Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Many Teachers Loosing Jobs? I Disagree!

The Kenyan Minister for Education Prof. G. Saitoti, while opening the eLearning Africa Conference, is quoted to have said that thousands of teacher could loose jobs if and when eLearning is fully implemented in Kenyan schools. I disagree. We might probably need more teachers, or retraining of most of the existing ones.

In addition, he is quoted to have said that eLearning is cheap and requires less man power. I disagree. eLearning is not as cheap as it is usually advertised, neither does it require less man power as hyped. To the contrary, eLearning is a very expensive initial investment. The costs of hardware, software, training, material development and the like are so high. Also, not ALL learning can be done through eLearning!

In addition, he believes that the use of eLearning is not age restrictive as with formal school. I also disagree. Age restriction in education if anything is a people issue not a technology issue. The idea of open learning, and open learning universities that have operated without using technology is a clear testimony. While the flexibility offered by eLearning is an advantage to the working class, admission criteria in formal learning institutions need to be revised to cater for the restrictions imposed on age and prior learning.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Reflections on Africa Day!

Today we celebrate the Africa Day. We are celebrating at a time when we have a strong call to end armed conflicts in some of our African states (Somali, Sudan and others), Corruption and civil inefficiency, economic downfalls (e.g in Zimbabwe), media freedom (e.g in Kenya, South Africa etc), Diseases (e.g HIV/AIDS) among other social evils and problems.

One of our greatest enemies in Africa is ignorance and poor governance. For us to ensure political stability we need to do something in educating the masses, and ensure that our systems and structures are well formed to make sure that the political leadership is kept at checks always. This, I believe is one of the mandates of the African Union: Cultivating politcal stability and ensuring rapid socio-economic development in Africa.

It is encouraging to see that the AU intends to increase the use of VSAT technology for communication between member states. Although this is not sufficient for what Africa needs for development, it is a good starting point in seeing that the political leadership sees the potential of communication, more so using technology.

Even though a lot has been down to reach were we are, so much more need to be done for use to reach where we dream of being. We need not only to work towards the objectives, but also to make personal sacrifices. The sacrifices that most of the freedom fighters in Africa made. If we all made sacrifices, and do everything we can and to the best, then Africa our great continent will prosper.

Monday, May 21, 2007

What would you do if you had all the technology?

If all the questions of access to and availability of technology were address, what would you be doing with it?

There are concerns, some genuine, some out of proportion on the use of communication media like the blog. For example, some politician in South Africa feel that the government should lay down policies to regulate blogs and their content because they have been used to malign and mudsling politicians. A columnist is up in arms for what he calls "air guitars of journalism".

There are also concerns on the use of mxit a popular mobile chat service. School going children are addicted to it and on top of having poor concentration in classes, there are reports that some have fallen into the traps of sex predators.

These two examples show cases of technologies that are available and accessible to a good number of people that are subject to abuse. How to use them for the benefits of both the users and the wider community has been put into question. I therefore think the question on what to do with a technology that is available and accessible to a people, especially for educational purposes is in order now. For now, do we wish away the dangers of the use of this technology, and assume that with time good will prevail over the evil.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

In eLearning, Whose Voice Should be Heard?

We have the main players in eLearning as the researchers in online learning best practices, the technology providers, the learning material experts (in my case the lecturers), and then the recipients(learners, students).
The researchers will come with all the best practices (some tried and tested others just too theoretical or imaginative). The technology providers will come with "the best tool in the market that would do just everything you would want to do in eLearning". The lecturers will be the source of knowledge to be transfered to the learners, and in most cases would not care how it reaches their learners as long as it is convenient for them(lecturers). There is the learner, who needs to acquire the knowledge using the most convenient means available.
While the researchers come with the 'dos and don'ts', hoping that the technology provider will incorporate them in the technology, the technology provider provides a product that in most cases does not reflect the dos and donts, which leaves the bulk of the work to the lecturer. The lecturer has to juggle with the technology, the research and the students' interest. The technology provider would market the technology as "cutting edge" and will not always have the lecturer's and students interests at heart. They all all in the game for different reasons. On the other hand, the target audience, the students, would want to have the best and like any other consumers, they would want to demand how, when, and in what state their materials is presented. This tends to insert more pressure on some of the players. Hence the question, whose voice should be heard?
For now, I would argue that the technology providers voice is the king, and we have technology as the main drivers of our eLearning initiatives. There is a gradual move towards the target audience voice but still it has a lot of influence on the technology providers and how they market their products.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

SANTEC Seminar on Blogging for Quality Learning

Blogging for quality learning a seminar by SANTEC is currently underway. Please join us for the next few days on as we explore the area of edublogging in particular.

