Africa’s Schools – Discussing Facets of a Key Component of the Continent’s Future

Photo by Aina Oluwagbenga

For centuries, people have assumed that “learning” was something that happened in “schools.” In 1999, however, when the letter “e” (short for “electronic”) was added for the for the first time to “learning”, there was an earthquake, which has now resulted in many people questioning whether bricks-and-mortar schools actually have a future at all any more. The unprecedented closure of traditional schools during the COVID pandemic has brought the issue to the forefront of debate about the future of education.

Schools that favour ‘traditional learning‘ and those that make the maximum possible use of new learning scenarios are both part of Africa’s education landscape and, for the foreseeable future, they will continue to develop side by side – and to learn from each other.

eLearning Africa 2022 will offer discussion space for themes of direct relevance to Africa’s schools. The various thematic areas and their topics include, among others:

Digital Development of Soft Skills in Schools

At eLearning Africa, you will have the opportunity to discover how schools incorporate different models to teaching and learning soft skills that are crucial throughout life and how its implementation has clearly had positive results in schools. It became clear that most school students did not have a wide range of urgently needed 21st century skills such as undertaking research, as well as capabilities like being creative, problem solving, and effective time management.

The speakers will scrutinize whether today’s African schools are engaging and preparing students for tomorrow’s world, as well as how schools can rethink the purpose of education in Africa in general. The presentations will focus on initiatives that enable students to learn, while developing soft skills – such as creativity, innovation, and critical thinking – that will benefit them for their entire lives.

Participants will learn how institutional leaders can embrace disruptive strategies in their schools to implement ICT policies in their schools to use technologies that effectively promote true 21st century learning.

Furthermore, we will look at how self-development skills associated with how students think, feel, and behave, and how they interact with others, e.g. how students practice expressing curiosity, or learning from setbacks and how mentors can help students develop skills such as self-management through goal setting and reflection.

Attendees will be able to learn how to create an enabling environment and embrace new methodologies, as well as gain a better understanding of how students are able to develop soft skills in a digital world, inspiring students and teachers to create and collaborate, contributing to preparing next-generation students who are information, media, and technology savvy.

Teachers and school leaders will expand their awareness and knowledge of creative teaching methodologies and gain insight into how to deal with the psychosocial and socio-emotional impacts of the Covid catastrophe on learners.

The session will provide attendees with insights on the implementation of feasible, yet creative and innovative methods for online learning, including educational content for young people who are out-of-school or in non-formal educational settings.

Outstanding Initiatives in Schools in Both Rural and Urban Areas

In the recent period, millions of children have been left behind because they could not access remote learning in any form. In many African countries this has led to increased inequalities in the way educational infrastructure and information communication technology (ICT) is distributed.

We will examine how schools in remote areas can strive towards making the SDG Goal 4 a reality and how technology can assist disadvantaged communities that are seeking concrete ways to implement ICTs. This exchange will also analyse the best means to address digital inequality by incorporating AI in schools, to implement innovative ideas, and to explore the role of ICTs for skills development.

The discussions will give an overview of the education and skills that can be implemented in rural communities and the role of ICTs, including the support needed, the potential impact these initiatives have, and evidence-based outcomes. Which are the implications on how children in disadvantaged schools can participate in this global development and ultimately on the realisation of SDG Goal 4?

The initiatives include the need to promote AI in basic schools and the call to train and foster an AI-literate population, by assessing how teachers integrate ICT into the classroom and their preparedness to integrate AI into teaching. The aim is to start an African conversation on how best to address digital inequality and Artificial Intelligence for education on the African continent in the long run.

A different initiative will show an innovative idea for using technology to educate and to connect schools and families through home-schooling and online lessons, train teachers on issues related to the use of technology in children’s learning. Participants will learn how to connect with remote teachers and how they are trained in various skill areas so that they can take education to those who are disadvantaged, providing content and other necessities to reach children in rural communities.

The audience will see outstanding initiatives of using technology to support rural communities to assist in creating future technology inroads into rural Africa and will inspire and enable participants to conduct similar projects in their own settings.

Assessment Solutions in Schools

The COVID-19 outbreak caused schools to close, temporarily shutting off formal learning to millions of children. This led to a high risk of children repeating classes and/or dropping out of school. Suggestions will be made regarding the development, implementation, and scale up processes of technology-based assessment resources, and attendees will learn how to manage assessment data and support student learning recovery. Teachers, decision makers, and other education specialists will receive inspiration as to how using a proper assessment solution in schools can benefit students in the formal learning environment.

