Transforming education through digital technology

Digital technologies, radio and TV can be powerful tools for education. They can inspire, engage and provide young people with important skills, says DR SAMUEL CHINDARO. In this article, he argues that, if we accept education is essential to the future of Zimbabwe, then we need a national policy for information and communication technology throughout the education system.

“Any significant ICT-enabling education initiative has to integrate within the national education system and needs to be developed on a national scale for it to work sustainably.” – Dr Samuel Chindaro.
“Any significant ICT-enabling education initiative has to integrate within the national education system and needs to be developed on a national scale for it to work sustainably.” – Dr Samuel Chindaro.

The release of Zimbabwe’s O level results was met with an unprecedented outcry across the nation. Now that the dust has settled and a new government is in place, it is time to take a sober look at education as a vital aspect of the nation’s future. Education and human capital are fundamental to the socio-economic development of Zimbabwe.

The complex, multi-faceted challenges faced by our education sector can be linked to the socio-economic conditions that the country finds itself in. These range from the brain-drain to the lack of basic infrastructure. I believe that prioritising the use of information and communication technology (ICT) in education will go a long way in addressing these problems.

ICT includes radio, television, and digital technologies such as computers and the internet, which are powerful enabling tools for educational change and reform. When used appropriately, these technologies can help expand access to education, strengthen the relevance of education to the increasingly digital world, and raise educational quality by, among others, helping make teaching and learning into an engaging, active process connected to real life.

Computer students

ICT can also be used to resolve structural problems and deficits in the education system such as enhancing administrative and teaching efficiency, alleviating under-resourcing and supporting teachers who may be under-equipped.

However, embarking on ICT projects without clear policy directions will result in stunted development. The lack of a clear and dedicated body that specifically deals with ICT in education has been hindering the government’s noble objectives, and will continue to do so if not addressed by the incoming government.

Any significant ICT-enabling education initiative has to integrate within the national education system and needs to be developed on a national scale for it to work sustainably. Efficient integration of ICT in education requires a unified strategy for the whole sector. This is in view of the fact that each system of education leads into the other and the skills accumulated at one level of education can provide gains at the next. University computer science students, for example, could be integrated to assist in the development of ICT in schools.

Only a systematic approach can ensure that ICT educational goals are met in the best possible way, and the hard-to-reach are educated in an effective way.

ICT in itself, of course, is not going to radically change education systems for the better. An overall view of what education should be seeking to achieve is needed for technologies to be used to their full potential within education. In Zimbabwe, the outgoing ministries of ICT and education between them failed to incorporate ICT in the curricula. The integration of ICT in education and learning remains largely uninitiated. There are no frameworks in place to guide the integration of ICTs into teaching and learning.

Without a review and overhaul of the curriculum, ICTs will only be an add-on, hindered by lack of awareness, skills and specific institutional or sector policy.

Using radios and phones

At the moment, ICT in education is loosely dealt with in the Revised ICT Policy 2012 from the Ministry of ICT as a subsection on e-education. It features in the Science and Technology Policy from the Ministry of Science and Technology in a paragraph on ICTs. In the Ministry of Education and Culture Medium Term Plan (2011-2015), the use of ICT in education is dealt with in a subsection on e-learning. It is not clear from these current policies where the responsibility lies for the programme of ICT in education. It is, therefore, not surprising that the country has a number of NGOs claiming to be spearheading ICT development in education in one way or another.

However, without the shared vision of a dedicated national ICT policy, and a dedicated body to oversee its implementation, the efforts of NGOs and corporations may be at cross-purposes and ineffective.

Computer equipment is costly and electricity and connectivity coverage is limited. A targeted ICT policy could lead the way to affordable solutions. It would be wise to start with the technology that we have, know how to use and can afford. For example, with the prevalence of mobile phones and radios in Zimbabwe, ways could be explored of using these as educational tools.

The development and integration of ICT needs to be spearheaded by staff with specific skills. Without education experts in charge, ICT in education initiatives are likely to be technology-driven rather than being used to address specific education challenges. A dedicated ICT in policy can focus on acquisition and development of these skills, with guidance, support and standards for educational institutions.

There are, of course, NGOs and individuals who are already providing much-needed help in this sector. However their efforts could reap better rewards if they were co-ordinated by a central body with enough expertise in the area. Without the guidance of a specific national policy and resources, it is less likely that individual school and classroom innovations will be sustained. Nor is it likely individual effects will accrue across the country to have an overall impact on the educational system.

The country might end up, again, with a loose fragmented policy that is techno-centric, promoting the purchase of equipment or the training of teachers without providing a strong educational purpose or goal for the use of technology.

Circles of innovation

The mere establishment of a written national ICT in education policy has value in itself. At a minimum, it conveys the message that the government is forward-looking. The government should try to create circles of innovation through co-ordinated strategies on broadband deployment, PC purchase programmes, digital literacy programmes and on-line e-services. While each of these components has value in isolation, a network effect in education can only be achieved through co-management and evolution strategies. The government should, of course, aspire to more by putting the policy content into actual practice and becoming a role model in applying ICT to their own administration and services.

The effective integration of ICTs into the educational system is a complex process that involves not just technology. Given enough initial capital, acquiring computers, for example, is the easiest part. To make successful use of ICT in enhancing the quality of teaching and learning, policy-makers need to be aware of how ICT can be of best value in the country’s education system, and need to develop a supportive policy environment and framework at the national level for its integration.

About the author:

Dr Samuel Chindaro holds a PhD in Electronics (University of Kent), MSc in Electronics and IT (University of Birmingham) and a B.Eng. Hons in Electronic Engineering (NUST). He is also a Chartered Engineer (Institution of Engineering and Technology). He can be contacted on [email protected]

Post published in: News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *