As the 8th edition of eLearning Africa drew to a close on Friday evening, delegates gathered together for one last time for a spirited show of wit, cunning and intellectual gymnastics, as experts squared up to each other at the yearly eLearning Africa Debate.
By Alicia Mitchell
The provocative motion of this year’s debate was: “This House believes that sustainability is more important than innovation for education in Africa” and throwing the proverbial punches in favour were Dr Maggy Beukes-Amiss, Head of Department and a Lecturer in the Department of Information and Communication Studies at the University of Namibia, and Donald Clark, an agitative blogger and writer from the UK. Leading the opposition were Dr Adele Botha, principal researcher at CSIR Meraka, and Angelo Gitonga, Deputy Head of ICT for Education Unit in the Kenya’s Ministry of Education.
Starting in 2009, over 4,000 people have now taken part in the yearly eLearning Africa Debate. This year, each speaker had an opportunity to take to the microphone and lay down their persuasive, if not always sincerely held, arguments under the watchful eyes of the Namibian Deputy Minister of Education, Silvia Makgone, and Dr Harold Elletson, initiator and seasoned chairperson of the eLearning Africa Debate series. In amongst the high-spirits of the occasion there were serious arguments posed by both sides and the audience was treated to a broad scope of opinion on the motion that reflected many of the discussions and presentations that took place during the conference.
Taking the lead, Donald Clark kicked off the proceedings by comparing innovation to an “annoying and short-lived” mosquito, whilst choosing a far more mellow and agreeable tortoise as the representative of sustainability. Despite some distracting buzzing noises which seemed to emanate from the direction of his opponents, Clark pressed on to pick holes in some widely-lauded beacons of innovation. He then went on to point towards the dangers of high costs and low return, at least for the intended beneficiaries, which can often befall such headline-grabbing projects.
Unperturbed by this performance, Angelo Gitonga took to the podium and made sure that the audience was under no doubt about what the real meaning of innovation is. “Innovations are processes we undertake to sort out the problems we encounter on a daily basis,” he declared, “Innovations are not inventions”. Technology in and of itself, Gitonga argued, is not innovation. Using his microphone as a persuasive case in point, he explained that the microphone may be an invention but using it to be heard by a large audience across a large space was the true innovation.
The third speaker to make her case was Maggy Beukes-Amiss, who refused to dilute the argument for sustainability, comparing herself and her team mate to an exclusive single malt whiskey that should be savoured on its own, and never mixed.
The final expert to lay down the gauntlet was Adele Botha, as she descended from the stage to walk amongst the audience and bring them along with her on a charge against the competing team. Whipping up general support, Botha spoke on behalf of her fellow Africans and their inherent inclination towards innovation, declaring to the crowd, “we are born innovators, we do not become innovators!” She went on to insist that innovation will be done “our way: by Africans, for Africans”, and cast the closing blow as she kindly let Clark and Beukes-Amiss know that, once she and her fellows had found out what best practice looked like for Africa, they would share it with them, “when it’s done”.
The presentations were followed by an animated round of questions both for and against the motion and both serious and light-hearted. Finally, it came down to the two chairs to call for a vote and announce the winners. Although it was a close run thing, it was decided that the house had failed the motion, and that the innovative mosquitoes had come out ahead of their slower tortoise colleagues.
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It was an active debate and it has given people the opportunity to share the ideas toward the topic. It was indeed a good interaction .In my view both innovation and sustainability should work hand in hand for better education in Africa.