WEF on Africa 2016: Digital technology in schools

What problems can be solved by the use of digital technology in schools? This was one of the questions discussed at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Kigali. Speakers from across the world gave their insights into how digital technology could improve learning inside and outside classrooms.

rabana main Rapelang Rabana, founder of ReKindle Learning, spoke at the session “What if: all education were digital” at the 2016 World Economic Forum on Africa, held in Rwanda from 11 to 13 May. (Image: World Economic Forum on Africa)


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Technology should be used to add value to the teaching process in the classroom, according to Rapelang Rabana, founder of ReKindle Learning. She was speaking during the debate “What if: all education were digital” at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Kigali, Rwanda from 11 and 13 May.

Other speakers on the panel were Fred Swaniker of the African Leadership Academy; Aryn Baker of Time magazine; Colin McElwee of Worldreader, which provides e-books to low-income countries; Rwanda’s minister of youth and ICT, Jean Philbert Nsengimana; and entrepreneur Temitope Ola of Koemei.

Can technology replace teachers?

Regarding the question of whether technology could replace teachers or the traditional way of teaching, Rabana said it was not correct to think about ousting teachers. “If you were looking at a different industry, you would ask where the biggest challenges were and then try to find the technologies to solve those problems,” she said.

“We should look at what activities can benefit from technologies more,” she added. “When I say learning activities, for example, I am referring to things like discovery, research, and finding things to prepare for class. Digital tools can be affective for that.”

It should also be explored as a tool to facilitate group and peer interactions, as well as debates. “We still have to make sure that we adequately learn from our peers,” Rabana said.

Having digital technology in a classroom should free up the resources of teachers to do things that were more “high-touch or more complex”.

Connecting people to the internet

There were different stages of solutions to give people access to the internet, Rabana said. “We often bring internet access to a central place like a school or a place of work (where people can download what they need).

“They don’t need internet access at home then. You still provide an effective place offline.”

Swaniker said he would like to see an internet portal like Airbnb to be developed, but for education. Airbnb connects people all over the world; is a website for people to list, find, and rent lodging anywhere on Earth.

“You can have these big buildings that have things like internet access and electricity,” Swaniker explained. “There is no-one there in the evenings and on the weekends. Imagine if we created those centres where young people can come and they can all get the access to the world’s education and learning resources online.”

These centres would have facilitators to help the youth.

Ola said his organisation had found that people could use mobile messaging applications such as Facebook and WeChat to build education applications on these platforms. “It’s free and we can enhance access with that.

“My concern is always, how do we use what we have now to solve the problems we have now.”

The importance of digital technology in education

If schools had access to the internet, they should leverage digital technology as much as possible, Swaniker said. “It allows us to do things we weren’t able to do in the past. In the olden days students would go through every month and not know how they were doing until the end of exams.

“But today you can track how someone is doing, enabling us to identify those students who are struggling and those who are bored, and those who are able to work at their own pace.”

Access to the internet allowed Africans to overcome the massive challenges on the continent, he added. Challenges mentioned by the panel were poverty and lack of good teachers.

Worldreader had evidence that girls took more advantage of its programme than boys, McElwee said. Girls used mobile phones five to six times more often and for longer periods at a time to access education than boys, he said. “It’s not about what you and I think of education but what do they (those girls living in poverty) think.”

Many girls in impoverished communities risked their and their families’ lives on daily because they went to school. “I know people on this continent indeed recognise the importance of education. For many that education is the only path out of poverty.”

Watch more on the discussion here: