Monday, June 09, 2014

Learnings from eLearning Africa 2014

I was luckey to attend the 9th eLearning Africa conference in Kampala, Uganda last week. As part of my involvement with Nyenga Foundation, me and principal Grace BaigulaniraI took the opportunity to explore new possibilities for our school at Nyenga.




As a rural school in Uganda, we have a very long way to go in getting connection, equipment and teacher training, but this was a good starting point in getting inspiration, connections and ideas.

My 4 key takeaways from the conference was this:

  • A lot of innovation is taking place in the Afcrican content right now.  Both in terms of developing new technology and content, as well as deploying solutions in schools.
  • Content must me localized. Standardized content from US or Europe is not sufficient. The richness of African languages and culture, must be considered an asset and not a problem. For students to connect with the content, it must relate to their lives.
  • Connectivity is essetial. Internet connectivity in Uganda is crap and very expensive - although minister of ICT Hon. Nyombi Thembo tried to argue otherwise. I guess the fact that we only had internet connection on 1 out of 50 attempts on the conference Wifi says it all. Offline solutions are required, but there is a huge job to be done with connectivity in Uganda - I think many other African countries (e.g. Kenya) are better off.
  • Technology itself does not solve any problems. Studies show that implementation of technology does not increase learning compared to taking same actions without technology. However technology has the potential to scale things, and make things more efficient - the potential lies in scaling up things that are good.



The  approach of presenters and exhibitors fall roughly into 6 categories:
  1. Give more people access to internet and technology. In this category there is a span from the cool small scale operation of StudyTech who brings iPads and internet connectivity to rural schools for a day of two; to the large scale providers of platform and connectivity via satellite communication (SES from Luxenburg,  Yazmi from India and YahClick from South Africa). Mark East from Microsoft also mentioned TV white spaces as an promising technology for providing the "last mile" connecectivity.
  2. Digital curriculum on tablets to support teachers delivering the content. The Bridge international academies from Kenya is pretty extreme here- they script every lecture and have their teachers follow this script strictly via a Nook eReader. Their mission is to bring education to everyone and does this by setting up extremely standardized and efficient school at large scale with school fees at $6 pr month. iSchool from Zambia also provides a standardized curriculum on tablets both for supporting teachers and student comsumption.
  3. Digital curriculum on tables for student consumption. iSchool as mentioned falls into this category as well. The educational authorities of South Africa has done a huge project in digitizing the books and content for their curriculum. A lot of the content looked entertaining and interactive. "We are tired of paper behind glass - we want engaging content" stated Henry Kavuma from mini try of education , South-Africa. Kenya has also made the complete P1-P7 curriculum available on a single USB dongle, and are in the process of rolling out 1.2 million laptops to the school children of Kenya
  4. Co-creation of content. Creation of digital content as part of the learning process.
    Dr. Eric Hamilton from Pepperdine University are working on a very interesting project focusing on content creation as a core learning process but also a way to change the traditional teacher-student relationship. Read more about the project at www.teacherscreate.org. It is also worth noting that Microsoft has launched Office Mix, which is a free plugin to office for simple creation of eLearning content.
  5. Using mobile technology to make administration and communication at schools more efficient. The Bridge academy is a very good example here as well. All payments are done using mobile Money; no cash transactions are taking place. PEAS - a network of secondary schools in Uganda and Zambia is another example of smart use of technology in school administrations.  Plan Uganda has also done an interesting project using a SMS platform to improve communication between all school stakeholders
  6. Tablets and self-learning as as an alternative to schools. 
    What happens if you give a thousand Motorola Zoom tablet PCs to Ethiopian kids who have never even seen a printed word? Within five months, they'll start teaching themselves English while circumventing the security on your OS to customize settings and activate disabled hardware. Very interesting to hear Michael Girma Mekonnen talk about the "one tablet pr child" project and the results of MIT´s research.

Other cool stuff was 
Fundi Bots who's mission is to  "use robotics training in African schools to create and inspire a new generation of problem solvers, innovators and change-makers."


A cool ultra sound breast cancer detection glove contacted to a smart phone - from the Hive Colab Innovation Hub in Kampala

It was a great inspiring conference
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