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MirandaNet Fellowship Casestudy
Educational Technology in Southern Africa
Year of posting: 2010
Abstract:This study is about the extent to which Educational Technology is used in Southern Africa in relation to the rest of the world. In some cases reference is made to the whole of Africa on account of the closeness in the similarities of the circumstances prevailing on the entire continent of Africa. Using Internet research, this study shows the yawning gap that exists between the digitization of Southern Africa and that of the rest of the world. I chose to focus on Southern Africa because that is the part of the world I come from. When I came to the U.K. I was immediately struck by the differences between the two places and desired to see where Southern Africa stood on the digitization ladder. In the course of the study I was shocked to learn that Southern Africa was in fact at the very bottom of the international league table. Unpalatable facts slapped me right across the face, such as, ‘In Africa1 in 160 use the Internet' and ‘There are still around 30 countries (worldwide) with an Internet penetration of less than 1%.' It is because of facts such as these that Africa has been referred to, rightly, as a technological desert. The study also revealed that gloomy though the picture may be, there is hope as many international organizations, including MirandaNet, are making concerted efforts to bridge the digital divide, and their efforts are already bearing fruit as the picture is changing dramatically as much of Africa makes unprecedented strides in the area of ICT.
The full study with numerous graphs and tables can be downloaded from here. Please note that it is nearly 2MB.
Before coming to the U.K. I taught for twenty years at various schools in Zimbabwe, and my experience of teaching in the U.K. helped me to understand the enormous differences that exist in the approaches to teaching and learning employed in these two vastly different parts of the world. Probably the single most important difference that stood out most starkly to me is the extent to which technology is used in education in the U.K. In almost every school I went to, the effort to marry education with technology was obvious, with a very high level of success, as exemplified by the prevalent use of the bromcom, computers, laptops, projectors, DVDs, hand-held computers, interactive white boards, Promethean boards and so on. The whole country, it seems, is awash with technological gadgets used in the classroom. It was all very impressive, nothing like anything I had seen before, yet I heard many a teacher in the schools I visited furiously complain about either the inadequacy or the age of their technological equipment. In Zimbabwe, on the other hand, any school boasting old but working computers would be accounted rich and advanced, for indeed the vast majority of schools do not possess a single computer, not even one for the administration. The poorest schools do not as much as have a single manual type-writer, or a Banda machine, and all work, including internal examinations, has to be written on the blackboard, by hand.
Faced with such a scenario, I experienced something akin to culture shock, which prompted me to want to investigate in greater detail the exact nature of the differences that existed in the education systems of these different places. A desire to find out exactly where the part of the world I come from stood on the technological ladder was birthed in me.
ICT AND EDUCATION
The world is witnessing unprecedented technological advances that are taking place in leaps and bounds. Never before have we seen the awesome developments that are sweeping through the world, touching and transforming every facet of life, to the extent that it is impossible to conceptualize a dimension of life not affected by this phenomenon. Our entire environment has become the subject of multiple and ever-recurring regeneration efforts as we endeavour to fashion the best possible world for ourselves. In this age, which has come to be known as the digital age, every aspect of our lives - from our workplaces to production and entertainment - has been influenced by technology. We have all no doubt marvelled at astounding reports of robots manufacturing cars, performing surgical operations on humans or reading printed material. We have heard about remote-controlled, unmanned spaceships that have travelled to the edge of our solar system and how, at the click of a button we send sounds, printed messages and pictures flying to the other side of the globe from mobile phone to mobile phone, reaching their intended destinations within seconds, defying the obstacles of time and distance. The technological advances we have seen are many and varied, and the areas they have influenced are too many to mention, not least of which is the educational arena. The face of education as we know it has been revolutionised, with the computer not just being fully compatible with the classroom, which it was not a few years ago, but being an integral part of it, without which a classroom is not a classroom. The interactive white board and the promethean board have superseded the traditional blackboard as the trademark of the classroom, and more educational gadgets are on the cards as we make ever-increasing strides in the area of educational technology.
The advances in educational technology pose a challenge to educators, who must respond appropriately in order to meet the challenge. What makes it more imperative for educators to meet the challenge is the fact that the young people they teach are generally more exposed to technology than their teachers, with the result that they are defter when it comes to using it. One only has to think of the vast array of computer games, MP3 players and other gadgets that young people spent their time on. The youngsters have the essential combination of time, interest and energy. On the other hand educators, by their very nature as adults with full time jobs and other commitments that make demands on their time, such as parenting, do not always have time at their disposal to develop skills or enjoy other pursuits. That explains why many a teacher has been embarrassed to realise that pupils' knowledge of gadgets such as computers, mobile phones and DVD players is way ahead of that of the teacher, who is meant to be the mentor. While it is undeniable that we do find some clever pupils who demonstrate a flair for these skills, it is helpful and wise for educators to make an effort to keep abreast of developments in communication technology.
While technological advances have been made in the field of education, different parts of the world have not experienced the some magnitude of success: some parts of the world have had more success than others. As would be expected, the developed countries have enjoyed a much greater level of success than the developing countries. It would appear that there is a direct positive correlation between the strength of the economy of a country and the level of attainment in the pace of technological advancement. It is for this reason that Africa as a whole lags way behind in the area of technological development and is, indeed, frog-leaped by many of the developments. Many of the people of Africa do not have access to the most basic forms of communication technology as they grapple with the bread and butter issues. So acute is the problem of food shortage that entertaining the idea of achieving an average level of communication technology is considered an extravagant luxury.
The purpose of this study is to investigate to what degree Southern African countries make use of educational technology in their education systems and to gauge where they are on the technological ladder in relation to other regions of the world. Southern African countries are, for the purpose of this study, interpreted to be the SADCC countries, namely Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, plus Madagascar and Comoro Islands.
I must say that while I made an effort to confine the study to southern Africa, it has not been possible to do so as strictly as I would have wanted to owing to the proximity of other African states to southern African states and the common historical background, economic activities and culture shared by the African countries. For this reason I made references to both ‘Africa' and ‘southern Africa', as it has not always been possible to separate the two.
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