Adopting a holistic approach to technology in education

Just as technology is defining the pace of life and work, it is also defining education. If we want youth in Africa to compete on the world stage, we need to give them the tools to empower themselves to do so.

By Samba Guissé, Education Lead, Microsoft West and Central Africa Region

At Microsoft, we see tremendous potential for technology in Africa to transform education, and we’re passionate about turning this potential into a reality on the Continent. We believe this will be fuelled by innovative teaching practices that provide students with learning experiences that promote 21st century skills.

Providing teachers and learners with access to technology is paramount; providing future-ready technology skills to students that will help them to be successful in college and in their careers is critical; and helping governments implement ICT practices that further education priorities and spur innovative solutions to barriers to learning is imperative. This forms the foundation of our holistic approach to technology in education in Africa.

Access to technology

Educators everywhere want the same thing: technology tools that help them and their students achieve more. Educators are striving to prepare their students for the 21st century workplace, most-often in the context of strained budgets, a lack of available IT resources and the demand for energy efficiency. Cloud services – often available at low to no cost – and shared-resource computing offer a way to address these challenges.

For example, students and teachers at the University of Cape Verde and MIT University in Senegal are using Live@edu – a no-cost cloud service – as the official communication tool for all teachers, staff and students as well as alumni. Live@edu users receive access to the Outlook Live email service, providing Outlook Web Access co-branded with the school’s name and logo. It also includes other collaboration and communication tools, such as calendars, document sharing, instant messaging, video chat and mobile email.

At Limamou Laye High School in Dakar, Senegal, teachers are using Live@edu to create a 21st century campus, enabling collaboration spaces between students and teachers. Here, Mr Wahad Diop, a Physics and Chemistry Teacher, is using SkyDrive to share exam results with students in real-time. Where he used to spend two hours, he now spends ten minutes.

Shared-resource computing is another way teachers are helping to create the 21st century campus – not to mention do more with less – and is a perfect solution for schools grappling to extend PC reach to their students. Windows Multipoint Server 2011 is one example of shared-resource computing technology that’s rapidly growing in popularity across the Continent given its affordability and ease of integration into learning environments. In the next year, we anticipate the roll-out of nearly 20,000 seats of Windows Multipoint Server 2011 in Senegal, Ivory Coast and Cape Verde alone.

Future-ready tech skills

Microsoft is also partnering with governments and donors throughout Africa to train and develop unemployed and recent graduates in IT skills and competencies to help them integrate the workforce and who will contribute to the development of local knowledge economies.

We believe that no other investment promises a bigger return than an investment in skills – in the community, in the classroom or in the workplace. This belief is the foundation of our IT Academy program – a global college- and career-ready education programme designed to provide students with the 21st century technology skills necessary to acquire certification and be competitive in today’s rapidly evolving workplace. The IT Academy Program also provides educators and staff with professional development opportunities.

Microsoft has launched several IT Academies on the Continent, most recently in Ivory Coast, at Pigierci College, Abidjan, a facility which serves students in Senegal as well.

Additionally, we’re working in collaboration with the European Space Agency Project in the Ivory Coast to provide more than 200 schools and their surrounding communities with enhanced learning opportunities through “e-schools” – both a physical learning centre, and a set of partnerships between the school and the community, which utilise ICT for greater education efficiency and social benefits. For our part, we’re providing relevant technology (Live@edu, Windows Multipoint Server) and training curricula for teachers to facilitate digital literacy.

Furthering government education priorities via effective ICT

Countries in Africa face unique challenges in implementing and maintaining ICT systems due an insufficiently ICT-skilled workforce and lack of infrastructure. On the other hand, development of a skilled workforce and building proper infrastructure hinges on quality ICT systems. We’re seeing promising signs that some countries in Africa are escaping the ‘technology trap’ thanks to a number of key government-driven interventions.

Take the example of the Senegal Ministry of Education, a government body which acknowledges the need for effective ICT adoption. The Ministry has taken significant measures to develop staff ICT skills and systems in recent years and is in the process of implementing an Education Management Information System (EMIS) aimed broadly at improving communication, knowledge exchange, insights and analytics, as well as teacher training and the tracking of student progress nationally.

21st Century learning and beyond

While Africa grapples with unique challenges in the education sector, we see significant opportunity – and the potential for ICT to thrust teachers and learners on the Continent into a new era of education – with the possibility to embrace 21st century learning, and to be leaders and innovators in future generations of learning.

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