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Technology and the Reinvention of Education in Africa PDF Print E-mail

By Calestous Juma

Adapted from: Africa Technology in Africa - 2014 Digest (A Publication of iafrikan.com)


One of the most highly touted developments of the last five years was the rise of the Massively Open Online Content (MOOCs). This ubiquitous source of educational material promised to revolutionize education.
America’s leading higher education institutions, led by Stanford University, took the plunge followed by  Harvard University and MIT by creating edX, a joint effort to provide online courses. The edX consortium now includes 30 leading universities from around the world. Long before this, entrepreneurial efforts such as the MIT-led OpenCourseWare (OCW) movement had set the stage for the new upcoming educational system.
There is a possibility that the MOOC revolution will follow the pattern of mobile phone adoption, favoring poor countries that have outdated educational infrastructure and technology. The original assumption that new technologies were inherently more expensive, complex and inaccessible to the poor has been proven false by the uptake of mobile phones.

Africa’s educational challenges are markedly different from those of the industrialized countries. Access to educational content is particularly acute because of the high cost of textbooks and the slow rate at which they get updated. The pressure to keep the cost of textbooks low forces many countries to settle for a set of standard textbooks that are widely used irrespective of the relevance of their content to diverse cultures.
Digital books have two important advantages. First, they allow for updating without having to go through costly reprints associated with hard copies. Second, digital books allow for more regular updating, which is essential in rapidly-changing fields such as the sciences.
Adaptation of textbooks to local conditions would make their content more appealing to students. Children in fishing areas, for example, would not get bemused by reference to cattle in their environments.

 


Teachers would also feel more empowered and engaged when they can see themselves as producers of educational content. They can start with adapting existing content and graduate to being authors on new textbooks.
This could also help to contribute to the decentralization of approvals for textbooks and give local governments more authority to determine educational content.

The Future
Africa can do for mobile education what it did for mobile communication. Who would have thought a decade ago that Kenya would be the midwife of mobile money transfer using a technology it did not even invent?
Several important measures will need to be put in place for Africa to benefit from the mobile education revolution. First, it will need champions who can help rally public support behind basic requirements such as digital books. Second, African presidents will need to invest political capital in mobile education. Third, Africa will need to introduce a certain measure of flexibility in its educational systems to allow for more experimentation in curriculum development and pedagogy.
Little will be gained until leaders take charge of the process of harnessing the power of mobile education. Failure to do so will leave Africa at a standstill. There is no better time for champions of mobile education in Africa than now

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