I watched on RTV, the recently concluded international conference on ICT hosted by H.E President Paul Kagame. It was an opportune moment for different heads of state to come together and share ideas on the role information technology will play in driving our economies but as I watched the roundtable debate, a part of me was wondering whether each one of us in our respective capacities appreciated the moment before us.
At the dawn of the new millennium, there was excitement and general belief that new technology (especially the Internet) would revolutionise our way of life. When one looks back at the last 10 years, we see almost everyone with a mobile phone, email account, on social media, companies with well designed and flashy websites etc. Generally one could argue that Africa has also arrived in the technological age! As someone who is engaged in the education sector, I am yet to feel satisfied unless we have fully exploited all the opportunities that ICT has to offer.
Universities and governments must invest in this technology if they hope to reap more benefits. For example technology can be a core differentiator in attracting students and corporate partners to universities. But corporate partners can only be interested in such partnerships if those universities demonstrate commitment to the use and application of the advanced technology.
As online learning continues to gain a foothold in universities around the world, higher learning institutions especially those with a public service mandate should endeavour to offer online courses so as to place learning opportunities in the reach of those who could otherwise not afford or access them. Currently governments, private companies and universities spend a lot of money each year sending their employees to foreign countries for studies.
With appropriate technologies established say virtual study centres in different regions of the country equipped with audio and visual tools to enable video conferencing with for example a foreign university, this gap could in future be filled by virtual classes. This would save time and a lot of money and give the same opportunity of accessing the best education to many people compared to a few that can be sponsored.
Higher education is increasingly becoming global and this trend will continue to rise. For example most universities in US and Europe are leveraging advanced technologies to put education within reach of more individuals around the world. People in charge of planning at our institutions of higher learning must seize this opportunity and establish private-private or private–public partnerships that would play a crucial role since it may be expensive for one university to own such technology.
During my days in school, learning was largely controlled by the tutors and lecturers. But with the current generation having access to technology, it has allowed them to become more engaged in constructing their knowledge which is a key to success. Universities must therefore be willing to make adjustments in organisational practices to enable faculty members adopt new technologies and be able at ease to help their students.
Our universities should also put infrastructure in place to enable their students to access for example educational and reference resources that the internet provides. Also faculty members and administrators should be exploring ways of how web applications and free wares such as Google docs can improve efficiency in learning or cutting of costs.
We all agree that technology will largely have a positive impact on learning due to easy access to information but at the same the internet has become what some people have termed a ‘disruptive innovation’ to learning.
The cases of plagiarism will largely increase due to mobile information and the distractibility aspect of it as young people are already showing signs of addiction to social media. Universities must therefore be prepared to deal with these challenges so that their students benefit from this technology.
ICT offers immense opportunities in the area of learning but universities will have to put systems in place first otherwise internet may just remain a’ big white elephant’ largely used for tweeting and face booking!
The writer is a lecturer in the Dept. of Civil Engineering, INES-Ruhengeri