At the beginning of the week, I noticed a small debate on my Twitter timeline between some Ugandan IT-savvy friends of mine. The topic revolved around how to improve education using Information Technology.
According to them, investing in expensive laptops is not the best way to go about improving early education. They argued that it would be much better to invest in cheaper Kindles (the Amazon notebook) so that children can have access to some sort of digital library and be able to read so many books.
One claimed it was not something very difficult or expensive if a government signed a deal with Amazon, the tech company behind the Kindle gadget-initiative. For the uninitiated, Kindles are e-book readers that enable one to shop for, download, browse, and read e-books, newspapers, magazines, blogs, and other digital media.
It is also important to highlight the fact that Kindles are generally much cheaper than average laptop computers. As if that is not enough, they are known for their amazing ability to minimise power consumption. I have also seen some Kindle covers that come with a reading light making it possible for one to read even at night.
Kindles offer book lovers the closest possible book feel that a digital gadget can offer with that legendary black and white feel of ordinary books. They use something called E Ink electronic paper display, which is capable of rendering 16 shades of gray to simulate reading on paper.
Much as laptops offer a more diverse digital experience, Kindles are a smart way to get someone reading more since numerous books can be saved on one Kindle. Therefore, for those who can afford, focus should not just be on buying your child a laptop or smart phone, a kindle could do just fine.
The whole Kindle debate got me thinking of many other ways we can improve education using the latest technologies available. For example, the examination council often releases the national examination results online and by SMS, which has made the whole experience much better.
The big question therefore is whether there are other innovative ways of making the learning experience better. Consider the issue of sending and receiving school fees via mobile money accounts; this could arguably be an answer to the long queues at banks.
Schools can also use more of the now ubiquitous email services. Look at it this way: a parent brings a child to school and as the school registers the parent’s details, they also note down the parents email address and offer the school email in return. With this done, they regularly send information to the parent as well as to other parents concerning the school or the student in particular. With email lists, it is easy to communicate with many people with just one email. That way, parents with access to email can always monitor the school and their child.
With the holidays almost ending, schools can for instance send an email to remind parents to send their children to school on time, remind them to pay school dues and any new information about the school.
At the national level, we could have a tech savvy fellow coming up with a nice website that collects information on available teaching vacancies or opportunities in Rwanda. I cannot count the number of times I have received an email inquiry on teaching opportunities in Rwanda yet I rarely see job advertisements of the same.
I am not an IT wizard but I think there are several simple ways in which we can raise the levels of education and service provision in the sector using the means that are already within vicinity. Embracing ICT practices in our education system goes far beyond the usual mantra of computer labs and the One Laptop Per Child initiatives.