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How is ICT improving education in East Africa?

"In the past, I thought computers are for rich people, but I was wrong - everyone can use them!" - a student at the SOS School in Arusha, Tanzania
"In the past, I thought computers are for rich people, but I was wrong - everyone can use them!" - a student at the SOS School in Arusha, Tanzania

Did you use computers at school as part of your learning? Did your teachers use interactive whiteboards? Your answers are an indicator of which generation you're from, but also of where in the world you went to school. For example, while ICT is now integrated into teaching in UK classrooms, in other countries there may not be a single computer per school. In our second piece about ICT4D, we explore initiatives that are seeking to change this inequality.

In 2011, a UN report recognised the importance of internet access, stating it should be a priority for all states to ensure citizens can get online: "the unique and transformative nature of the Internet... enables individuals to exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression, (and) a range of other human rights, and to promote the progress of society as a whole."

As internet access and computer skills become ever more important tools for getting information, services and ensuring employability, governments are seeking to equip schools with modern technology. With digital know-how, it is hoped children will leave school prepared for tomorrow's world and able to participate in knowledge economies.

“Our youth must go out of our villages with a competitive edge and competitive advantage, which is first and foremost ICT literacy” - Richard Pichler, CEO of SOS Children's Villages International.

A myriad of initiatives are working towards these goals, including ICT4D (Information, Communication and Technology for Development) projects by SOS Children. To understand better the potential of ICT in the classroom and how it can help students to succeed, we bring you two examples from East Africa.

Teaching technology in Arusha, Tanzania

Student on computer at SOS School Arusha Tanzania
A teacher at the SOS School in Arusha is planning a lesson in the
new computer lab.

"In the past, I thought computers are for rich people, but I was wrong - everyone can use them!" said a student at the SOS School in Arusha, Tanzania. Her excitement was caused by an ICT project taking place at her school. As of last month, 567 teachers, students and staff have taken computer classes, and gained computer skills and confidence.

The project launched in 2012 and was originally aimed at helping teachers to improve lesson planning, to use technology in their teaching, and to record students' progress. Later, students were shown how to use computers as a learning resource - knowledge that they are passing on to their peers. "I am showing my friend how they can search materials on the internet, use a CD in a science subject, and type using MS Word and other software," says Gloria.

Kamal Abdallah, another student, says: "Our computer lab consists of modern computers, keyboards, mice and projectors. Also our computers are connected to the internet. This helps us to get more materials online. Our school started the technology of teaching using the computers. This makes us students be more impressed and to work hard. Our teacher teaches us how to use them and how to access many subjects." Matthew, agrees: "I am enjoying myself and I am proud to study here at SOS. I advise all teachers to teach us using computers - this is much more interesting and we have more materials to learn!" 

Positive results, complex challenges

The students' enthusiasm and engagement in the classroom is visible - and making an impact on their grades. Out of 36 students who completed form four in 2013, 22 were selected to join form five schools - up from only eight students in 2011. Yet despite the positive results of the ICT4D project, several challenges were encountered along the way which serve as lessons for future initiatives. Kipuyo Lebaati, SOS Tanzania's ICT Coordinator, says:

"The experience of introducing different ICTs in the classroom suggest that the realisation of the potential educational benefits are not automatic. The effective integration of ICTs into the educational system is a complex, multi-faceted process that involves not just technology - indeed, given enough initial capital, getting the technology is the easiest part! - but also curriculum and pedagogy, institutional readiness, teacher competencies, and long-term financing, among others."

In Kenyan schools, technology is not a magic bullet

Children and teacher at computer lesson in SOS School in Kankan, Guinea
Schools need to receive training and ongoing support, not just new
technology, to ensure that ICT boosts learning outcomes of children.

The complex nature of successfully using ICTs in classrooms needs to be remembered when governments roll out technology initiatives in schools. In 2014, the Kenyan government decided that every school in the country should have access to a computer to improve the quality of education they receive. Their 'Government Laptop Project' will invest an estimated 600 million USD and provide dozens of laptops to all of the 20,000 primary schools in Kenya.

On the surface this is a fantastic idea, and will open up opportunities for Kenyan children and teachers to gain computer skills and access a wealth of resources. Yet, as Kipuyo Lebaati witnessed in Tanzania, many other factors within schools need to adjust when new technology is delivered. This includes teacher preparation and training, teaching methods, community engagement, and long-term support and financing. Technology by itself is no magic bullet. 

To maximise the educational benefits of new laptops in Kenyan schools, we have developed a unique approach in partnership with Plan International and NetHope. Our 'Open Space Literacy Project' (OSL) will fill gaps in the current plans, while leveraging the potential of the technology. Below are a few of the foreseen shortcomings of the 'Government Laptop Project' in Kenya, and how our OSL project will address them.

Gaps in 'Government Laptop Project'How they will be filled by the OSL Project
Many Kenyan schools currrently have a limited capacity to absorb a large number of laptops in one go. The OSL project will prepare and support schools to use the technology and to realise its potential.
Teachers have little to no computer training. We will train teachers in a holistic way, so that they are confident integrating ICTs into their teaching. We will also train teachers on classroom management and positive discipline. Teachers will be reminded to treat girls and boys equally, and encouraged to support girls' access to ICTs.
There are issues of sustainability - that is, the long-term effectiveness and engagement in the laptop scheme. There are also high security risks such as the theft or misuse of laptops. We will engage the community so that they are invested in the laptop initiative, understand its value, and collectively work towards it succeeding for the good of the school children.
The government project has no specific focus on literacy.  We see literacy as a vehicle out of poverty and into further studies. The OSL project will include literacy training. It aims to instill a culture of reading at home and at school, and encourage students and teachers to interact with digital content.
OSL project in Kenya
In an OSL-supported school, teachers will be
trained to use new technology, and digital
content will be stored locally to remove the
need for internet access.

Boosting literacy via technology 

In Kenya, 7.8 million adults (38.5% of adult population) and 29.9% of youth aged 15-19 are illiterate. Without this basic foundation of education, many are not able to fully participate in the economy or society. And while enrolment in school is improving in Kenya, the quality of education remains stagnant. 7 out of 10 children in class 3 are unable to successfully complete class 2 work. Therefore, we see the potential and importance of ICT in improving the quality of education in schools and boosting literacy rates. 

Our OSL project aims to reach 300 schools in Kenya by integrating ICTs into student-centric learning process, training teachers and involving communities. The five-year programme is expected to directly impact about 135,000 students in grades 1-3 and benefit an additional 225,000 students in grades 4-8. 

With thoughtful ICT4D projects, classrooms all around the world can be re-imagined. ICTs can be a powerful tool to improve quality of education, as well as imparting digital saviness - an essential skill in today's world.

If you're interested in ICT4D, read about how we are using technology in medical centres, community projects and SOS Children's Villages. 

SOS Children is committed to preparing the future generation with all the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to succeed. By sponsoring a child, you'll help prepare them for a bright future. Alternatively, learn about our education projects around the world.