A cost effective mobile solution to support ICT and Education in Nigeria

Written by Oyehmi. T. Begho BSc (Hons), QTS, MA, MBCS, MCPN

i-Connect Project

 

Great News: On the 15th of November 2012  the i-Connect Project emerged winners of the first edition of the ‘Etisalat Nigeria Prize for Innovation’ organized

by Nigeria’s most innovative telecommunications company, Etisalat. I was flown over to South Africa to pick up the award and further talks are taking place on the development of our first i-Connect Mobile Unit.

For the official article click here

 

The Problem

The Nigerian education sector has deteriorated rapidly over the last decade. Many have blamed the lack of monetary investment in this area (less then 7% of our national GDP is allocated for education, 17 below the recommended amount by the UN and considerably lower than other poorer African countries invest). Also, the lack of well equipped and properly qualified teaching staff just confounds an already difficult problem.

In many western countries governments have made it compulsory for all teachers to undergo ICT certification courses regardless of their subject area. Over the past few years school curricula has been digitised on a national level and made available to all teachers and pupils via online learning portals. The main success of these initiatives has been due to a high investment in computer infrastructure. http://edzone.besa.org.uk/documents/besa-ict-in-uk-state-schools-research-2010-desktop-to-laptop/

At this point in time it would be immature to start building ICT suites in all of Nigeria’s Primary and Secondary institutions and even the laptop per child initiative (or just providing a laptop to teachers) is a long way off from realistically fulfilling Nigeria’s educational needs. Unfortunately, the problems faced in our current environment are proving to be too much of a hindrance.

http://www.tmcnet.com/usubmit/2010/04/02/4707123.htm.

Present hindrances in ICT school implementation

There are various key success factors and prerequisites for ICT use and e-learning in developing countries. In order to identify these key success factors, we will proceed by listing all limitations the implementation of ICT use faces in developing countries.

●      Poor technical infrastructure

The technical infrastructure in developing countries is not highly developed, which means that phone-lines and Internet connections are unreliable or slow due to narrow bandwidth. Access problems are very common as not everyone has a personal computer or laptop or access to a shared computer. Most users access the Internet in cyber cafes, with shared bandwidth, thus slow Internet connections. In Nigeria our problem is further worsened by the lack of adequate power supply which makes it near to impossible for educational establishments to run their own ICT suites.

●      Financial restrictions

In developing countries the cost of ICT equipment can be a limiting factor with regards to reaching a broad target audience and making sure that everyone can afford this service. Also misappropriation of funds has added to the ongoing problem. Sadly many IT companies have their own agenda or have a complete lack of knowledge of the requirements of educational institutes. Just supply computers/laptops and some content will not solve our problem and there are solid bodies of research that prove this.

●      Lack of computer literacy

It has been found that low computer literacy level is a critical factor that affects the acceptability of ICT/e-learning by students and teacher in educational institutes. This is highly critical, as it further widens the gap between Nigeria and the developed world. Furthermore the lack of ICT training for teachers and lecturers makes it hard for them to provide digital content, even when provided with all necessary infrastructures.

●      Low quality of content

Due to limited exposure of our teachers/lecturers to current literature and modern techniques, a large amount of content produced is of a very low quality and does not match international standards. The quality of content is essential when it comes to teaching and learning, even more so when applied online. Sub standard resources affect learners ability and reduces motivation greatly.

●      Lack of motivation and confidence in using ICT

Limited ICT knowledge, makes teachers anxious about using ICT in the classroom and thus do not feel confident enough to embrace these new pedagogical practices. The 2004 Becta survey on the perceived barriers to the uptake of ICT by teachers also refers to the ‘teachers’ fear of admitting to their pupils their limited ICT knowledge’. In addition E-learning Nordic shows that teachers who do not experience any impact of ICT assess that they only to some or a lesser degree have sufficient ICT competences to integrate ICT into their teaching.

●      Inappropriate teacher training

Unsuitable teacher training programmes fail to engage teachers in using ICT in the preparation of their lessons. The importance of this cannot be over emphasised. Teachers are the foundation to educating our pupils but times have changed and their lack of new knowledge / material has a immense affect on student learning. Simply put, poor teachers equals poor students.

Benefits of ICT use in supporting education in Nigeria

ICT applied to education is being deployed in varying modes from sector to sector, these range from basic e-learning or distant learning to the use of small device such as mobile phones. Over the years traditional education has shifted towards these new methods of teaching and learning through the proliferation of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). The continuous advances in technology enable the realisation of a more distributed structure of knowledge transfer.

The use of ICT in education has become more and more popular all over the world. Its success is mainly based on its distinctive features; it is easily accessible, cost efficient, gives students the flexibility of learning anytime anywhere (mobile phones have supported this), it helps provide uniform delivery to all users reducing chances of misinterpretations, as well as promoting team learning and collaboration.

This is critically important for supporting developing countries like Nigeria that lack the resources and infrastructure for implementing cutting-edge educational practices.

These cutting edge practices come hand in hand with the introduction of ICT into the learning environment. ICT has been found to distinctly support language development in general, particularly at the early stages. It tends to have positive effects in science and mathematics on specific concepts and, in learning modern foreign languages, on the acquisition of sub-skills such as word recognition and vocabulary building. This would be ideal in the Nigerian education sector as the level of English has dropped considerable over the last few years. The 2011 WAEC results, for instance showed 70% failed to obtain five credits passes and above in English and Mathematics.

One of the other benefits of its introduction in developing countries like ours and within this project in particular would be to help bridge the knowledge divide and the ever increasing gulf forming between the ICT and non ICT literate populace. Just having basic IT knowledge can make a big difference in our ever increasing knowledge economy.

The following examples show very practical examples of how ICT can support teachers, admin staff and pupils.

  1. A teacher having to set a multiple choice test for just one class of 50 pupils, which has 20 questions would have to mark 1000 questions. This same test carried out on the computer would be marked automatically within seconds and can even give grades such as A, B, C, Passed, Failed etc. these kind of assessments can save a teacher hours of admin time.
  2. Pupils learn more efficiently when actively involved in their own learning process. There are many programs that enable interactivity between the computer and the pupils, which they find very engaging and motivational.
  3. Videos can be used to support hard to teach topics such as abstract math concepts, the solar system and planetary bodies etc
  4. Teachers themselves can learn about more advanced areas in their subjects and thus pass this on to the pupils. If teachers understand a topic better so will their pupils.
  5. There are a lot of free teaching and learning material online specifically for teachers. This can greatly help support their methods of teaching and reduce workload.
  6. Using computers for general class use will help both teachers and pupils increase their IT literacy skills, these skills can then be used later on in life in and outside the classroom.

These are just a just a few examples and barely scratch the surface. The underlying key here is that it provides an avenue for knowledge acquisition and this is crucial in an information driven society where knowledge is power.