Including teachers in the ICT formula for education

About three months ago a friend and avid reader politely requested that I get my head out of the ‘Education Pigeon Hole’ and write on more ‘savory’ matters. I made feeble promises but needless to say, I have failed miserably at extricating myself from the savory, if not cardinal, topic of education.
Alline Akintore
Alline Akintore

About three months ago a friend and avid reader politely requested that I get my head out of the ‘Education Pigeon Hole’ and write on more ‘savory’ matters. I made feeble promises but needless to say, I have failed miserably at extricating myself from the savory, if not cardinal, topic of education.

In fact I can contently say Nelson Mandela is on the same wavelength: I used to own a button badge with a quote by Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” (I proudly pinned that badge on my backpack for years).

I don’t know where the badge is but now I realise that if Mandela’s statement holds a grain of truth, then the armory for global change lies in the hands of teachers and instructors! Mandela is probably more than right, which is unfortunate and paradoxical given teacher pay in most countries – let’s save that story for yet another day.

Rwanda’s education ecosphere has changed over the last decade and the fruits of mammoth investments can be seen in the economic strides of the nation. One such change is hard to miss: where students once took ink to paper, and instructors, chalk to board; now students, as young as primary-level, learn from power-efficient tablets and laptops through programmes like One Laptop Per Child.

ICT improves efficiency in education: innovative instruction methods increase motivation to study and deepen understanding of students, collaborative learning and well-structured class projects, bring new approaches to learning and interaction. But how are really using ICT in the classroom?

I have no doubt what young agile minds are capable of doing when exposed to technology, but in articles before, I have raised questions about the instructors who receive minimal ICT training and the long-term impact of ICT in the classroom; tied tothe issue of regular training to ensure relevance and quality of instruction and subject matter.

Let us shift the attention from students towards the teachers who have to adapt to new teaching methodologies and accommodate ICT in instruction, embrace new communication channels with school authorities and students, and create new methods of learning assessment and performance evaluation.

For example, the paradigm shift in instruction tied to historical teaching methods hinders full explorative use of ICT; having gone through a degree of Rwandan education, I cannot begin to imagine teachers understanding the concept of collaborative scholarship and letting students drive their learning! It is one thing to put that machine in their hands; it is another for them to reconfigure their teaching and mindsets.

Case in point: How many schools (with the exception of higher-level institutions) even have a school website? Using a school intranet to post school news or even homework assignments? How many teachers accept homework via email (or posting to a homework board)? Get back to me if you can list more than ten such schools even though more than 100,000 students now own laptops. How are instructors facilitating students to use them for more than browsing?

Even as I point this out, I cannot ignore the fact that there is no One Laptop Per Teacher (OLPT) programme in place, and in fact, how many teachers have programming skills to transfer to their students?  In Control theory (engineering), it is common place that for a linear system, your output will have a degree of correlation to the system input – my subtle way of saying; we cannot expect magic and fireworks from students when their teachers have nothing but rocks and sticks.

In countries in Europe, teachers are given discount rates for home computer and internet provision as to increase teacher confidence in ICT. Initiatives like this encourage inter-school information sharing and centralised teacher training for different schools, which drives down expenditures at the individual level. Giving teachers machines would also drive development of digital content in shared electronic libraries for access by teachers and students alike (Note: the two Rwandan eLibraries I have visited online are depressing, to say the least).

If we intend to use ICT to proliferate the classroom, we shall have to take into account the metamorphosing role of the teacher if they are expected to play a key role in enhancing education, as to help learners think and communicate critically and creatively. It is more than that one laptop to that one child…

The writer is a commentator based in Kigali.

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