Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Refrain about eLearning

Last year, I reported about the Kenyan Minister of Education claiming that with the introduction of new technology, many teachers would loose their jobs. I disagreed and a few days later the Kenyan Ministry of Education issued an errata stating the minister did not say that (although it is typical of any politician to always claim s/he was misquoted). That said, this did not seem to be the official position of the Kenyan government, because during its budget estimates, it provided for the employment of more teachers. In fact, though there are two conflicting reports, the Kenya government through the Teacher Service Commission is recruiting a multitude of teachers. (its is reported more than 14000 teachers on one section and 6000 teachers in another). You just trust the media to offer contradictory figures.

The minister's comments then seemed to be a single case, but it seems to be a reflection of the perception within the political and policy making circles that eLearning will indeed increase interactivity to the level of phasing out teachers and professors in educational institutions. In neighbouring Tanzania (or is it the United Republic of Tanzania) the Minister for Education and Vocational Training, Prof Jumanne Maghembe, has said that IT will be used to cater for teacher shortages in schools. With a shortfall of 40 ooo teachers, Mobile phones, computers and projectors will be used not only to cater for the shortage of teachers, but also to improve on the enrolment rates. The minister is quoted to have said:
After the project is completed, we shall be able to use one teacher to teach many students and the shortage of teachers will be history in Tanzania
What I always seem to miss is what world some of this policy makers and politicians live especially when they have some (potential) 'donors' in their midst. They seem to have a rare and distant intelligence that make them utter words that might seem to be policy directions that are impractical to say the least. First, like I stated in May last year if the reason for introducing IT in schools is to do away with teachers, then that is the worst reason that can ever be. The mere introduction of IT in education brings about paradigmatic shifts and challenges in both quality and delivery (or imparting of knowledge).

This new paradigm requires the (teachers to transform into) facilitators to involve and engage student frequently to avert loneliness, low self-esteem, isolation, and low motivation to learn, whose consequences are low achievements or eventual drop-out. The engagement and involvement, both during the teaching and learning process, and the development of the learning materials and contexts translates to increased workloads for the facilitators and therefore the need for more teachers. This dual challenge of paradigm shift, and increased workload in the face of eLearning in the schools might lead to user resistance, and eventual failure. In fact, most of the change theorists and researcher have indicated that people would always resist anything that would challenge the status quo, or one that is perceived to bring about increased roles and responsibilities.

Secondly, the drop-out (also attrition, absenteeism) rates are reported to be higher in technology mediated classes than in the face to face classes. It is only difficult to proof absenteeism in the case of online learning because of the anywhere anytime philosphy. Completion rates to some on online programmes have been reported to be as low as 30%.

Prof Jumanne Maghembe, did you mean what you said or you were also misquoted? Or did you just read from a 1985 Apple Classroom of Tomorrow script?

Edit: 05-Aug-2008

A quote from The Citizen (Tanzania) of 2nd August:

Several African governments have turned to mobile phones and computers to mitigate the effects of teacher shortage they are facing.
Ethiopia, Ghana, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia have started ICT projects involving mobile-phone messaging and computer-generated classrooms for both primary and secondary schools.

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