ICT and Education in Africa


Akpodigha Filatei
Cambridge, UK

August 28, 2005.

"As knowledge in itself becomes a perishable item, the ability of learners to think independently, exercise appropriate judgment and skepticism, and collaborate with others to make sense of their changing environment is the only reasonable aim of education."
(Haddad & Draxler, 2002, p14)


In today's global information society, the forces of globalization, pace of technological change and the need for centrality of information and knowledge along with the importance of skills to access and use both new technologies and information more effectively, have greatly influenced education.  The coinage of ICT which is acronym for "Information communication and Technologies" to represent the totality of the aforementioned drivers of global change is ingenious!  However, as myriad of old educational problems are solved by this new and changing technological order, new challenges emerge.  Presently, Africa is slow to brace up to these challenges and benefit from the solutions.  It is my thinking that if concerted effort is not made by African countries to adopt the relevant technologies, Africa will not be able to leapfrog into the future at a reasonable pace as other continents.

But then, we have the neo-colonialist paradigm and those who believe in it say that if Africa continues to struggle to catch up with the rest of the world, it would not create the time to develop homegrown strategies for its liberation from the clutches of the former imperial powers.  They portend that the political and economic structures put in place by the imperial powers and the African elites' preference to sustain these structures is the bane of development in African societies.  They go further to say that this is the reason Africa continues to consume what it does not produce and produce what it does not consume.  To this group, an unqualified embrace of another technology like ICT which is a product of the former imperial powers is another attempt to assiduously maintain the status quo which will render Africa worse because it will once more become consumer of a technology it doesn't produce.

I recognize the thinking of the characters in the preceding paragraph but believe that it is too late for Africa to exist in isolation.  Africans have become world citizens and today have taken up citizenship in the countries of the other continents of the world.  To continue to compete with others for world opportunities and prosperity, Africa needs to embrace and partake in emergent protocols of the world.  The embrace of ICT, in this regard will be for good.

In this essay, I will discuss how ICT can be applied to education and show that it can improve access to education, contribute to the education of more people who would have been denied due to geographical distance, work and communal commitments and lack of prior learning experience among other reasons.  I will also discuss ICT's contribution in the cost-effective administration and management of education in the long-term, the potential for more commerce, new skills and jobs, and the potential to leapfrog African countries into a better future.

ICT in Education
One dictionary (http://dictionary.reference.com) defines education as:  "the knowledge or skill obtained or developed by a learning process".  "Learning process" requires communication between a provider or trainer and the learner in diverse ways (one-way or two-way or a combination) depending on the need (Butcher, 2003).
Better collaboration among students and their teachers is enhanced by modern technologies.  ICT, which comprises these technologies and the process of communicating information through the medium provided by these technologies, has remarkably changed the face of education, as we knew it before.

But, what is ICT?  For the purpose of this essay, I will borrow a definition of ICT as "the electronic technologies for collecting, storing, processing, and communicating information. They can be separated into two main categories: (1) those which process information, such as computer systems, and (2) those which disseminate
information, such as telecommunications systems (Gunton, T, 1993: p150).
The fast growths of the technologies that process and disseminate information across the globe have made the world a village, by eliminating the limit of space and time on information.  

Some of the possible methods of trainer-learner communication are:

  • Face-to-face.
  • Long-distance communication via correspondence by snail-mail, faster courier,  fax or e-mail.
  • Use of printed text that could be delivered either by correspondence or in a face-to-face class.
  •  Use of video by one-way broadcasting, two-way video-conferencing or delivery of the video material/cassette/CD of file.
  • Use of computers and computer-based media either in a face-faceclassroom or over some private or public networks.
  • It is usual in more developed worlds to see this as pre-planned in order to make the learner and trainer aware before the start of the process.

Depending on the circumstances and educational goals and objectives, a combination of any of these ways is preferred and hence used.  To enhance the delivery of the educational material using any of these ways, technologies are employed.  For example, face-to-face communication will be enhanced by overhead projectors, PowerPoint presentations using computers, pre-printed course highlights and other audio-visuals.  In the same vein, use of video in long-distance education will be enhanced by television bradcasting, videodiscs and video-conferencing technologies.   It should be obvious from the foregoing that the marriage of "Information", "Communication" and the appropriate "Technologies" enhances education in good ways.  In the rest of this essay, I will identify some problems of education in Africa, and suggest how ICT could be used to solve them.