Participants will be enlightened on the development, implementation, and scale-up processes of technology-based assessment resources and information-management systems. In brief, attendees will learn more about using an online system to manage assessment data and support student learning recovery.

This discussion will show the processes and phases of how to implement assessment practices to thousands of children. It will inform teachers and decision makers on the use of a proper assessment solution based on the concept of formative assessment that can help improve students’ learning in any environment. 

Furthermore, for scenarios with unreliable access to the internet, assessment solutions offered through an offline USSD system, which is accessible through basic telephones, will be showcased.

Boosting Teachers’ Digital Literacy

Digital technology has revolutionized education and created new opportunities to communicate, share and access information – and to learn. African national education systems are generally ready to meet current demands, but to achieve this, it will be necessary for teachers to be digitally literate and to realize that digital skills – together with the pedagogical use of ICTs – are crucial for their students’ futures – and their own.

Researchers have consistently found that teacher effectiveness is the critical component in improving student achievement, but the question of assessing teacher effectiveness has remained enigmatic. As the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged teachers to shift instruction to online learning platforms, it has exposed the need for professional learning opportunities to help them adapt to this “new normal.” Practically overnight, the COVID-19 pandemic has made an already widening skills gap exponentially wider. 

The digital pedagogical landscape is ever evolving, and if Africa is to meet the current demands of its educational systems, it is imperative to shift the focus away from merely providing ICT skills training for teachers. Instead, educators need to work systematically at local levels to increase the repertoire of effective pedagogical use of ICT.

Even if today’s African teachers, students, and institutions are using ICT tools for learning, teaching, and administrative purposes, how can they set up a strategy to address the various challenges of implementing ICT in the education sector?  

Furthermore, the discussion will look at the nature of what African teachers are doing to bridge the gap due to the lack of digital tools in the African context. With supportive devices often limited to projectors and mobile phones, teachers deploy the available resources to deliver the content to students. Special attention will be paid to the role of innovative digital tools. This exchange will also empower participants to use available resources to design the digital setting in the classroom and employ asynchronous versus synchronous approaches in teaching and learning.

This exchange will re-emphasize how digital literacy improves the quality of education and increases the chances of success. 

Pathways to Inclusion in Schools

Inclusion has become an increasingly important topic in education globally, with each land and locale possessing its own distinctive features that demand appropriate individual solutions. Diverse and subtle barriers are in place worldwide that frequently defy simple, straightforward definition, and thus render the boundaries of exclusion hard – and sometimes politically uncomfortable – to delineate. The focal point of the discussions will be steps that need to be taken in the process of making school education more inclusive by empowering students through formal, technology-supported programmes.

What steps need to be taken to make education more inclusive? What is the role of digital technologies in inclusive education? And how can teachers become active participants in the inclusion-development process in the 21st century?

This discussion explores the most important topics and results identified in a research project called “Roads to the Inclusive School of the 21st Century: An Ethnographic Approach” that analysed the pathways for effective contributions to inclusion in schools. Among many others, these “roads” include new professions and roles in schools; the role of the family and the community to boost inclusion; school management as main actors; educating future teachers based on examination of what they and other educators need to break the barriers to inclusion; appropriate accreditation processes; and many more.

It will be discussed how it is of utmost importance – especially in Africa – to make provision to empower students and individuals with special education needs (SEN) through formal inclusive and technology-supported education. Leaders of society and educators in particular need to ensure that barriers to learning for children with SEN are eliminated as much as possible, a process that will start by raising awareness and training teachers and support staff.

This discussion is planned as a highly interactive session to elucidate how empowering students with Special Education Needs will empower African society by opening the door for unique talents and creative, innovative minds that will contribute significantly to the future of both Africa and the world.

Furthermore, attendees will explore appropriate inclusive practices to empower individuals with Special Education Needs in schools and at home, especially in the post Covid-19 environment.

Offline educational apps appropriate for children living with disabilities will also be introduced, accompanied by examples of how self-directed eLearning impacted these special needs students and the improvement of inclusion in the classroom in general.

Participants will also learn from evidence that self-directed eLearning not only improves cognitive skills such as math and literacy, but also non-cognitive skills, including self-confidence, intrinsic motivation, and the level of educational aspiration.

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