Education is the means and pathway out of poverty and the key to prosperity. At present, a small percentage of children in Africa have the privilege of a good education that will allow them to excel in the fields they might choose. If we look at the challenges we face in education in Africa today, it is understandable that many people have serious concerns. It is also understandable that, to most, it seems that the problems in the education systems on the continent might take many years to solve.
The good news is that technological advances in education are growing exponentially and could enable radical change much sooner than we expect. We can look forward to profound change in education, particularly teaching every child in Africa the basics of literacy, mathematics, life skills and, possibly most important, critical thinking.
The internet is the greatest self-improvement tool in history. Take a moment to think about the incredible effect the internet has on our daily lives and what life used to be like without it, only a decade or two ago. The way we access information has changed, the way we think has changed, and education systems must change. Emphasis has to shift to personal growth and personal responsibility. It is the key because we are in the midst of an educational revolution.
There are many communities in Africa without any education infrastructure. Most existing education systems rely on a pedagogical framework that is outdated and ineffective. In the rural parts of Africa, schools face many challenges. There are a lack of resources, including textbooks, stationery and electricity; a lack of well-trained and motivated teachers; malnutrition; high student-teacher ratios; and a lack of stimulation of children from illiterate parents between birth and grade R. It seems like a hopeless situation. Poverty is preventing many children from getting a good education, while education is a ticket out of poverty. How do we break the poverty cycle and find solutions to bring about rapid change in education - an education system that will improve the lives of millions of people that will bring about change within the next few years?
In most education systems around the world, there is the same hierarchy. Mathematics and science are considered to be most important; humanities are in the middle and art is at the bottom. There is also a general misconception that children mostly exceed in one of these fields; a child is either creative or logical. These outdated systems were developed during the industrial revolution, when this hierarchy provided the best foundation for success. This is no longer the case. In a rapidly changing technological culture and ever-growing information-based economy, creative ideas are of utmost importance. Yet, existing education systems do not nourish creative thinking.
Indian physicist Sugata Mitra puts it into perspective when he says the education system is wonderfully constructed and not broken – but we don’t need it any more. It’s outdated. If we look at today’s jobs, the most important skill is to be able to read discerningly. We don’t even know what jobs will look like in the future. Mitra imagines it being a place where people will work from wherever they want. He raises the important question: How is present-day schooling preparing our children for the future?
According to Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler in their book, Abundance, most education systems are built around fact-based learning, but the internet makes almost every fact instantly available. There is no real need to spend hours learning dates and names. We are training our children in skills they rarely need, while ignoring those they absolutely do. Teaching children how to nourish their creativity and curiosity, while still providing a sound foundation in critical thinking, literacy and maths, is the best way to prepare them for a future of increasingly rapid technological change.
A few years ago, this may have seemed impossible in Africa, but who would have thought a few years ago that Kenya would be the midwife of mobile money transfer using a technology it did not invent? Africa can do for mobile education what it did for mobile communication. With our lack of existing educational structures, it makes sense that mobile education will become a priority on the continent.
Most poverty-stricken children in Africa are low-attaining and need individual attention, yet we face some of the greatest education challenges in the world. There are not enough trained teachers. Mobile education is the solution we’ve been waiting for. Apart from solving most of our basic problems, education via personal computers, smartphones or tablets would be decentralised, personalised and extremely interactive.
The internet as a viable substitute for our lack of teachers and resources and has become a reality that could change the face of education and solve some of the biggest problems we face in African education systems.
In 1999, Mitra became interested in education. He designed a simple experiment in which he introduced a computer with internet through a hole in a wall to children in the slums, without any guidance on how to use the technology. In a short time, the children figured out how to use it and to browse the internet. This experiment was replicated all over India and all over the world. The outcome is always the same: kids, working in small, unsupervised groups, and without any formal training, could learn to use the computers very quickly and with a great degree of proficiency.
Sources and further reading:
Diamandis, H.P and Kotler, S. 2012. Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think
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