To join the live seminar you can just login to the SANTEC site (http://santec.uwc.ac.za) , follow the link to SANTEC seminars . You need to be registered to participate, and registration is easy. You can contact me if you need help.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Utopian View of Technology in Africa

Last week, I happened to be at a forum where the Zimbabwean Minister of Science and Technology Development, Hon. Olivia Muchena was speaking. Her topic incidentally was about "ICT Research Innovation in Zimbabwe and Opportunities for Cooperation with the EU", and it was very interesting to listen to her talk of the achievements of her government in enhancing and creating enough 'digital opportunities'. Like giving a report card of her government's achievement in taking the computing power to the people, she showed, even with pictures and jokes how there is so much progress in Zimbabwe in regards to digital revolotion despite the "negative balance of payment", neglect from the developed world and the situation that everyone knows of. One of the jokes was a paraphrased one about how the Zimbabwean scientists discovered that 5000 years their ancestors were using wireless technology to communicate. Although it is true (since in the olden days, we (read Africans) used drums, screaming, ululations, smoke as a means of communication which is wireless in nature), this kind of wireless communication is not what we need in the 21st century.
It is during her presentation that I got thinking of how technology (more so the digital technology) has been touted as utopian (techno-utopian). Presenting creative solutions to all the problems that we are facing currently and with the potential to revolutionalise every human aspect. In it, there is an ideal (and imaginary) vision of a world without pain, suffering and death. Even though the idealistic view of utopia may never be realised, there is power within the communities that have been failed by the sytems and structures (political, economic, social or otherwise) create alternative systems.
With the tough choices we are presented with in Africa - limited infrastructure, limited human capacity, lack of finances, and even lack of political will, the power of the community in Africa to develop is still there. We still have the power to revolutionalise, as Africans the way we live, and how we can use the resources at out disposal for an improved life. However the great question still lingers: where do we start?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

eLearning....fun? Convenient? Motivating?

Most of the definitions I have come across on eLearning dwell on the use of technology to teach and learn. To many of us, the use of technology for teaching and learning would imply just our learning material and the technology, without really questioning how we can best use the technology or modify our learning materials or experiences to optimise the learning process. In our learning designs we should consider among other things our learners motivation (both to learn and use technology), their prior knowledge, and their learning preferences. In addition we need to do an evaluation of the current technologies to ensure that we are using the best and the easiest for our learners. Moreover, we need to adapt our learning materials and process to suit the our students and technology features that we have considered.

Although I have come across comments like “students are now finding eLearning convenient and fun” and lecturers are “more confidence in using technology for teaching and learning” I disagree, at least I have not seen that in the part of Africa I am in. For convenience yes, the fun bit might be coming but not here with us. Similarly, the confidence levels of the use of technology especially by the lecturers is in most cases wanting. For it to be convenient and fun for the learners, a thorough consideration should be taking on how it is employed. For the the lecturer, a complete mindset shift is required so that first, they can understand the importance, benefits and potential of eLearning, and then use it for teaching and learning. Until then, convenience, fun, and confidence will be alien terms in the use of technology for teaching and learning in Africa.

Friday, May 11, 2007

What is in a Language?

This week, while in Mozambique, I encountered a context that made me ask myself a question that was once asked when I was learning Principles of Programming Languages. In Maputo, the majority of the people speak Portuguese (as the only international language), and here I am, without any knowledge of Portuguese (and ignorant of the fact that there might be people in Africa who would not understand a word in English). Then the question, what is in a language? I know different disciplines would try to approach this questions differently. For an anthropologist, something like culture, community, society might come up, while for a computer science person, things like functional, and procedural approaches would probably be considered. Whatever the discipline, I believe there would be some form of agreement in that a language creates some sense of identity, pride, and to a lesser (though important fact) economic power (a language sells).

I have worked in eLearning projects where we preach of contextualization, localisation, or adaptation of learning content, processes and scenarios but my experiences here made me appreciate better their meaning and importance. The ideas being preached should enhance the identity of the learning to the specific target, which in turn can create a sense of pride among the audience. Once this is achieved, some economic transformation might occur.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Research and Technology Use in Africa and the Blame Game

