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Abigail Anaba: The conflict between tech and education in Nigeria (1)

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Abigail Anaba: The conflict between tech and education in Nigeria (1)

by Abigail Anaba

For the past decade, I have been working in the education sector. Based on my experience, I have a few ideas on how to resolve the seeming conflict between technology and education in Nigeria. Even if I was into titles, I would not dream of calling myself an educationist, I am just an observer who hopes that someone somewhere will read this and make something out of it. Let us just say the next series of articles are the product of a serial worrier. I worry about Nigerian public basic education. I worry that as a product of public education system, I will not dream of sending my kids to a public school today. But if…

 Education-tech

Integrating Tech and Education In Nigerian Schools

There is no gain saying that the future of education is tied to technology. Some countries are already taking steps to ensure that their education system is tech compliant and I don’t mean the teaching of computer science as a subject in classrooms.

These countries have certainly gone beyond the Nigerian system of assigning periods to computer science in the school timetable and teaching the subject – sometimes without letting the children touch the computer system where they are available. There has been little done to make public education in Nigeria tech compliant.

Well, there is the Opon Imo which has been hailed as breakthrough policy. The Osun state government decided to give tablets to students and is doing so continually. Last I heard most if not all students in year 3 senior secondary in all public schools now have the tablets. The assumption behind this project is  that students are not doing well in school because they do not have access to text books. To solve the problem use technology. Therefore, Opon Imo was deployed as the perfect solution, bringing together the books the students need in one device. Beautiful concept, especially if the assumption is right in the first place.

So is this assumption right?

Can children learn if they do not have access to books? The first and easier answer will be no. For students to learn they should have access to books. We read and we learn. Yet the fact remains that children can learn and do learn in the absence of books. In fact, having textbooks is no guarantee that a student will learn.

I stumbled into an application the other day where I found thousands of books completely free. It included dozens of classics like Homer’s Iliad and Ulysses. I downloaded greedily. The books are available at the click of a button on my laptop but I have not really read any of them. However, I have this addictive game on my phone. It is called Ruzzle. It consists in forming as many words as possible by swiping through letters within two minutes. I must have spent several hours playing this game in the past week.

Availability of books is not even half the problem when it comes to learning. In fact, the singular and most important factor in learning is having a good teacher. What are the factors that influence a teacher being good or not? We will easily point out mastery of the subject; ability to use teaching tools effectively; ability to adapt materials to the learning needs of the students and effective teaching methodology. When you have a good teacher, you don’t really need textbooks. This is because a good teacher will spend time on research and get enough materials as reference.

Note that I am not writing off the Opon Imo policy. I am just pointing out that the assumption upon which the policy is built might be flawed if the objective is to witness a noticeable improvement in the quality of education via technology. The objective of technology in education should be clearly defined so that when technology is deployed, we can measure the success or failure against the stated objective. Going by this, if the objective of a deployed technology is flawed it means that our measure of success or failure will also be flawed.

For technology, any technology, to be a success in public education it must meet at least three basic criteria

  1. It must meet a need
  2. It must be affordable
  3. It must be easy to use

You can see that Opon Imo completely meets two of the three criteria, but does it meet the criteria for ‘need’? Let’s spend a few minutes talking about a need.  One dictionary defines ‘Need’ this way: require (something) because it is essential or very important rather than just desirable. So while something may be desirable, it may not be very important or a necessity. For instance, when Governor Aregbesola came into power books were made available to the students for free in Osun state. In other words, students got books but basically in hard copy.

Does that mean there was no need for the tablet? Not necessarily, Opon Imo certainly filled a need, for instance the volume of books that students received via the tablet was certainly more than they would have received through the free hard copies of books scheme. Also, there was the issue of distribution: Books not getting to schools when they should and some not getting there at all. With Opon Imo if a class got the tablets, then all subjects are catered to at once. So we can say the books filled a need.

Looking at the larger picture however, should the tablets just be reduced to a storage facility for e-books and games? Is there a greater need for tech in education that could also have been resolved using the same tablets? In other words, could the tablets have satisfied a greater need in the education system? You probably will join me in answering YES. However the YES raises another vital question: how?

In answering the how, we have to go back to the singular most important factor that will improve the quality of education in public schools in general – the teachers. In other words, for technology to work in the classroom, it should be targeted at the group that would most influence the quality of education. A teacher should look at it and say “yes, exactly what I was looking for. If I use this in my class, my students will turn out to be really good”. I will leave you to answer if teachers feel that way about Opon Imo.

So if you were to ask a teacher, what is her greatest challenge in a class room, what do you think her answer will be?

One of the first will probably be getting and keeping the attention of the pupils and students. Then s/he may speak about getting them to study outside the classroom. So technology has to create a solution to this need: making the learning experience fun and engrossing such that even outside the classroom the students will keep at it. In other words, make learning as addictive as God of War, Mario, Fifa14, PES201, Candy Crush, Angry Birds or Temple Run. Again the question is how?  The answer lies in the content of our curriculum and I shall attempt to talk about this next.

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