As the conference drew to a close on Friday night, participants came together for one final showdown. The annual eLearning Africa Debate is a grand finale not to be missed, and as the audience settled down and the speakers took to the stage to take on the controversial motion, the anticipation was palpable.
by Alicia Mitchell
Professor Venasius Baryamureeba, of the Uganda Technology and Management University (UTAMU), opened the floor in defence of the motion. He started out by stating that everything – politics, education and business – is going online, and the best universities in the world have already put their libraries online. Therefore, he argued, “any school that decides not to go online will be out-competed in a few years.”
Dr Peter Bateman, from the Association of International Schools in Africa (AISA), Kenya, responded by setting out five things that he said were more important than the Internet, with the number one position being held by “YOU”: addressing the educators present, Dr Bateman asked, “will the Internet ever be more important than well-trained professionals?”
Next to take the podium was Valerie Wood-Gaiger MBE, founder of Learn with Grandma. Having just completed a month-long tour of Uganda, Valerie described how coming to Uganda was the cherry on the cake which, by using the Internet to arrange meetings and make plans, was already baked before she even left her home in Wales. She urged the audience to take action and become leaders in their communities, working to share the vast knowledge that the Internet gave them access to.
The final speaker, Athambile Masola, a high school teacher and blogger from South Africa, supported her team mate by invoking the role of teachers: “I am a teacher,” she declared, “and I use the Internet as a tool. It is a means to an end. Teachers are the most important.” This statement provoked the professor to interrupt – “get out of South Africa! In Uganda we have a very high student to teacher ratio. There are just not enough teachers.” But Masola was unperturbed, replying passionately, “then we need to encourage more people to become teachers!”
As she returned to her seat, she playfully added that the conference itself couldn’t have taken place on Skype and exchanged a triumphant high-five with Dr Bateman.
Once all the combatants had made their cases, Dr Harold Elletson, Editor of the eLearning Africa Report 2014 and chairman of the debate, opened up the discussion to the floor for a heated round of statements and questions. Support came in for both sides, with one audience member explaining, “it’s not an either-or!”, but a final show of hands proved that the contras had won the day. The motion was defeated.