why has the use of technology and research and development in general so limited (in terms of funding, use, and advancement) Africa? Well to answer this question is a presentation from the Minister for Communication, Sciences and Technology, Botswana, Ms Pelomoni Venson-Moitoi. In her presentation at the IST-Africa Conference, she said that in the political and economic scenes in Africa, research plays a minor role, and to the politicians, sometimes (if not all the times) research is seen as a "waste of time". Most of the research policy that has been employed in Africa is based on demographic studies, and always aimed at pleasing the electorate, or at least for the politicians or administrators to advance their own interests. This in most cases has lead to the oversupply of some developments with very short-term effects, and to the neglect of the most important projects that would have long-term and far reaching results.
What this means is that, most research that has been done in Africa, is not documented in Africa, but elsewhere. And the little that is in Africa, is too complex for the average politician to understand as "most of the time the we [politicians] do not know what you [scientists and researchers] are talking about, yet we are embarrassed to admit".
As a remedy, the politicians and the scientists need to talk freely, and without the "arrogance" or the jargon (that is seen as arrogance by either sides) to ensure development for Africa, and the governments in Africa start implementing development programmes informed by research and at the same time funding research. To illustrate this, she said that the problem is no longer one sided or belonging to the political class alone as "the trap is no longer for the mice" (refering to an infamous joke of a farmer trapping a mouse, chicken, pig and cow):
A mouse looked through the crack in the wall to see the farmer and his wife open a package. What food might this contain?" The mouse wondered - he was devastated to discover it was a mousetrap.

Retreating to the farmyard, the mouse proclaimed the warning. There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!"

The chicken clucked and scratched, raised her head and said, "Mr. Mouse, I can tell this is a grave concern to you, but it is of no consequence to me. I cannot be bothered by it."

The mouse turned to the pig and told him, "There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!"

The pig sympathized, but said, "I am so very sorry, Mr. Mouse, but there is nothing I can do about it but pray. Beassured you are in my prayers."

The mouse turned to the cow and said "There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!"

The cow said, "Wow, Mr. Mouse. I'm sorry for you, but it's no skin off my nose."

So, the mouse returned to the house, head down and dejected, to face the farmer’s mousetrap alone.

That very night a sound was heard throughout the house - like the sound of a mousetrap catching its prey. The farmer's wife rushed to see what was caught. In the darkness, she did not see it was a venomous snake whose tail the trap had caught. The snake bit the farmer's wife. The farmer rushed her to the hospital, and she returned home with a fever.

Everyone knows you treat a fever with fresh chicken soup, so the farmer took his hatchet to the farmyard for the soup's main ingredient.

But his wife's sickness continued, so friends and neighbors came to sit with her around the clock. To feed them, the farmer butchered the pig. The farmer's wife did not get well; she died. So many people came for her
funeral; the farmer had the cow slaughtered to provide enough meat for all of them.

The mouse looked upon it all from his crack in the wall with great sadness.
She further said that what is now needed to move forward the development agenda for Africa forward is a sense of urgency(speed) and commitment and that the legislation in Africa should be developed towards research and development based on research. Core to this is collaboration and sharing in research and research findings. She said, the way science and research is treated in Africa is like witchcraft in the African mythology (which should remain top secret, and should never be document but passed on through word of mouth to selected and trusted few).

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Labourers and Slaves of the 21st Century

Some of the myriads of problems that are facing the generations, especially in Africa and the rest of the developing world is unemployment. For example, the International Labour Organization reports that despite reported increase in economic, human development, and productivity there is no matching reduction in unemployment and poverty in Africa. While the estimated unemployment rate in the world is 6.3%, in Africa is at a high of 10.3% not to mention that some of the 'employed' in Africa are working poor (according to ILO persons working but still living on less than US$2 per person in the household, per day. This is what I would call modern day slavery).

Although the working poor and the unemployed would be more likely to be associated with the uneducated, the case in Africa seems to be different. The access to higher education, for example, is limited to less than 5% in Africa as compared to the global average of 16% . Paradoxically, Africa with its low enrollment rates suffers a very high unemployment rate of its graduates that seems to incline that the number of graduates are more than the markets demand. In as much as we might want to attribute this to the slumps or slow growths in our economies, I think there is still the issue of niche training, retraining, education and reeducation that is required in the 21st Century labour market.

The dynamics of the workplace (globalisation, speed of service, changing demographics etc) needs some tailored and quality training, both of new entrants and the incumbents. In this way, we are sure to ensure, sustainable economic developments and a increased demand for high quality labour.

Fortunately, the time is right for just-in-time and highly customised training using technology. eLearning provides a means for the training and education required for the 21st century workforce. Even if we still have issues with the access to the right technology, I believe with the little that we can access still we can make a difference. The sooner organizations and individuals started taking advantage of technology and innovations in the advancement of their knowledge, the better for the our continent, and for the world. My tip for organizations in Africa is to invest into their most important Capital, the human capital, by putting in place mechanisms of training and educating it (using technology) and also to liaise with other educational providers so that they can shape the educational content that is relevant to the urgent and immediate needs of the African continent. This way, I believe we would solve the problem of unemployment and slavery of working and still living on less than a dollar a day.

For this May day, I pay my tribute to:
  • all those who have and are still working to ensure education for all in Africa, and especially Higher Education.
  • all those who are fighting to training and educating the African continent in readiness for, and on how to overcome the challenges of the 21st century.
  • all those who are using eLearning in Africa!