Is our education sector ready for digitisation?

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TAKING a glimpse into the future, the prospect of a fully applicable e-learning-based education system in Africa, a decade ago, seemed implausible, more so in landlocked Zimbabwe.
The importance of Information Communication Technology (ICT) for education and the development of the new education curriculum in Zimbabwe cannot be overstated.
However, this development and the upliftment of the livelihoods of Zimbabweans with reference to the education curriculum will come from a radicalised, developmental, patriotic and practical all-embracing digital curriculum.
To the majority of Zimbabweans, however, some who may not have heard of ICT, it is important to be cognisant of such developments. Given ICT now dominates information dissemination worldwide, one cannot ignore the interface between ICT with pedagogy and its impact on the future of education in Zimbabwe.
In 2010, Africa’s broadband penetration was at an ultimate low, in comparison to the rest of the world, thus hindering the accelerated development of an educational and commercial communication infrastructure that would make e-learning an actuality.
Projected to 2016, the advent of advanced computer technology in Zimbabwe and the rest of Africa is presenting a ray of light for African governments attempting to steer their education systems into the new digital age.
In terms of improving access to education, the digitisation of learning is affording many alternatives to addressing the socio-economic challenges facing many emerging economies in Africa and elsewhere.
While today we can assert to have a clearer vision of what the emerging disciplines of socio-economic development and education would be like in the next decade, in Africa it was not possible a decade ago.
When one grows up in an unelectrified Zimbabwean rural locale, one generally does not have access to modern technology and 21st Century educational instruction. Most likely with one’s financial situation, one cannot afford a university education.
The only opportunity available for rural indigenous school children in the past was for employment in unskilled labour markets and elementary teaching and as such the poverty and illiteracy spiral persists.
Conclusively thus, higher education that serves the educational aspirations of students from historically disadvantaged backgrounds at minimal or no cost is a prerequisite for the future of most African and developing nations.
By virtue of the inclusion of ICT and e-learning in the new curriculum, students will be able to raise their skills to a competitive level and achieve international standards of excellence.
Students, who can think creatively, engage in open educational dialogue and care about advancing the socio-economic transformation of Zimbabwe will be able to do so more effectively via the use of ICT tools.
A decent communication infrastructure to make e-learning a reality already exists in the country due to the numerous telecommunication base stations being installed around the country.
The system is simply in need of capacity development, upgrading and dispersal to the proximity of schools around the country to be effective in the education domain.
The digitisation of education is providing plenty alternatives to address the socio-economic challenges facing many emerging economies, particularly in terms of improving access to education.
According to a 2015 education and ICT report, as far back as 2011, governments in the Middle East were already discussing the complete digitisation of curricula at their schools with the likes of Microsoft.
In Ghana, a total of 40 000 laptops had been distributed to 372 primary schools across several regions by the beginning of 2013 as part of the country’s efforts to digitise the academic syllabus of both primary and secondary schools.
Peter de Vries, UNICEF education principal in Zimbabwe, recently announced there was need for a new education sector plan that outlines all the priorities for the next five years.
UNICEF and other donors working with the ministry of Education are responsible for the curriculum review process, teacher development, teacher professional standards and early learning.
In this plan, however, there is certainly need for a separate ICT budget for the digitisation of education in Zimbabwe.
Digitisation of education can assist in addressing many of the factors, including access to education, affordability, language, distance and discrimination. Furthermore, it enables the mass delivery of quality education across geographical boundaries.
Some schools in north, east and West Africa have already eliminated the use of normal textbooks and blackboards among its primary school learners and their teachers now use Android tablets as education tools. Each classroom now has a Wi-Fi access point.
As opposed to spending significant amounts of money on textbooks, the learners’ parents will in future only have to pay for 7-inch and 10-inch tablets to be modernised with the appropriate scholastic year’s curriculum.
Other African countries implementing e-learning include Uganda and Rwanda.
In Rwanda, MTN has partnered with Ericsson to launch ‘Connect to Learn’. The programme is connecting schools in remote rural areas to the digital world with the intention of exposing learners to comprehensive media content that advances learning and facilitates interactive teaching.
While by virtue of my analogue education, I am a fanatic of paperbacks, addicted to paper, pen, ink and the written word, and still hold personal apprehension towards the reliability of electricity and virtual education, one cannot, however, ignore the numerous convincing and persuasive reasons that digitisation of education should be embraced in Zimbabwe.
Furthermore, e-learning is easily accessible via the most popular mode of electronic communication on the continent – the digital mobile phone.
Today, surprisingly, Africa has one of the highest mobile internet connectivity strengths in the world.
For scores of countries on the continent, a mobile phone is probably the first and only ‘computer’ they will ever own. This makes the inclusion of this tool — as a key medium for the delivery and dissemination of education — a rational option.
Africa is on the threshold of a pioneering and exciting digital era brought about by the various African governments’ concerted efforts to make ICT a major part of their education system and social development plans.
The African continent is also critically investing in the undersea fibre optic cables. Zimbabwe cannot afford to be left behind. A syllabus and classroom will virtually be in the palm of our hands.
Dr Tony Monda holds a PhD in Art Theory and Philosophy and a DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration) and Post-Colonial Heritage Studies. He is a writer, musician, art critic, practicing artist and Corporate Image Consultant. He is also a specialist Art Consultant, Post-Colonial Scholar, Zimbabwean Socio-Economic analyst and researcher. E-mail: tonym.MONDA@gmail.com

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