Microsoft has been involved in eLearning and ICT for development in Africa in a variety of ways for many years, be it in ‘Training the trainer’ workshops for teachers, in eGovernment initiatives or in the development of new technologies. Here, Mark Matunga, Education Manager for Microsoft East & Southern Africa (ESA) speaks about the significant progress that has been made in Africa, persisting barriers and misconceptions, as well as his expectations for the upcoming eLearning Africa conference in Tanzania.
eLA: What are some of the most significant developments you have seen in eLearning and ICT in the last few years, and what trends do you think will impact education in the next few years?
Mark Matunga: There has been a shift in the way the world at large sees Africa when it comes to development and the realisation that for real change to occur, it needs to be completely sustainable.
Great strides have been made in recent years in terms of breaking down the barriers to physical accessibility to computing resources, as well as access to knowledge. There has been significant investment into providing ICT education to educators themselves so that they can not only pass the knowledge on, but understand how to maximise the benefit of the various technologies in the classroom.
In coming years, a higher availability of bandwidth across the Continent will create the opportunity for eLearning in the truest sense of the word, but there will still be considerable challenges to overcome in order to make this a reality for all African children.
In addition, as IT industries grow in African countries, governments will need to make sure they receive the necessary education to manage this growth and keep facilitating healthy expansion.
Innovation, and an investment in innovation by all parties involved in education and ICT development, is the only way we will see substantial progress in African terms of the Millennium Development Goals and education in particular.
eLA: How are Microsoft’s various initiatives and investments geared towards this?
Mark Matunga: We are applying our innovation expertise and our partnerships through a number of on-going eLearning and ICT development initiatives across Africa. Some examples include:
- The Partners in Learning programme, which has been in operation since 2003, provides access to technology in teaching and learning via interactive tools and enhanced content. It provides ‘Train the trainer’ workshops in which teachers receive ICT training so that they can in turn train their colleagues – spreading the benefits of ICT through a tailored curriculum developed by Microsoft. The centrepiece for the Partners in Learning programme is Microsoft’s Annual Worldwide Innovative Educators Forum which helps teachers and school leaders more effectively use technology as a tool for innovative teaching and learning.
· Microsoft has also partnered with several governments and development organisations to provide basic capacity building and skills enhancement for government employees – thus facilitating the roll-out of eGovernment initiatives.
- Microsoft has developed new technology for shared resource computing in education, which allows for significant saving through lower hardware costs and on-going operating expenses. It makes use of one computer’s power to support a number of users at once – and is tailored for an environment characterised by lack of funding for new computers, a restricted technology budget, limited training opportunities and the need for energy efficiency.
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Educators all over the world are looking for ways to incorporate technology into the classroom to give their students a foundation for lifelong success in a global, knowledge-based economy. But in many schools, the high cost of technology, coupled with budget constraints, can limit student access to the latest technology.
Windows® MultiPoint Server™ 2011 can reduce the total cost of educational computing by 66%, compared to a traditional 1:1 computing environment. By allowing multiple users to simultaneously share one computer – each with his or her own independent Windows experience – educational institutions can afford to give every student individual access to PCs. And that means schools around the world can boost achievement and global competitiveness.
The Microsoft stand at eLearning Africa will feature Windows MultiPoint Server 2011 – come and find out more about empowering your teachers and engaging your students.
eLA: What are some of the misconceptions about ICT – and education – in Africa?
Mark Matunga: Many of the misconceptions that existed in the past have been overturned in recent years but there is still a prevailing perception that Africa’s problems would be solved by merely taking products and solutions developed for the Western world and trying to fit them into the African context. We have seen this to be completely impractical in many situations and have found ourselves having to re-evaluate the appropriateness of certain technologies and tailor solutions to meet the unique demands of the environment.
I think everyone that is deeply involved in ICT development in Africa is struck by the catch-22 that although we need to bring 21st century technology to the Continent to address its challenges, the reality is that those same challenges prevent this from being done – unless of course, we find innovative ways to do it. A prime example, there is no benefit to be derived from computers whatsoever if there isn’t access to an adequate power supply.
Also, people tend to think of Africa as innately ‘behind’ the rest of the world; that the Continent relies on the Western world for guidance. In fact, there has been a great deal of innovation that has stemmed from Africa and has the potential to influence other nations to utilise their resources more effectively.
One example: Samuel Avomyo, a teacher from the Maabang Senior High School in Ghana was awarded first prize in the ‘Innovation in Community’ category at the 2010 Pan-African Innovative Education Forum for his work with students using technology to identify and share new ways local rural food processing plants in Ghana could maximise their profit through quality packaging, product marketing strategies and proper record-keeping.
eLA: What do you hope the eLearning Africa conference will achieve, and what do you hope to gain from it?
Mark Matunga: I am really looking forward to collaborating with all the different stakeholders from around the Continent, sharing perspectives and learning from their stories, ideas and experiences.
eLearning Africa is a great forum for discussion and networking – but it is important that we all remember that while these events are important, it is what we actually do with what we take away from them that really matters.