Problems of Education in Africa and ICT Solutions

Some of the problems of education in Africa can be grouped under 3 categories. Here I suggest how ICT could mitigate them:

1.      Problems with the educational provider. 

The educational providers have the responsibility to manage and administer education.  They do this by designing curriculum, prepare budgets and use available budget to decide the cost of, and who receives education (in the case of government providers).  Without the use of the appropriate technologies, this task could become tough and it is tough in Africa, leading to poorly managed and deployed educational systems. Most African countries are still coping with educational systems inherited from imperial powers.  The legendary use of file cabinets and telephones is no longer adequate.

An example of how ICT can solve this problem is the deployment of databases and information warehouses to mine data about past and future educational needs of the different regions, gender and economic classes.  Use of electronic mails could also facilitate communication between providers and potential learners and among administrators in an effective and cheaper manner.  For this last point to happen,
African governments need to put in place, subsidized, central access to the Internet and email systems in both rural areas and the cities.
It would be easier for education administrators to plan and implement the first point about use of information warehouses in their respective institutions.   The reduction in cost that will accompany this effective administration of education by supporting the provider with ICT will fund the education of more people.

2.      The delivery of educational resources

As stated earlier, the delivery of educational resources is another problem in Africa. The reliance of the blackboard and the presently pervasive sale of printed lecture notes to learners restricts the design of educational curriculum to the face-to-face mode of communication which is expensive to sustain and deny a majority of good candidates opportunity for education.  Africa needs to exploit the huge opportunities distance-learning and open schooling provides.

Many people who have family, job and other commitments would avail themselves of this opportunity. And, information and communication technologies will make it easy to implement.  Example of technologies appropriate for this area are one-way television broadcasting, radio, audiocassettes and compact discs, multimedia computers and the Internet.  To utilize these technologies will require the redesign of
the curriculum.  This means that investment in this area would provide an opportunity to review existing curricula and inspire new one.  In the long-term, considering the potential for increased number of people with access to education, total cost to both the provider and learner is reduced.

There are many other good by-products of this point, one of which is the fact that the learners and providers will learn new technologies and hence new skills that would make them more useful in a world that is fast becoming a global village!


3.      Problems with the teaching and learning processes.

The problems in this category consist of teacher and learner access to current
materials and the lack of effective technologies that aid both teacher and learner in becoming more effective.  In Africa, teachers and learners alike do not have access to good libraries and where there are libraries, the materials are obsolete.  This hampers research and development.  In a fast changing world where most research institutes offer their publications in digital form, African countries have a compelling need to embrace ICT and benefit from these technologies.   On this point, the embrace would need to be more holistic; with the rural areas (and there are many in Africa) included in the plan.  There is a huge long-term financial saving in this when teachers and learners have access to a huge collection of up-to date digital materials over the Internet at a low one-time cost paid for by the educational institutions and recouped from the learners over time or borne by the governments.  It is also possible to secure aids from donor agencies to subscribe to these materials.  As is the case with ICT support for the previously mentioned problems, new skills will be gained by the use of modern technologies to solve this problem resulting in producing people that compete in more developed worlds for jobs thereby bringing prosperity to themselves and families.

Current state of ICT Application in Africa
It is appropriate to recognize the visionary efforts by some agencies in the application of ICT in education in Africa.  One of such projects is the E-Schools Africa Project by "New Partnerships for Africa's Development (NEPAD)" (see  http://www.foundation-development-africa.org/ )

The Innovation Hub project was initiated by the Gauteng Province in South Africa. It is an attempt by the province to move the economy away from its historical resource-dependent focus.  Though announced in 2002, the hub was officially opened in 2005. It is the first facility in Africa to become a full member of the International Association of Science Parks (IASP). The 60-hectare infrastructure boasts of broadband infrastructure of VoIP, multi-media and plug-and-play capabilities in a South African park. (see http://www.theinnovationhub.com/ )


I agree with Dr. Warren Groff (Groff, W.H., 2005) in his postulation that "Globally Competitive Communities" of the early 1990s and "Wired Communities" of the late 1990s have led to Electronically Networked Intelligent Communities (ENICs) that are changing the nature of business and economic development.  The political leadership of African countries needs to understand this and encourage the emergence of broadband communities, starting from the rural areas.  As demonstrated in this essay, benefits resulting into prosperity will accrue to the communities.  The experience in Niger where nature let loose some locusts resulting in famine is a lesson for resource-reliance communities to give-way to alternative means of economic development by plugging into the digital age.

Haddad, W. D. & Draxler, A. (2002). Technologies for Education. Paris: UNESCO and the Academy for Educational Development.
Butcher, N. (2003).  Technological Infrastructure and Use of ICT in Education in Africa: An Overview.
Gunton, T. (1993). Dictionary of Information Technology. London, Penguin.
Groff, W. H (2005).  Benefits of a Wired Society, Lagos Nigeria. http://www.greensk.net/wgnews200507wiredsociety.html