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The classroom as we know it has not changed dramatically over the last century. It pivots around a single source of Knowledge standing or sitting at a specific position in the room ‘dispensing’ information.

The Creative

The Peripatetic school founded by Aristotle in 335 B.C went on to influence a wide range of subjects that are studied in today’s institutions of learning. The centerfold of the school was learning by inquisition and student collaboration. Due to the lack of a place to conduct training, Aristotle was known to give lectures while walking around. There was no set curriculum or any requirements for students. The students ran the school. 

The School of Athens by Raphael

“The aim of education should be to teach us rather how to think, than what to think—rather to improve our minds, so as to enable us to think for ourselves, than to load the memory with the thoughts of other men.” ~ John Dewey

The Rote
For a peasant to advance in Ancient China they had to pass the imperial examination which would allow them to work for the Chinese government; a prestigious and profitable profession. Rote learning was thus an accepted and fundamental method of achieving this. Boys started school when they were six years old. And attended school every day of the week from 6 am to 4 pm. They learned to read and write and then memorized page after page of Confucian philosophy, they wrote essays, poetry and painted pictures.

I believe part of the reason China was humiliated in the Opium Wars and a subsequent war with the Japanese is partly because of them curtailing the innovative and creative spirit. 
Image: Chinese School - An Ancient Chinese Public Examination, facsimile of original Chinese scroll

“Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.” ~ Plato

Industrial Revolution
In the 19th century great numbers of people were required to join the industrial revolution as workers who had basic numeracy ability. Subsequently, in America and Western Europe legislation was enacted to place more children in school and free education became a necessity.

This is where a system similar to the conveyor-belt system in industry was invented to churn out students in a standardized manner that could meet the needs of the rapidly expanding economies of the Western world.

Cartoon: The Duncan Conveyor Belt

The main reason for education during this era and subsequently around the world has not been primarily to inspire creativity but rather to foster relevant skills required by an economy.

Motivate to Learn

Motivation is the catalyzing ingredient for every successful innovation; the same is true for learning. Motivation can either be intrinsic or extrinsic .  It is extrinsic when one is learning to give them access to something they want. And it is intrinsic when the learning itself is stimulating and compels an individual to stay with the task because it is fun and enjoyable.
Multiple intelligences

If we go back to the classroom setting the question to pose is can the way people go through learning today inhibit their multiple intelligences? 

And I would like to use Howard Gardner's definition of intelligence:

1.     The ability to create an effective product or offer a service that is valued in a culture,
2.     A set of skills that make it possible for a person to solve problems in life, and
3.     The potential for finding or creating solutions for problems, which involves gathering new knowledge

Based on his theory, we all have multiple intelligences, some more dominant than other, which uniquely combine to inspire us to perform tasks in a certain way.

In any given classroom there is an Albert Einstein, Vincent van Gogh,
Michael Jordan or William Shakespeare  waiting to inspire and change the world, surprisingly what we instead have is a standardized way of teaching these students. Focused on rote learning and student test scores.

A class filled with children with multiple intelligences

The multiple intelligences Chart. Source

A test to confirm your multiple intelligences take the test here 

Rote Learning Inc.

Every three years a set of standardized tests called Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) are administered to students around the world, to show how education systems around the world stack against each other.

What this approach has unequivocally brought to fore on a global scale, is the competitive streak that standardized testing brings out. Countries ‘go to war’ and do everything to outdo each other . Rote learning becomes the norm and China and countries it has influenced over centuries take the medal with their deep-seated rote learning culture.

Do test scores show the multiple intelligences and talents that are present in students? The resounding answer is NO, and I would chose to go with Yong Zhao’s assertions and also point you to a letter written to Dr. Andreas Schleicher, director of PISA at OECD.

Changing the education system

Having supported these assertions clamoring for a departure from rote learning it is also imperative to note the reasons why the public school systems in Africa fundamentally needs to change:

a)    Teachers are a finite resource, and with the baby bonanza that we are experiencing in Africa, the situation will become dire. How will the next generation of African children be educated?

b)   Across Africa teachers are not treated with the respect, honor and station that they deserve. Governments and the relevant institutions don't ideally support, facilitate or inspire teachers to put their best foot forward. What we have in the end are poorly motivated and disillusioned teachers.

c)    What this has essentially created is the disappearance of the model teacher who yearns to train and equip your child in how best to be a productive member of society and instead you have teachers giving cliché educational experiences.

d)   The lack of infrastructure in and around rural communities, in a generation Y era, dictates that fewer teachers will want to partake in the hardships of rural Africa and instead prefer settling in the cities.

e)    A high school dropout rate in Africa. An estimated 42% of African children drop out before the end of primary education.  This is driven mainly by high repetition of classes and pregnancy among schoolgirls. It is highest in rural poor homes, where the support structures are lacking to ‘drive’ children to finish school.

f)     Another demerit is the rise and fall of a child’s future based on their performance in certain entry or exit exams. It simply discredits a child who gets a low grade and relegates them to the fringes of society.

