The Society for Promotion of Education and Development (SPED) is a Nigeria-based NGO that brings Information and Communication Technology tools to underprivileged school children. The director, Okafor Toochukwu Patrick, has attended eLearning Africa since its inception and has watched how people across the Continent are adopting ICT tools in ever more creative and cooperative ways. On his recent trip to Germany for the ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN conference, he caught up with eLearning Africa and shared his thoughts on SPED’s work, eLA and the value of technology as the driving force in education.
What does SPED do?
SPED promotes public-private partnerships for education and development. It’s a national NGO based in Nigeria with offices in Abuja and Lagos. We aim to provide underprivileged children with the same access to ICT as their peers in private schools.
What are the main barriers that your organisation is facing in trying to increase access to ICT in schools?
In most public schools there is low usage of ICT because of a lack of funding, facilities, infrastructure and accessibility. These are the things we are trying to address to ensure that children from less privileged backgrounds and schools can have access to technology, which is the driving force for development.
Lack of awareness of ICT is another barrier we encounter. We are currently working in a public primary school in Abuja. But it would be to your greatest surprise that such a school sitting in the heart of the city is still not aware of the importance of ICT education. So SPED is trying to make sure that the school has access to computers: You can’t do eLearning without the basic materials. So the entry point is for them to have access to the materials.
I recently brought a laptop with me to visit a school, and a child mistook the laptop for a TV. This shows that there is no formal ICT education in that school. We decided to seek support for the giving of computers to the schools, and teach the lecturers and teachers, because most of them are not aware of the need for ICT education.
In Nigeria the curriculum also covers ICT. But how many of the schools actually use it?
Every family seeks to make sure that their children attend primary school, but what about the quality of the education they receive? The child should have access to ICT to enable them to make contact with the other fellow over the wall, and the poverty level will reduce. So what we’re trying to do is bridge the gap between the poor schools and the rich schools through ICT.
How would you describe the impact that eLearning Africa has had on Nigeria and the Continent?
eLearning Africa is an awakening call to all ministers of education in all the countries of Africa. In Nigeria we have a federal level committee on eLearning, and it is now very much part of the educational system of Africa. Once the Minister of education and policymakers recognised the role of eLearning in driving development to the next level, they assembled experts and professionals to advise the Nigerian government on the way forward for eLearning.
I think the impact is increasing, but there is still some way to go. Some think that eLearning is about buying a computer and keeping it on your desk. Most of us who have been attending ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN and eLearning Africa have a newer, fresher orientation: a computer is one type of tool for eLearning. By attending eLearning Africa and OEB, we are able to learn new ideas from professionals and colleagues around the world.
Every year we keep on adding value to our service, and we take what we have learnt back to our country. It is no doubt that technology is the driving force behind development.
What are your expectations of eLA 2012?
eLA 2012 is of great importance; not only to Benin but also to some of the west African countries, and the Continent as a whole.
Involving the state ministers of education and commissioners on ICT and technology will serve as a reawakening: They will see the importance of the new trend of ICT. And once they return to their country, because it is a policy issue, they are the ones to make it flow and give it some much-needed publicity.
As the leading eLearning conference in Africa, everybody will want to associate themselves with it. I’m sure it will be one of the most successful eLA conferences.