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Abigail Anaba: What teachers need: The conflict between tech and education (2)

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Abigail Anaba: What teachers need: The conflict between tech and education (2)

by Abigail Anaba

As mentioned in the last article, teachers are the singular and most important factor to the success of any educational system. Whatever policies that are made that do not take into cognizance the significance of teachers is almost doomed to fail. What this simply means is that teachers should be made aware of and carried along as we strive to integrate tech and education.

For starters, there is a fear that technology will take away the job of the teachers. Very few teachers in the public education sector  are techliterate. Vanguard Newspapers speaks of a 2010 report that shows that 90% of primary school teachers in Nigeria are not computer literate. How do you sell tech in education to a largely illiterate community?

This takes me back to a point made in the earlier article. Tech in education should be sold in such a way that the teachers see and say “yes, just what we were looking for” and not “okay, that’s another way of doing it”. Tech in education should provide a better way of getting things done and the teachers must acknowledge that this is so. This can only be achieved when the technology is easy to use. The goal should be to keep it simple, stupid.

But first, there has to be a policy on ground that supports the integration of tech in education. In writing this article I went through the website of the National Education Research Development Commission (NERDC) a commission established to among other things periodically revise and review the basic education curriculum.  The philosophy of the NERDC curriculum is that “every learner who has gone through 9-years of basic education should have acquired appropriate levels of literacy, numeracy, manipulative and life skills; as well as the ethical, moral, and civic values needed for laying a solid foundation for lifelong learning as a basis for scientific and reflective thinking”.

The NERDC has indeed been active. Come September 2014, if things go according to plan, schools across the country should be adjusting to a new curriculum at the basic education level. They have, pruned the curriculum and gotten rid of redundant subjects. This downward review has led to primaries 1-3 going from 11 subjects to 8 subjects; primaries 4-6 from 12 subjects to 9 and Jsss1-3 from 13 to 10.

Good job so far I must say as the curriculum actually did contain some redundant subjects that needed to go. What I fail to see though are the subjects that were actually removed. It seems that what happened was that subjects were merged and at least one new one was introduced. They call it Security Education. According to the NERDC this is to reflect the current security situation in the country. It is still a little difficult for me to understand why an entirely new subject had to be introduced. Was it really so impossible to put the content of this course into Social Studies or Civic Education? I digress.

In order to come up with this new curriculum the NERDC had to liaise with other bodies. According to a newspaper report this includes personnel from universities who are experts in content and teacher preparation, colleges of education, the French embassy, representatives from industry and health education. If tech in education is to work, there should be representatives of the growing technology industry or to put it more clearly application developers, attending the sessions where the curriculum is developed.

Let us look at it this way, technology integration in education as earlier observed goes beyond having a teacher teach children Basic Science and Technology. Integration means combining technology into every subject such that they become part of the whole. This is why just having computer studies as a subject in class will not cut it. Every subject taught in class should have technology incorporated into it. What I am about to propose may cause a lot of disruptions of status quo. It will also require a meeting of the ‘old’ educationists and the ‘young’ tech people. The words old and young are relative for Alvin Toffler in his book Future shock spoke of “children who at twelve are no longer childlike; adults who at fifty are children of twelve”. I dare say that one of the problems that negatively impacts tech in education is the ‘disconnect’ between the “old” and the “young”. How to bridge this divide will be the subject of another article.

So, for each subject the question will be asked: how can the application of technology make the teaching of this subject better?

We are used to a system where the teacher comes to class. Revises the previous lesson, writes the topic on the board, makes a lesson presentation based on prepared notes, asks questions by way of revision to test comprehension, and the students are tested on this knowledge at a later date. Every teacher that has passed through some form of teacher training in Nigeria knows that these are the steps to follow in classroom teaching. When an inspector visits, when they do visit, they want to see your lesson note which includes presentation “in steps”.  This model may not support tech in education.

