The latest edition of eLearning Africa’s News Portal has several interesting previews of what will be presented and discussed at the conference. I’ve picked out just a few – for more items and better information on the ones I’ve mentioned go to the News Portal.
The World Bank in Africa
Michael Trucano, the World Bank’s Senior ICT and Education Policy Specialist, will deliver a keynote speech that sets out some of the work that the World Bank is doing to support e-elearning in Africa. (Some of you may be familiar with Michael’s excellent blog. He makes a number of interesting points about the potential in Africa in the News Portal:
‘The global “potential” for IT/ITES outsourcing is currently estimated at US$500 billion, only 15 percent of which seems to have been tapped; and is expected to treble to US$1.5 to 1.6 trillion by 2020….The lack of skilled manpower is a binding constraint to realising the potential of the sector. The soon-to-be-completed submarine fiber optic cable networks around Africa and the terrestrial backbone networks that are now being laid promise a new era of affordable, high speed broadband connectivity throughout the Continent. Many African countries therefore hope to claim a slice of the global IT-ITES business.’
To help meet this challenge, the World Bank, through its ‘New Economy Skills for Africa’ program, is hoping to train young Africans in ‘globally benchmarked, employable skills for the Information Technology (IT) and IT Enabled Services (ITES) industry – sectors that can create thousands of new jobs and catalyze economic and social transformation.’
African research on the integration of technologies for teaching in schools
The size of the challenge faced though in developing new economy skills is highlighted by research conducted by Dr Kofi Damian Mereku, Associate Professor in Mathematics Education at the University of Education, Winneba, Ghana on The Congruence Between the Intended, Implemented and Attained ICT Curricula in Sub-Saharan Africa, another paper to be presented at the conference.
Over the last fifteen years a broad tendency within the ICT and education sector has been to focus on getting technology into classrooms at the expense of focusing on how it is used once it is there. Put simply, deployment of technological infrastructure has been prioritised over effective integration….Perhaps 80 percent of the time, energy and expertise within an initiative will be spent on ensuring that deployment takes place effectively. That leaves 20 percent of time, energy and resources for the issue of effective utilisation and integration of that technology……A radical realignment of both project planning and budgetary allocation is required in many contexts, with sufficient resources made available for ongoing training and support….Compartmentalising and introducing technology into educational institutions in a manner that slots into pre-existing curricula structures as an additional subject has significant limitations
I should say that this is not something that had not been discovered before, but somehow it never seems to get through to sponsors or program developers when it comes to funding such initiatives.
However, what is encouraging is that there will be more of the important research being done by Professor Mereku and colleagues from across Africa through the Education Research Network for West and Central Africa (ERNWACA). Teacher training is critical, especially when they are dealing with average class sizes of between 60-90 students, as is common in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa.
For me, Professor Merehu’s research raises the whole question about the balance of funding between teacher training and the implementation of technology. The training must come first, otherwise the technology won’t get used. However, often teacher training has to come out of an impoverished national budget, while the technology funding comes from wealthy countries or sponsoring organizations. Somehow that cycle has to be broken and that really is an issue for the external sponsors, otherwise more harm than good will be done.
There are several other fascinating articles in this edition of the News Portal. In particular, there are several projects that focus on avoiding the formal system altogether, through the use of mobile phones for non-formal agricultural and health training – so got to the News Portal itself for more news on these initaitives.
Try to get to the conference
I have spent many years travelling to conferences around the world, and try to avoid this now as much as possible, but if there was one conference I would love to go to each year, it would be eLearning Africa. Send me a postcard – or even better a blog – if you get there.