In Africa where teaching is still predominantly through the traditional chalk and blackboard mode, schools in Africa would do well to take advantage of technological advancements to develop students’ skills, argues Olubayo Abiodun
SAINT Barnabas Primary School in Ilorin, capital of Kwara State in Nigeria, was founded in 1917. Since its inception as one of the earliest primary educational institutions in the country, it has turned out many frontline administrators, professionals in various fields of life including medicine, engineering, law, military sports and so forth. But since its establishment, learning in this institution has not grown beyond the traditional chalk and blackboard, textbooks and physical presence of teachers in the classroom.
It is unlikely that this institution can salvage the current skills gap challenge that Nigeria is currently bedevilled with in this digital age. The challenges facing St. Barnabas is a microcosm of the challenges facing most public educational institutions in Nigeria and most parts of Africa.
Time and space have simply left most public educational system behind in terms of the quality and quantity of educational and learning delivery available in most schools in Africa.
This much was highlighted at the West Africa E-Learning Conference and Exhibition (WAeLCE) promoted by Baobab Media as part of its “Education for Life Series” at the University of Lagos at the end of March. A question about the status of the Nigerian teacher in the 21st century was raised at the conference.
The question becomes very valid when the structure of education in Nigeria and beyond the West coast of Africa is placed above the prism of dilapidated classrooms. The poser is: Why can’t the teaching profession in Africa adopt the philosophy of “Teachers-Without-Borders?” This provides the capacity to learn, teach and impart knowledge anywhere on the surface of the earth without been discriminated against. This is akin to the philosophy of Doctors without Borders.
The answer to this poser was simplified in the description of the Nigerian students and teachers’ demographics in the 21st century. While most Nigerian students today have been described as “digital natives”, most teachers in Nigeria have been tagged as “digital immigrants”. This is because most of the teachers around are not ICT compliant. For instance, today’s students have quickly climbed the ladder of digital adoption by easily accessing digital technology, particularly within the mobile technology ecosystem. For example, most of the students are residents in the social media space with the access provided by the smart devices like Android powered systems, iPhone, iPad, iPod and smartphones, which have ensured there connectivity to the global community. Large communities of these students play in the social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn and Games.
It is incredulous that some teachers in this 21st century do not even have email access. That is the kind of gap that exists between the students and the teachers. And this is the defining gap between the developed and the developing world in terms of skills development for nation building. While most developed nations have since evolved e-Learning as the strategic tools for imparting the requisite education for their human capital development, nations in Africa are still stuck to the chalk and blackboard tradition.
So what is the big deal between the e-Learning environment and the traditional classroom pervading most of the African learning environment? Dr. Emmanuel Ekwuem told the participants at WAeLCE about the values inherent in the Smart Classroom that is in vogue in most advance nations. For a start, within the Smart Classroom ecosystem, the common expressions are e-book, e-Learning and e-Teacher. Here the electronic board promotes virtual learning because whatever is written on the board can be automatically uploaded on the intranet and internet depending on the architecture of the school’s Smart Classroom. The audio and video upload also enables the students to playback lesson notes at a later time for a review of what was taught in the classroom. Even a student who missed the live session in the class has ample opportunity to catch up with the others. With this customised classroom management system, learning has been made easy for the students who can afford to pay significant attention to the classroom teaching instead of dissipating energy in coping with the pace of taking down notes while teaching is in session.
The beauty of e-Learning is that it promotes greater student-teacher interactions beyond the physical classroom. The students can access various kinds of information including homework, reading topics and e-books necessary for their knowledge acquisition through password access to the digital board. Today’s mobile technology enables children to have nearly 24-hour media access, and many students are spending close to eight hours a day using entertainment media, according to new research from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Voice amplification systems, digital projectors, document cameras, interactive whiteboards, personal response systems, and other hand-held devices are among the many technologies that are quickly becoming essential tools for helping 21st century teachers engage their students’ interest and make learning more interactive.
One of the essentials is the SMART Board, which is an electronic white board that significantly improves learning by linking computers and the internet with interactive, touchscreen technology.
A teacher prepares a lesson on his or her computer, projects it onto the board, and guides students through the material by touching on the images and the toolbars. Teachers and students can also access the internet to incorporate additional information into the lesson.
Students, in turn, utilise the SMART Board to demonstrate their grasp of subject material, ask and answer questions, and enhance their classroom presentations.
In his paper titled “ICT as a 21st Century Standard for Nigerian Teachers” presented at the conference, Director, Professional Operations, Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN), Dr. Steve Nwokeocha said teachers were leaders as well as flag-bearers; managers; opinion leaders and moulders. They dictated the pace of learning and the direction of change, evaluating learning and giving verdicts about learners’ abilities, which shape the life chances of learners. Their influences even go beyond the walls of the classrooms and schools and they could ignite and manage revolutions.
He added: “But it has become a public scandal recently that many teachers cannot even pass the examinations set for students under them. Which direction is such educational system heading?”
Explaining the huge gap between the teachers and the students, Nwokeocha said: “Students today are familiar with the internet (the World Wide Web), the search engines, many software applications online and offline, hardware, etc. They communicate through a variety of social media – Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Yahoo Messenger, LinkedIn; Skills Page; YouTube; etc. In a single handset they could have over 100 applications running live, informing and entertaining them. They also have electronic games to play with. What about the teachers?”
While noting that the world is currently ICT driven and any nation that fails to plug in would have itself to blame, he said: “ICTs are one of the major contemporary factors shaping the global economy and producing rapid changes in society. They have fundamentally changed the way people learn, communicate and do business. They can transform the nature of education – where and how learning takes place and roles of students and teachers in the learning process.”
He said that the processing of information to build knowledge was one of the essential literacy skills vital for the workforce in the 21st century, which had still not been adequately utilised in the African educational system. According to him, in order to function in the new world economy, students and their teachers have to learn to navigate large amounts of information, to analyse and make decisions, and to master new knowledge and to accomplish complex tasks collaboratively.
The President of the Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON), Chris Uwaje, in his paper at the conference titled “Expanding Learning Opportunities through ICT” said: “The success of our gross national development will therefore – to a large extent – be determined by our understanding of the complexities inherent in the technological revolution, empowering the citizenry with access to knowledge through learning, maximising indigenous input, measuring balanced contributions and in particular, the mastery of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) dynamics at all levels.”
Sounding a note of caution to those in leadership position on the worrisome statistics available, he said that Nigeria’s youths represented 60.3 per cent of its population. “Moreover, it is a great concern that about 72 per cent of Nigeria’s population live in the rural area without access to ICT– of that number, women make up about 50.2 per cent”
Uwaje said that there was an urgent need to apply career-based learning technology-driven skill education to remould West Africa. He said that building an IT critical mass in education, governance, power infrastructure, art and culture, SME Industry and citizens’ empowerment remained core strategic imperatives for the survivability of our nation.
If nations in the developing economies are to bridge the gap in the human capital development between it and the developed economies then there has to be a change of attitude for the individual, corporate and government on the development and adoption of technological tools for education in Nigeria and in African.
As the “knowledge gap” widens, technological know-how is as important in determining a high school graduate’s potential as his or her socio-economic background.