Technology – The equalizer in education for rural poor

Technology – The equalizer in education for rural poor

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Garth Moore reports from SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas

The annual South by Southwest (SXSW) festival started March 8, covering all the new topics and releases in film, music and interactive. This week-long event is big on hype, crowds, food, drinks and celebrities. The do-gooder events get tucked in here and there – and when you find them, they are usually fascinating and informative.

 

Students during a computer lesson at a Nairobi school. Poor infrastructure and equipment in public schools have hindered use of new technology in learning, especially in rural areas that lack electricity and access to voice and data services. Photo credit: Nation.co.ke.

One interesting session at the end of the first Interactive day was titled Teaching Cheetahs: Disruptive Education in Africa. The panel promised to “bring to light some of the innovative ideas being put into practice on the African continent to build leadership and management capacity thus enabling African to fully take advantage of its accelerating growth trajectory.”

The panel featured a filmmaker, software builder and a program that brings African students to the US to study in the States. The panel shared some interesting facts on digital growth and youth in Africa:

– Africa’s cell phone penetration has gone from 5 to 75 percent in the last 10 years
– More than 70 percent of the population on the content is under 30
– 7 of the 10 fastest growing economies are on the African continent

All the panelists agreed that technology is crucial to the growth and development of education in Africa. Without access to technology, the rural poor will become urban poor, says Christy Pipkinexecutive director of the Nobelity Project, a group that creates documentaries and funds new schools in Kenya. Her Kenya school fund focuses on clean water, education tools, and resource centers. In her opinion, “Technology isn’t always about what’s new; it’s about what works.”

Panel host John Kidenda of the African Leadership Bridge introduced three groups changing education systems and learning tools: Ashesi University, African Leadership Academy and his own group. Kidenda discussed how using the White Space Internet, a band of megahertz frequencies used for television, can distribute connectivity and increase broadband range to rural area to increase usage and access for rural students.

Rick Reeder of the African Leadership Bridge also stressed the importance of technology tools to help learning, quoting Sugata Mitra’s One Piece At A Time: “We are moving from a world of have and have-nots to a world of know and know-nots.” Technology isn’t so much specifically about what students are learning, but how these tools encourage how to learn. According to Reeder, mobile will be key to learning models and sharing studies and information between students, where the best kind of learning takes place.

Nivi Mukherjee, CEO of the Kenyan EdTech company eLimu, introduced her company’s new online software to facilitate classroom learning. The tablet-based software uses animations, videos, songs, music, games and quizzes in to a variety of topics in the Kenyan National curriculum from math, English, science and religious studies. The teachings also expand into teachings on environmentalism, social responsibility and human rights.

All the panelists agreed that technology as a disruptive force in education will change the status quo for education on the continent for the better. These tools and new ways of learning encourage a shift to critical thinking and allow students to tell their own stories. Technology is the equalizer in education for the rural poor.

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