Anyone involved in eLearning will be familiar with the challenge: A new technology is introduced into a school accompanied by a lot of energy and enthusiasm, but over time it doesn’t quite get utilised in the way the proponents anticipated. Understanding the reasons behind this is central to enhancing our effectiveness. In this second article introducing the new research stream at eLearning Africa, David Hollow profiles a presentation from Dr Kofi Damian Mereku, Associate Professor in Mathematics Education at the University of Education, Winneba, Ghana. It focuses on an innovative research project investigating the gap between intended and realised ICT curricula in different African countries.
By David Hollow
We all recognise the transformative potential of technology in education, but so often new initiatives fall short of their potential to deliver. Professor Mereku’s presentation The Congruence Between the Intended, Implemented and Attained ICT Curricula in Sub-Saharan Africa will provide conference participants with a valuable opportunity to learn about the integration of ICT into teaching and learning in institutions across Africa. What are the common challenges faced across countries? What are those specific to national contexts? How can we learn from the experience of others and incorporate the benefits of their hard-learnt lessons into our practice?
Professor Mereku will share knowledge from across six countries, with 117 institutions participating in the research that was undertaken with the Education Research Network for West and Central Africa (ERNWACA). In addition, the presentation will provide a useful introduction to the wider PanAfrican Research Agenda on the pedagogical integration of ICT (www.observatoiretic.org).This initiative exists in order to undertake research and publish information regarding the state of technology in African educational contexts. In institutions that have access to ICT, what is being done with them, and how are they being used to enhance the quality of teaching and learning?
Professor Mereku’s research is highly relevant because it touches a central issue across the conference: the question of how to operate in a way that ensures effective integration of ICT into education. As we all know, effective integration is very different from effective deployment! 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.
There are understandable reasons for this: Every intervention has limited resources. 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.Of course both aspects are vital, and deployment has to precede integration, but the issue is one of weighting and prioritisation. 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.
As many conference participants will agree, overemphasising deployment means that teachers are unlikely to receive full training, will not be confident with the new technology and are therefore more likely to view it as best approached within the confines of a discreet subject. Compartmentalising and introducing technology into educational institutions in a manner that slots into pre-existing curricula structures as an additional subject has significant limitations. In persisting with the model of teaching ICT as a single subject it is only possible to scratch the surface of the educational potential of technology.
At eLearning Africa, we will discuss with Professor Mereku why it happens so often. In my personal experience, the main reason is because pursuing another route requires additional effort and energy. The training of teachers is too often viewed as a brief, box-ticking exercise that accompanies deployment: driven from the top-down, with little regard for actual teacher needs.
Asking teachers to adapt to new technology is a big challenge. Teachers should be recognised as lifelong learners– in order to keep growing and developing in the use of technology in education,they need to keep receiving the training required to help that happen. They also need to be remunerated for that training. Providing financial incentive is an important aspect of sustaining motivation for teachers’ participation in training programmes that are undertaken in addition to their normal workload.
It has been suggested by certain technology enthusiasts that the role of the teacher is increasingly obsolete. Reflecting on Professor Mereku’s research, it seems that nothing could be further from the truth. Teachers remain vital guides within the learning process. The ways in which teaching is undertaken needs to undergo a fundamental shift. Technology has a vital assistive role to play in the process of change away from outdated didactic approaches. But this recognition should never be confused with the flawed notion that technology replaces teachers.Indeed, the opposite is true: realising the transformative potential of technology in education requires well motivated teachers who have been trained in a manner that equips them to be effective teachers for the 21st century.
It is worth remembering the stark reality that the average primary school class in sub-Saharan Africa has 44 pupils. In many countries this is much higher, with 67 pupils per teacher in Malawi, 69 in Rwanda, and 90 in the Central African Republic. The lack of properly trained teachers is an urgent crisis:In several countries, including Ghana and Nigeria, only half of primary school teachers have received proper training.
Realising the transformative potential of ICT in education is dependent on effective integration, and effective integration is dependent on effective teacher training.
There is an important role for critical self-assessment in this regard. Do the initiatives that we are involved with prioritise integration over deployment and recognise the significance of ongoing teacher training?
The research stream at eLearning Africa, exemplified by Professor Mereku’s groundbreaking research, is full of such examples: Innovative projects where technology is being driven by educational priorities. Make sure you join the eLA research stream: to learn, participate and shape the conversation.