Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Harnessing the Power of Digital Technology for Education in Ghana

Ghanaian high school teachers undergoing ICT4E training in Saltpond, Central Region
Information Communication Technology (ICT) can be a great enabler of learning when used rightly. For this to happen, both teachers and students must be adept at handling all kinds of gadgets and software. Ghana has a lot of promise in the digital education space, but a lot remains to be done to bring our level up to speed with global standards. My post explores five ways through which technology can be applied to enhance learning in Ghana.

Use of Tech in Classroom
A skilled teacher can apply technology in her classroom in many ways. She can run her lessons using PowerPoint or an open source alternative. This automatically allows for the integration of pictures, videos and other multimedia. Use of multimedia content increases the attention of students as their senses are fully engaged. The chalk or marker board would still be used for sketches, annotations and other classroom activities. Of course teachers in a typical Ghanaian school may not have access to a projector but it is possible in this age of proliferation of mobile devices to take initiative to get relevant images and videos on a smartphone and tablet that students can watch to enhance their understanding. A student may have the challenge of understanding the chemical principles behind the cleansing action of a detergent, but would easily pick up the concepts when shown a YouTube video of the process. I used this method to great effect.

Content Creation
There is no gainsaying that access to the Internet opens up a wealth of information for the Ghanaian learner. That said, it is often asked whether the kind of content currently online is relevant to our students and pupils. I would say not always. Inability of students to relate to the information they come across on the Internet is a barrier to their full understanding of concepts. Also, there is almost zero content available for certain subjects like Ghanaian languages. Teams of teachers and students can work together to address the dearth in local educational content problem. This creates a collaborative learning atmosphere that fosters development of critical skills such as creativity, teamwork, leadership and communication. 

App Development
The Ghanaian developer community must play their part in improving educational standards in the country. Advancements in computing and software development has resulted in the abundance of many easily accessible yet powerful open source platforms, that can be used to create educational web and mobile applications relevant to Ghanaian school children. Therefore, technologists need to work with teachers to digitize notes and test questions, and repackage them into stimulating content that students can easily interact with and learn from. Growth in the use of educational technologies in Ghana would in the long run profit software developers. However, their involvement in the sector should not be seen with purely as a business opportunity but as a social crusade as well. We need to see more projects like Paasco Africa spring up and make a difference to learners.

Student Learning Activities
The effectiveness of ICT in education is enhanced when use of relevant tools is integrated into student learning activities. Students can explore topics such as Body Mass Index (BMI) and graphs with spreadsheet software, allowing them to develop computing skills alongside subject-specific knowledge. Tasking students to deliver assignments through presentations and email enable them to pick up key work-study-life communication skills needed to thrive in the 21st century. One may think my point is basic, but a student once scanned a handwritten assignment and sent it to my inbox when I asked them to submit a group work electronically. While such a behaviour is excusable at the pre-tertiary level, the reaction would have been totally different at an institution of higher learning. My point is that we need to create the platform for the young ones to make all the mistakes now, rather than later, when much is at stake.

Creating a Web of Learning
Social media has become a reality of our modern existence as a species. Many students are distracted from their studies when they spend endless hours online connecting with their friends on Twitter or Facebook. But, this situation can be turned around through well thought out strategy. We can capitalise on the students’ interest and engagement on these platforms to serve them with educational content. This ties in with some of the points raised above. Imagine the level of excitement and the amount of learning students will experience if they were working on a YouTube video project for class assignment. Further teachers can use Facebook groups (such as Global Lab Ghana, Google + hangouts and Twitter hashtags to take class discussions beyond the classroom. This way students benefit from the insights of their colleagues and other experts from across the world. They also get to analyse issues in a more relaxed environment as compared to the traditional Ghanaian classroom setting. This hopefully will deepen their understanding and engender application.

We cannot hide our heads under the sand like ostriches in the information age. Ghanaian teachers need to embrace digital tools for teaching and content creation. App developers need to pay more attention to the needs of the educational sector and students must be encouraged to harness ICT to aid their learning. The steps we take today, through policy formulation and effective implementation, will inform how well our educational sector will work some few years down the line.

This post is part of Blu’s LiveBlu Forum, a social commentary on work-life balance in Ghana. Join the discussion at: http://blughana.wordpress.com/ #LiveBlu #BeLieveUme or sign up here to try turbo-charged internet powered by Blu.