Africa’s growing demand of digital literacy

June 19, 2015

In African countries like South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and Nigeria, information technology has become a necessity in classrooms.In South Africa, the continent’s most developed economy, the break-neck speed at which technological innovations are changing business in the country and society has put serious pressure on national education systems.The current Kenyan governments has recognize this and is modernizing their schools and curricula to train a future workforce that can compete in an increasingly connected and tech-dependent country starting with installation of electricity in all Primary schools before end of 2015 according to a recent report commissioned by an International education advocacy group.Simply putting technology in African classrooms is insufficient and what the continent badly need is better technology adoption policies.A decade ago, teaching kids to type quickly was considered sufficient digital training.In 2015 Africa, job market sets the digital literacy bar far higher.

Job seekers need command over word-processing and productivity software, myriad online communication platforms, a basic understanding of programming, digital graphics and design, online marketing and branding and a rapidly changing array of mobile devices. These skills are no longer add-ons but they are the new fundamentals whether your working for government or private sector.South Africa’s neighbors have recognized this. In 2014, the government of Zambia launched e-education, which is the country’s national plan to increase student access to digital learning. In Botswana, the government is investing heavily in computerization and training teachers to use ICT in the classroom. While Kenya often prides itself on being a leader in the East African region, in terms of technological advancement, the country is only in the middle of the pack.Rwanda is the regional leader in terms of technological readiness. Furthermore, there has been under-investment in infrastructure in Kenya but that is fast changing, making it very much more easier to provide the reliable electricity and Internet connectivity necessary for a successful digital education program.Of the primary and secondary schools in Kenya, roughly 90 per cent of them operate without Internet connectivity and less than 30 percent operate without electricity.

Despite these challenges, Kenya today is well positioned to make significant improvements to digital learning in the classroom over the next few years.President Uhuru Kenyatta who campaigned as a ‘digital president’ has made it clear that education is a key reform priority for his administration. Soon after taking office two and half years ago, Education Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi announced plans for the Kenya ICT-based learning platform, which aims to provide tablet devices for every class one Primary school pupils in Kenya to prepare them for a technology-oriented workforce.No doubt as techie, I can say learning should take local factors into account.Teachers must be trained properly in using ICT with a reliable support system. Otherwise, the technology will remain in the cupboard or inventory case. The initial near-term response to the Professor Jacob Kaimenyi call to action should be using technology to improve teaching methods. Despite primary school enrollment rates of 90 percent in 2014, Kenya’s education system is not producing sufficient learning outcomes, largely because it tends to be excessively teacher-centered and focused on rote memorization.

Overall, in Africa, technology should be used to significantly reduce the cost and improve the quality of professional teacher training.In almost all countries, teachers are required to travel to regional training programs, cheaper and more regular collaboration and development can now be done through online video conferencing tools. Contador Harrison is involved in a E-Learning project in two Sub Saharan Africa countries where teachers and students will use technology to supports their learning process.Educators will also be able to use technology as a tool to supplement their lessons with different modalities of audio, visual and tactile learning. For schools without reliable Internet, our idea is to send a periodic email with teaching material and lesson plans to support teachers and increase creativity in the classroom. Given the current state of unreliable Internet connectivity in African countries, the choice of devices we have selected include options with off-line capability.To integrate technology effectively, teachers in Africa will need financial and conceptual support from school principals and supervisors, most of them tend to under-prioritize technology and are generally allergic to it. To change this,African countries should consider investing in pilot examples of digitized classrooms, as well as socializing technology uptake at principal and supervisor conferences and training events. The technocrats in education sector need to provide policy, land and infrastructure for communication towers and the development of support systems for schools.

There are a number of private sector and civil society organizations already supporting the digitalization of education in countries like Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, Ghana among others that can be leveraged. In Tanzania, the leading information and communications technology companies are supplying innovative technology and funding large-scale education programs.One of them is planning to establish pilot digital learning rooms, provide free software to students and support teacher and principal training in digital learning.Africa, a continent I have at heart, is well positioned to make significant progress over the next few years modernizing its primary and secondary schools as well as Universities and build a 21st century workforce. Private sector companies and academia are already contributing resources and solutions. What the continent need now is strong leadership to drive improvements in its education system using technological solutions. Technology is a tool that can be used to better train teachers, and for teachers to use to better educate students. It’s time for African countries to modernize its education system in order to prepare future generations for a globalized and computerized world.

Contador Harrison