For instance here is a sample lesson plan for SSS1 English taken from the NERDC Facebook page:

Lesson Plan 1 (SSS 1 Vocabulary Development)

Subject: English Language

Class: S.S. 1

Aspect: Vocabulary Development

Topic: Words Associated with Agriculture

Time: 40 Minutes

Specific Objectives: At the end of the lesson, the students should be able to:

• list words associated with crops and use them in sentences;

• mention words associated with farming activities and implements;

• state the importance of farming.

Instructional materials: Real objects, charts, diagrams

 

Content:

(i) Crops: grains, seeds, tubers, onions, carrots, etc

(ii) Farming activities: bush clearing, planting season, weeding, manure, fertilizer, etc

(iii) Implements: tractor, hoe, axe, cutlass, etc

Presentation:

Step I

Teacher’s Activity: Teacher explains briefly the importance of Agriculture

Students’ Activity: The students listen attentively and also explain the importance of farming

Step II

Teacher’s Activity: The teacher asks the students to identify common crops and words associated with them using real objects, charts and diagrams.

Students’ Activity: The students list the crops they know and how they are planted.

Step III

Teacher’s Activity: The teacher, using a good chart, leads the students to identify farming implements.

Students’ Activity: The students name the farming implements in the chart shown by the teacher.

Evaluation

Teacher’s Activity

Teacher asks students the following oral questions:

• List 5 important common crops you know.

• Mention 5 words associated with farming activities.

• Make sentences with the words mentioned under number 2.

• List three common farming implements.

• State the major importance of farming.

 

Students Activity

Answer the questions above orally.

Assignment: Explain the meaning of the following words and use them in sentences:

• Harvest

• Famine

• Bumper

• Harvester

 This class ordinarily will take 40-45 minutes. You may be wondering as I am why students should be learning the names of agricultural equipment in SSS1 for a whole period.  What did they learn in Agricultural Science in the primary classes for instance? And even if this lesson must be taught at this level in this class what prevents the Agric Science teacher from teaching this vocabulary? Again, I digress.

Let’s for the sake of experimentation agree that this lesson is the right level for this group of students. For students who already have tablets, like they do in Osun State, what can technology do to make this lesson better? Definitely technology leads to the change in the entire approach to the lesson. The teacher will not need physical charts as this will be available electronically. A picture puzzle can be developed where all the students need do is match correctly the pictures to the words. With this method, there will be no need for a separate assessment. As the students can even self-assess themselves as they learn. If you don’t match the pictures to the words correctly, they know immediately. And they keep trying until they get it right. In this way, all the children can learn at their own pace and it will be much easier to isolate the children who can’t get past a certain level from others.

So instead of simple converting hard copy of textbooks into e-books, the integration of technology into education should be such that the students can do more. It should definitely not be the same dull bland textbook presentation in the textbooks that should be transferred to tablets. This will amount to a total underutilization of technology and as far as I am concerned is as good as not using the technology at all.

So, in essence, app developers should work with curriculum developers to come up with an integration of technology and education. The truth remains that this is very possible, though as acknowledged it is no mean feat. What I expected the producers of Opon Imo to do was to take the text and create exciting games, puzzles, simulate experiments and field trips so that you have a whole new learning experience in the hands of the students.

The truth is that once the novelty of owning a tablet wears off, it becomes just another toy in the hands of these students and they will begin to look for ways to make the use of these tablets exciting to themselves. This probably accounts for why some of these students have turned this device to a music and video download center. If the students know that there are exciting exercises that they must complete in the tablets and that they only way they can make it through to the next level or score marks in a test is by doing a particular exercise and showing the score as assessed by the computer to their teacher, then they will be motivated to use the tablets for its real intent. Do you not imagine a student learning how to solve a problem offline if he knows that he is assessing himself when he plays a game on his tablet?

As people’s attention span in general and children’s in particular keeps getting shorter, the thrust of any policy on tech in education should be to capture and keep the attention span. As has been stated repeatedly in this article, for this policy to become a reality, it is necessary to bring the ‘old’ educationists and the ‘new’ technology savvy together on the same table. How this can be accomplished will be the subject of the next article.

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