Change in traditional teaching and learning processes needed

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NIAMH BRANNIGAN

Education at all levels is considered the foundation for social and economic development the world over. Efforts to increase access to education in Africa and Kenya in particular through the introduction of free primary and secondary education have been commendable.

However sharp increases in enrolments have put tremendous pressure on the provision of quality education as evidenced by recent studies showing that most children in school in the East African region score below average for literacy and numeracy. Increased enrolments have also raised questions of equity and whether we are providing our children with the relevant knowledge and skills for the 21st century.

Many institutions are not equipped to handle the substantial increase in enrolments in terms of physical space, teachers (shortages and inadequate preparation) and instructional materials and equipment. Outdated and inappropriate methodologies and the mismatch between what is taught at institutions and what the economy and society demand, are some of the factors hampering relevance.

Technology today offers us opportunities to address many of these challenges: it can be used to reach out-of-school children and young adults by breaking down the barriers of space and time, to provide up-to-date electronic learning materials that improve quality, to train more teachers, to strengthen the management of the education system among many other possibilities.

In Kenya, the government is well aware of the potential of technology to help address some of these challenges. This is clear from the national plans and education sector plans and policies which all emphasise the role of technology in education, as well as the various initiatives under way including the digitization of the curriculum by the Kenya Institute of Education.

However, the successful integration of technology and the push to make education more relevant in the 21st century requires teachers with the right competencies, values and attitudes. Professor Moni Wekesa of Mt Kenya Law Department summed up the 21st Century teacher’s role perfectly in a recent interview when he said:

“My role is not to stamp my mind upon the student, but to stir up their own; not to make them see through my eyes, but to open theirs so that they can look inquiringly and steadily with their own; not to give them a definite amount of knowledge but to inspire a fervent curiosity to want to go out into the world and search for their own truths.”

Properly trained teachers can make the difference between an education system that fails to provide students with requisite 21st century skills, and a modern education system that cultivates skilled, and independent minded members of society. However, equipping teachers with technology skills and competencies is not enough.

To produce these suitably trained teachers in sufficient quantities requires a change in the traditional view of the teaching and learning process itself. Kenya’s National ICT in Education Strategy notes that “the limited and uncoordinated approach to imparting appropriate ICT skills and competencies to teachers remains a major barrier in the integration of ICT in education in Africa generally.”

Some of the challenges in imparting appropriate skills and competencies to teachers arise from a misconception that ICT skills are a panacea to educational problems. Teachers in fact require three types of knowledge to perform to the best of their ability. A teacher delivering the same physics lessons by rote for 25 years requires new content knowledge.

Teachers require new pedagogical knowledge to impart 21st century skills to students. Finally teachers require technological knowledge to integrate technology in teaching and learning to make them facilitators of learning rather than gate-keepers of information. When these three types of knowledge are combined the teacher can make the transition from traditional practice to 21st Century educational delivery.

An examination of the role of technology together with an update of the pedagogy and content in the transformation of teacher in-service and pre-service training curricula in Kenya and other African countries could have a dramatic impact on the quality of teachers we have. But this requires resources.

Many African governments have invested huge resources in widening access to education through the construction of schools and distribution of textbooks. Now they should see and are seeing the need to invest in the provision of a quality education through the re- training of teachers with and through technology to ultimately galvanise their economies through the development of a skilled work force.

GESCI is an International NGO based in Kenya Founded by the UN ICT Task Force. GESCI provides strategic advice and technical support to governments on the holistic integration of ICT in Education, and Science, Technology and Innovation systems for the development of a Knowledge Society for All. www.gesci.org

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