Is the Internet now so important to the way we interact in the world that it is the number one necessity for education? Should connecting to the Internet be at the top of the agenda for Africa’s schools – or does the drive to provide access overshadow other equally important educational hurdles? With our modern obsession with connectivity, are we neglecting the fact that what many schools in Africa need is better-qualified teachers, better-equipped classrooms and focus on the merits of a traditional education?
by Alasdair MacKinnon
Issues such as these will be at the heart of the eLearning Africa Debate 2014, with its provocative motion “this house believes that there is now nothing more important to education than access to the Internet”.
Statistics from the eLearning Africa Report 2014 – to be launched on 29th May, the day before the debate – suggest a level of support for this motion. Just under a third of surveyed teachers identified the Internet as the key improvement their school was in need of. However, it was by no means the only concern respondents identified.
While the power of the Internet as a learning tool is not a matter of debate, we are still a long way from knowing whether Internet access alone can provide the quality of education given in a traditional classroom setting.
While there has been much evidence of “leapfrogging” in Africa’s telecommunications circles of late – whereby the wired stage of Internet development is bypassed – the question remains for those involved in education: is it really possible to leapfrog the establishment of traditional learning methods and institutions, and move straight into eLearning?
This is a view suggested by many of the famous eLearning experiments of recent years – among them Sugata Mitra’s “hole-in-the-wall”, which showed that an Internet connection alone can indeed provide a basis for education. Recent criticism of the long-term efficacy of his innovation, however, has cast doubt on the experiment’s findings as a basis for future development.
This is a motion that pits the idealists against the realists – those that believe that the Internet is capable of replacing out-dated modes of learning, and those who see it as a tool for enhancing, improving and advancing existing, proven methods.
And it is a motion that goes to the heart of what learning is about in Africa. Large-scale education development in the continent has, in the run-up to 2015, been focused on school-building, the expansion of bricks-and-mortar infrastructure in the effort to attain the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education.
The results of this drive have been impressive in sub-Saharan Africa – with enrolment increasing by 18% from 1999-2008, and the number of children out of primary, as a percentage of the under-14 population, down from 15% in 2000 to 8% in 2011. But beside the easily-measured statistics, concerns have been raised about the quality of the education newly provided under the development programme. Newly-built primary schools may lack resources, electricity, teachers and Internet – all factors which can undermine the progress that has been made.
Also difficult to measure is the amount of informal learning that goes on beside the traditional classroom structure – learning which is increasingly reliant on the Internet. In places where the education system is inadequate or irrelevant, the Internet can now provide a crucial channel of information, allowing the new generation to learn what they need, when they need it.
Clearly, this many-faceted question requires a diverse panel of debaters, and this year’s expert orators are just that – ranging in age from 27 to 74. Stepping to the podium in its support of the motion will be Professor Venasius Baryamureeba of the Uganda Technology and Management University and Welsh grandmother Valerie Wood-Gaiger, MBE, the founder of “Learn with Grandma”; the opposition will be represented by South African teacher and blogger Athambile Masola and Dr Peter Bateman of the Association of International Schools in Africa.
Always one of the most popular events, the Friday Debate – to take place from 17:45 to 19:15 on May 30th – is also your chance to make your voice heard: participation from the audience is always welcome. But don’t just wait for the event – tell us what you think right away in the comments box below!
The eLearning Africa Report 2014 will be launched at an exclusive event on May 29th at 10:30 in the eLearning Africa Exhibition Area (Victoria Ballroom, Speke Resort Conference Centre)
Pick up your FREE copy – visit the Information Desk with the voucher included in your conference badge.
The Report will then be made available for free download at www.elearning-africa.com/report2014