innovative teaching and learning (the core business) is detrimental. People are given time to do research but not for materials and other learning and teaching development. The institutional systems inadequately (if at all) support the implementation/development of innovative ways of teaching and learning that could be firmly integrated into the way the institutions operate. In fact often such initiatives end up being marginalized and less impactful than they could be. There seem to be endless training initiatives that are not gaining sufficient traction because there is not the institutional expectation nor will to see that the way things done gets changed in a substantial way….
Agree with you Alice – there is a great need for more support RE innovative teaching and learning. Recognition for research is not enough. Perhaps this is changing slowly, as teaching awards and promotions require sections on innovative practices, etc.
I think the major challenge is foreign pedagogies. Social and collaborative learning is still novel in many educational contexts in Africa where didactic approaches is the norm.
The article mentions TESSA and a mobile education framework for teachers and I wondered where I could find more information on this and if there was anything like this in Africa for Higher Ed?
I don’t think near universal device ownership and internet access are enough to realise the potential of mobile learning. I suspect we also need to look at changing practices if we hope to transform mobile into learning devices.
I am more of a challenges person. ????
When I think of mobile (and to take it even further seamless) learning in the context of the developing world, I think of a number of things that are really not in place:
1. Infrastructure – both the electricity to power the devices and the internet connectivity to ensure access to information
2. Literacy and language barriers – ability to read, and ability to understand the language the material is presented in (and the accents) is generally a challenge
3. Price barriers – the preference is for multi use devices (because we really cannot afford the money and the energy needed to buy and carry the things around) but even with that good devices are priced highly and the proportion of the population that can access them is limited
4. Integration- the learning and teaching environments have not changed much since we received education as part of the colonial package. These environments are not suited to seamless learning
So I have to say I am privileged, I have taken and am taking courses and now even a postgraduate academic programme via seamless learning – I can access the portal via computer, tablet and cell phone (free app)… but I am not representative of the average, and I am definitely not where our educational institutions see themselves moving to (yes, I had to find an institution offshore). Some discussions I have held with lecturers and other academic staff in institutions in east Africa have made me understand that this new developments are for them something they will not engage in until they have proof that they are better than what they have now. Many have told me that a qualification obtained online (even from a reputable institution) is not as valuable as one obtained by face to face (traditional) learning methods. We have a long way to travel.
One theme which surfaces across all five posts here is that of persistent inequalities of different kinds. These include:
– Infrastructure including electricity and bandwidth (Jerome and Elizabeth)
– Language differences (Elizabeth)
– Low incomes of most people in Africa which means that even low end smartphones aren’t affordable (Elizabeth)
– Text books and other learning resources (Jerome and Valerie)
These persistent challenges are compounded when outmoded didactic pedagogies persist and institutions mostly offer very limited support for changes in processes and practices (Alice, Nicola, Elizabeth). The risk aversive approach of most educators (Elizabeth) makes complete sense in this context. Any comments?
If Android tablets with pre-loaded content are made available from the Global Learning Xprize organization for distribution to kids and schools throughout the region, are there teachers or community organizers who would help ensure that these devices are used? Would they want to direct the use of the devices and the curriculum? If the devices are able to direct the presentation of material based on the learners’ progress, would that be useful?
Is there a model that would be best suited for technology supporting learning early reading and math skills?
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