These reasons are by no means exhaustive,  but they do point to a need for us to create programs that are student centric, ubiquitous, easy to use, cheaply accessible and whose motivation is intrinsic.

The state of technology in Africa

As Africa begins to have a more liberal economically assertive and burgeoning middle-income population student-centric education is an aspiration that seems realistic. To give children the tools that can motivate them to intrinsically learn. Because if they learn based on an understanding of their multiple intelligences, devoid of the traditional approach we currently have in public schools, then we have an opportunity to inspire a generation.  

Motivation Hierarchy

Sort of like what was originally experienced years ago in Ancient Greece.

“We imagine a school in which students and teachers excitedly and joyfully stretch themselves to their limits in pursuit of projects built on their vision… not one that succeeds in making apathetic students satisfying minimal standards.” ~ S. Papert

Smart Phones

Africa is truly not a mobile first continent but a mobile only continent. Cheaper , faster African-based smartphones are hitting the market with improved features every other month.

Tecno chose to invest in building a factory in Ethiopia .  Samsung has a “build for Africa” strategy. Huawei has pumped billions of dollars in core technology infrastructure across Africa.

Faster Connectivity for all

Cheaper connectivity to the Internet and its ubiquity not just in urban areas but also in the rural areas makes inclusion of communities a reality. Part of the stigma associated with rural areas is their collective backwardness due to lack of information and involvement in a nation’s agenda.  

According to a paper written in 2000 by DFID, “Rural Africa has to confront uncertainty with capability. The future of African rural dwellers lies increasingly in labor force participation outside rural agriculture. They need literacy, numeracy, various occupational and computer skills that will give them the means to command sufficient income for themselves and their families.”  The reality is no different 14 years later.

The undersea cables that have gone live over the last few years around Africa have hugely increased the international data capacity available to the continent. What needs to happen over the next few years is extend this capacity into the African hinterland by fiber cable and wireless capability while making connectivity astronomically cheap for larger numbers of Africans. I believe the consolidation and work being done by companies like Liquid Telecom , IHS Towers and Eaton Towers  will allow for this to happen sooner rather than later.

The advent of ‘4G’ LTE networks across Africa , increases the speed and scope of internet-based services that can be offered on a real time basis. This I believe this will create a hotbed for innovations that can scale up quickly and cheaply.

Content is king

With all these advances one thing that needs to pick up pace is content development. Content that is locally relevant. Kenya took the bold step of stating that all television and radio stations should show case 60% of local content by 2018. What this forces a country to do is develop local content that is relevant to its population in competition with international content. This position also forces multinational content agencies to attune their content to local populations.

Revenue sharing

The same is true with application developers , who are innovating across the continent to bring to market solutions that will empower the African population.  For this process to work better and for more people to be motivated to innovate there is need for better revenue sharing between the owners of the infrastructure (telecommunication companies) and the application and content developers .

Current state of online education across Africa

So with all these developments how can technology be used to advance education in Africa? 

The answer is extensively.

There is wide scale digitization of academic content happening in countries like Kenya, Senegal, Zimbabwe and Zambia and this has essentially created an explosion of online enrollment to higher education institutions and a sharp spike of e-learning in the corporate segments in booming economies across Africa.  
Technology giants like Microsoft, Google, Intel and Samsung are doing a lot to develop the right technologies that can be utilized in African rural settings. They are actively channeling funds to create content and create environments where innovation around education is consistent.
Open source-learning platforms like Sakai , Moodle  and Claroline give credence to an approach that is collaborative, transparent, inquisitive and routed on individual needs of a learner.

Student Centered teaching

Student centered teaching methods like active learning, in which students solve problems, answer questions, formulate questions of their own, discuss, explain, debate, or brainstorm during class; cooperative learning, in which students work in teams on problems and projects under conditions that assure both positive interdependence and individual accountability; and inductive teaching and learning, in which students are first presented with challenges (questions or problems) and learn the course material in the context of addressing the challenges.Speaks volumes about inspiring students to learn on their own accord. 

In fact student centered teaching methods have been shown to be superior to the traditional teacher-centered approach to instruction, a conclusion that applies whether the assessed outcome is short-term mastery, long-term retention, or depth of understanding of course material, acquisition of critical thinking or creative problem-solving skills, formation of positive attitudes toward the subject being taught, or level of confidence in knowledge or skills.

Student centric technologies

There are a number of technologies that can enhance student centric teaching methods if they are blended in a way that each component complements the others without duplication.

Components of an integrated student centric solution
As the race in the open source and closed source markets picks up pace in trying to integrate all these individual components into one collective and effective student centric solution, the reality is that its only a matter of time before it becomes a cheaper reality across the world and in Africa.

What I am currently excited about is how Google is quietly bringing each of these individual components together in a deliberate manner under the free Google for Education program.

In conclusion, I do believe the future is very bright for Africa in the education sector mainly due to the level of collaboration that is happening between different stakeholders.


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