The increased use of computer and mobile technology in Africa has debatably become a trendy occurrence. The Governments of several African countries have initiated/backed tech projects ranging from Ghana’s Hope City (technopolis) which was regarded as over ambitious to smaller projects such as laptop supplies to local schools. Educators have made moves to integrate this trend into their respective educational systems around the continent.
Though mostly embarked on with good intentions, this endeavor has been met with mixed success and reactions. Many question the motives, priority issues and even relevance of these initiatives.
In 2006, the Nigerian government proposed the supply of 1 Million low-cost laptops to be distributed to schools around the country. The initiative ; One Laptop per Child was only able to supply just over 300 laptops in some schools in Abuja and other states in the southern region. The initiative, which was eventually stalled, faced opposition from policymakers who thought the money would be better spent on other educational projects. This was followed by a trial of controversial press coverage.
In Kenya, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s $240 Million laptop for schools project was abandoned after 2 years of promises.
The Kenyan government has moved to consider cheaper and more portable tablets instead. Many have blamed this on internal bureaucracy and the 13 million pupils said to benefit from this still remain expectant as the project delays further.
The face of Positivity
Rwanda’s One Laptop per Child project has seen over 203,000 laptops distributed to primary school pupils, making it the third largest deployment of laptops to schools globally after Peru and Uruguay.
Though many attacked the Nigerian Government for not prioritising its activities in respect to the One Laptop per Child initiative, others claimed and still claim, it was a necessary step. This is usually backed by testimonies of the influence, the distributed laptops had in the few areas it reached.
According to IRIN news, one teacher, Olugbile Oluyinka, said “Nice classrooms are important – and indeed the [school] environment here is not the best – but what is more important is the knowledge that we can bring to children,”- explaining how the computers had a positive impact on her students.
Some of the students at Galadima spoke to the interviewers expressing their opinions – “I love my laptop,” Grace Ogwo, a 12-year-old said while Cythia Ounoha, proudly showed IRIN a design for her dream house which she made on the computer.
Nice classrooms are important – and indeed the [school] environment here is not the best – but what is more important is the knowledge that we can bring to children.
– Olugbile Oluyinka (teacher at a school in Galadma, Abjua)
What fuels the critics ?
Many critics of these initiatives by the African governments argue that;
– Considering the cost of introducing computers into schools on the suggested scale, it may not be a wise spend especially when there are doubts about its actual educational influence on the pupils. In peru, 850,000 laptops were distributed around schools in the country. A year and a half later, an evaluation of the laptop programme by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) found that the children who received the computers did not show any improvement in maths or reading. Nor did it find evidence that access to a laptop increased motivation, or time devoted to homework or reading.
– The cost of executing these projects also comes under scrutiny. Many argue that looking closely at the problems many African countries face, even in the area education, the funds intended to be allocated to these ICT projects may serve better use. Its also stressed that part of the doubt results from the failure of most African Governments to prove the people wrong as they continue to tarnish the trust in their capacity by acts of corruption.
– On a more technical level, critics point to the chronic energy shortages as an indication that such ideas are doomed to fail. An article by One.org regarding Kenyas laptop program writes – “In a country where 75 percent of the population lack reliable access to electricity, the laptop roll out, although media sexy, is completely out of touch with reality.”
In Uganda, a study covered on biomedcentral showed about 30.8% of pupils in rural areas, carried schoolbags that were more than 10% of their body weight. The majority of pupils complained of musculoskeletal pain of which 35.4% was attributed to the schoolbags. It has been suggested that having digital books could solve this often overlooked problem.
Also with the recent expansion of internet coverage to remote areas of Africa operated by Google and Facebook, education is bound to be affected.
A counter argument to criticism based on power outages ignores the fact that the devices can be powered by solar energy.
The One Laptop Per Child project stresses that their vision is not to explicitly improve academic achievement in the traditional sense – it is to facilitate “collaborative, joyful, and self-empowered learning”, where “children are engaged in their own education, and learn, share and create together.”
Like most positive, transformative initiatives in Africa, socio-economic and political factors pose a huge challenge. One may say projects like these can spark the agents that’ll drive investment into other dependent areas like electricity in neglected communities.
As controversies linger over the fate of the computer integration projects mentioned above, one weighs the opinions of both supporters and critics and asks; At this time, should African Governments consider computers a worthy educational investment in schools ?
[Header image]– Credits – Microsoft : Technet blog