A mind blowing week in central Africa at the eLearning
Africa Conference in Uganda, where I was flipped so many times, both mentally
and physically. My mind was repeatedly flipped when I saw the wrong solutions
being forced into the wrong contexts. Conversely, I saw unexpected solutions in the right context. Physically, I was flipped into the Nile on
a White Water raft trip – more of that later.
My opening gambit in a talk to Ministers from across Africa
was to show that we were not far from the Rift Valley, where the first
technology was invented by man – the stone axe (see full article
on its importance as a learning technology). This handheld device was to
last for the next 1.5 million years and is a window into the mind of early man.
It showed, intent, planning, ability to find resources, hand-eye co-ordination
and a culture of teaching and learning. We were close to the source of the
Nile, and it was in Egypt that the first writing was invented (see full article
), the big-bang in
learning technology, far more important then the printing press. Papyrus
technology was also invented in Africa (see full article
). So what does Africa need now?
1. Innovation is not
innovation unless it is sustainable
In asking what Africa needs now from technology and learning
I believe we must stick to a simple mantra – that innovation is not innovation
unless it is sustainable
. Sugatra Mitra’s Holes in the walls are now
just that – holes in walls
, with no computers, no lasting impact, a waste oftime and money
. Tablets may prove to be less than useful, especialy Negroponte's Ethiopian experiment
. Before any initiative
is funded or started, do a cost-effectiveness and sustainability analysis.
By sustainability I mean the big 6:
Sustainable change management
Sustainable teacher skills
Sustainable electricity/Sustainable wiring
Sustainable on cost
2. Infrastructure not
Flip the mindset away from devices to infrastructure, and
focus spending on bandwidth so that accessibility and prices fall. $50 a month
for an unreliable 126K connection is way too high. This means deregulation and
getting networks built along with free tariffs, such as Wikipedia Zero
educational content. Economic growth is closely correlated with internet
Africa is littered with short-term, funded pilots. A
donor-led, pilot mentality means too many pilots are really ‘doomed to succeed’
and fall flat when finished. Pilots are thinly disguised research projects,
often led by academics whose real goal is simply publication not pragmatism.
Fund projects that have real feasibility objectives and sustainability as their
4. Vocational not
Africa has schooling and Universities but a huge hole in the
middle – vocational colleges. Yet what Africa desperately needs is not more
Universities but more vocational learning. Economic growth will come from
practical skills agenda not building expensive educational institutions. Why
copy a University system that doesn’t work in the developed world. It’s
expensive, elitist and graduate unemployment is rising. Only 6% of Africans
will even have a chance of a
education, what about the other 94%. Let’s focus on them, as they are Africa’s
5. Learning not
The Millennium goals focus too much on simple schooling, yet
all of us eventually leave school. What happens then is important.
Employability and job creation is vital, not the Anglo-Saxon liberal-arts,
colonial agenda. It’s not schools that matter but what is taught and learnt in
schools. Improve the quality of teacher training (take it out of Universities)
and focus on what is required locally.
Africa has the highest growth in mobile penetration in the
world. Everywhere, people have cheap phones and use them to transfer money,
communicate and get on with their lives. Mobile griwt has been the big success story and new, cheap smartphones will accelerate internat access via mobile
. They’re cheap and compelling because
they’re useful. Africa needs to do the same with learning, leapfrog with good
infrastructure projects that use the BYOD devices. Fascinating things are
happening on leapfrog infrastructure –
geostationary satellite above the Congo with pan-African reach – one way
internet access but a start. Then there’s Facebook’s solar powered drones using
infra-red to provide internet access, easy to launch and maintain. Finally
They say that information wants to be free, well education
now wants to be free. We have Wikipedia, Khan Academy, OER, MOOCs (see articles on MOOCs
) and so on.
Africa would be mad not to take this stuff, as it’s free. MOOCs are now being
produced by the likes of EPFL, Kepler and the African Virtual University in
relevant languages on relevant topics – and they’re free. With MOOCs Africa has
bandwidth problems, even on
campuses, so well designed offline solutions are needed. We also need to integrate MOOCs
into local curricula, blend involving local faculty, collaborate at the
teacher level. Academic regulations need to be amended and
Africa is rising and needs, not the failed models of the
developed world but new models that are more suited to the massive demand that
already exists for education and training. This is not more universities but
more vocational learning. The great opportunity here, is to use the great gifts
of the internet, that are already there, for free.
This conference is a small miracle, but it's in Africa and well attended by Africans from across the continent. Once again, Rebecca
Stromeyer and her fantastic team pull together a fantastic conference that
focuses wholly on Africa and is not scared to ask hard questions and seek out
new and radical answers.
News from China may be the greatest boost Africa has seen in a long time. A major Chinese Solar Tech CEO says, "We are not far away from the cost of (solar energy) production for conventional energy. We are sure that by 2016 - or at the latest 2017 - the cost of solar PV will be the same as coal-fired generation in China". If true, at that moment each ail drive economic and educational growth in Africa.