Education & Technology in Africa: Creating Takers … or Makers?

I was honored to be asked to deliver one of the keynote addresses at this year’s eLearning Africa event at the end of May. (If you’ll be in Dar for the event, I look forward to seeing …

I was honored to be asked to deliver one of the keynote addresses at this year’s eLearning Africa event at the end of May. (If you’ll be in Dar for the event, I look forward to seeing you there!)  The organizers asked me to submit an abstract for my presentation by last week.  In the belief that sunshine is the best disinfectant, and in the spirit of what I take to be the increasing appetite of the World Bank to be more ‘open’ about what information it makes available publicly, I thought I would (mix metaphors and) send up a trial balloon of sorts here on this blog, sharing one of the themes I am hoping to explore in my short talk, in the hope that doing so will make my presentation stronger and more relevant to the audience. If past experience is any guide, there will be no shortage of people who comment (below, on their own blogs, via email and Twitter) about where and how I’ve got things wrong.

Before I get to that, though, some background:

I first was involved with ICT use in education in Africa about a dozen years ago when I was working with the World Links project in Ghana to help introduce teacher professional development programs related to first use of computers and the Internet in a number of pilot schools in Accra, Cape Coast and Kumasi.  If you’d told us back then that, only a decade later, over 1500 people would descend on Accra to participate in the third ‘eLearning Africa’ conference, we’d have thought you were crazy (and mind you, we were often criticized for being ‘true believers’ back then, viewed rather suspiciously and even negatively by many others in the development community as ‘techno-evangelists’ of sorts)!  About five years ago, when I was with infoDev, we attempted to provide a crude ‘map’ of what was happening in the field across the continent.  The resulting Survey of ICT and Education in Africa, published back in 2007 in two volumes, rather immodestly sought to “gather together in a single resource the most relevant and useful information on ICT in education activities in Africa” in the “hope that this publication [would be] a first step in a larger, on-going, systematic, coordinated initiative to track developments in technology use in the education sector to help inform a wide variety of stakeholders interested in the topic as they seek solutions to larger, more fundamental educational and development challenges in the years ahead.”

Four years on, the holes in this work are even more glaringly apparent than they were back then, when we said that

“ICT use in education is at a particularly dynamic stage in Africa, which means that there are new developments and announcements happening on a daily basis somewhere on the continent. Therefore, these reports need to be seen as ‘snapshots’ that were current at the time they were taken; it is expected that certain facts and figures presented in the [53] Country Reports may become dated very quickly.”

eLearning Africa is, in some ways, an annual ‘snapshot’ — face-to-face and up-to-date — of many of the things that the infoDev Survey tried to highlight. (For other ways of staying up to date on progress in this area, you may be interested in an earlier blog post on Tracking ICT use in education across Africa).

With that said, …

In Dar this May, I will present a version of a talk I often give on ‘Innovations in ICT use in education around the world’.  The short abstract I provided to the eLA organizers looks like this:

Innovative uses of ICTs in education from around the world: Many of the uses of educational technology regularly described as ‘innovative’ have actually been around for quite some time. This rapid-fire presentation will highlight some of the ‘new’ innovative uses of ICTs in a variety of contexts from around the world, with a special attention to those of potential relevance to educators in Africa. In doing so, it will propose some promising approaches and issues for policymakers in Africa to consider along five general themes: content; community; personal; mobile; and measuring.”

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