Roseleen M. Nzioka
Editor's note: Roseleen Nzioka, a freelance English teacher and writer in Nairobi County, Kenya, wrote this story after taking the VOA Learning English online course, "Writing for the Internet" at the American Resource Center in the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. Her story was the third place winner of the contest sponsored by the embassy and VOA Learning English.
Education experts have urged teachers in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa to embrace digital technologies to improve teaching and learning. The call was made by speakers during a two-day international conference. The meeting, called "Education Innovation Africa," was held on June 8 and 9, 2015 in Nairobi.
Conference organizers said their goal was to showcase inspirational ideas for improving teaching and learning using technology.
Isaac Kinyanjui of eLimu Kenya, an education technology start-up company, spoke to the delegates about what he called 'smart' classrooms of the future in Africa. He said such classrooms will require teachers and learners to be innovative beyond the use of traditional textbooks.
"Publishers won't allow the reproduction of entire textbooks because they still need to sell their books. So we need to be innovative about digital content development," Mr. Kinyanjui said.
He added that the content has to be "rich and culturally relevant." He said students should be able to use it on multiple platforms, such as PCs, laptops, computer tablets and mobile phones.
eLimu Kenya develops apps and content for digital platforms. Mr. Kinyanjui said the company was already employing security tools to ensure that pupils can only access safe content from the Internet. He said solutions have been found for other challenges, such as unreliable electricity and Internet connectivity, by improvising with solar power and stored or downloaded content.
Another speaker, Albert Korir of Drury University, USA, demonstrated the power of digital teaching and learning. Professor Korir said that, at higher levels of academia, science students may use digital simulators. The simulators allow them to learn how to operate machines or equipment that may be expensive. This was already being done in the United States and could also be done in Africa, he said.
Prof. Korir said online resources for sciences, such as ASDL (Analytical Sciences Digital Library) and Khan Academy, are widely used by learning institutions in developing countries. These same resources can be useful in African academic institutions, he said.
Emma Dicks, the founder and co-director of Code4CT, South Africa, said her organization focuses on teaching young girls basic coding skills. She said the girls can use these skills to design solutions for real-life problems in the local community and even for commercial clients.
Ms. Dicks said her organization works with schools in Cape Town, South Africa. Code4CT teach girls how to code for social impact. The aim is to change the perception of women in IT. Ms. Dicks said the organization wants to reach out to women who would otherwise avoid studying IT-related subjects.
She added that the students learn how to present projects to clients. This practice develops language for professional communication at an early age. She said clients are brought in from local industries. Guest speakers are also invited from nearby IT and engineering industries, thus giving students real life scenarios of the work environment, she said.
Another speaker was Antony Gioko of the Aga Khan Academy in Mombasa. He challenged teachers to create their own personal digital footprints.
"Your students have them already (digital footprints,) so you too need to get onboard," said Mr. Gioko. He added that the basic digital footprints for a teacher are a Skype account, Twitter, WhatsApp and a blog.
"If you are teaching pupils about the Maori of New Zealand, it is better if you do a Skype session with a real Maori in New Zealand than trying to explain from a textbook," said Mr. Gioko.
He added that it was imperative for teachers to shed the old ways of teaching and adapt the modern 21st century methods of engaging with learners. He said the excuse that teachers give about "following the syllabus" is not valid because the syllabus is just an outline that allows for autonomy and creativity in the actual learning process.
Mr. Gioko said the learning environment is not merely the classroom and the school compound, but also includes the parents of pupils and the local community.
He emphasized the need to balance learning for exams and learning for active citizenship, whereby pupils invest not only in academic theory but also the practical aspects of what they learn.
The inaugural Education Innovation Africa conference provided a platform to unite local and international educators with investors, financiers and entrepreneurs. Kenya was chosen as the first site for the forum for its drive for digital innovation.
Exhibitors displayed innovations in educational technologies, including interactive whiteboards and screens that can be used in classrooms.
Less than one third of primary school pupils possess basic literacy and math skills for their level. That information comes from a 2012 report by Uwezo, a project set up for the purpose of studying the state of education in east Africa.
Words in This Story
simulator - n. a machine that is used to show what something looks or feels like and is usually used to study something or to train people
IT - n. short abbreviation for information technology, the study or use of systems (especially computers and telecommunications) for storing, retrieving, and sending information.
scenario - n. a description of what could possibly happen
digital footprint - n. the data that is left behind by users on digital services.
Now it's your turn. Are teachers where you live using digital technology? Do you feel it enhances their teaching? Write to us in the comments section.