HomeOpinion & AnalysisWhy tablets, phones could be bad for Zim schools

Why tablets, phones could be bad for Zim schools

According to a report carried by a local daily recently, the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education announced that it would be a requirement that school pupils have tablets and phones. While this sounds like a great idea in the right direction in the digital age, I personally think it was a bit ill-timed. My reasons follow.

By Robert Ndlovu

A child plays with a tablet. At school tablets should only connect to an intranet to filter bad content
A child plays with a tablet. At school tablets should only connect to an intranet to filter bad content

Before even discussing this, I am just thinking aloud on the number of schools I know with no basic internet connection, text books and science laboratories.

This is one of the decisions made by an excited ministry panel without any wide stakeholder consultation. How will the schools, mostly public, deal with issues of filtering bad content from being accessed by our schoolchildren?

Kenya has progressed greatly in pushing the use of smart devices in their public schools. The success has been a direct result of a clear national broadband policy to bridge the digital divide.

In other words, a lot of work must be done so that more and more people are connected online before someone starts dreaming about tablets in a class. We need to address the following issues before embarking on such knee-jerk decisions that are now a trademark of the ministry in question.

For starters, how many of our trained teachers are computer literate? I would say less than 25%. By computer literate I am not referring to a teacher’s ability to type a document, compose and send email.

That is not computer literacy. And why is it important? How do you expect the teacher to use these devices as a teaching tool when they themselves can hardly use computers?

I have trained a number of teachers from a number of public schools ICDL (International Computer Driving Lesson).

This course defines the skills and competencies necessary to use a computer and common computer applications.

It offers a wide range of modules, including computer essentials, word processing and IT security. We have an interesting situation where most pupils are computer savvy and smartphone “smart”.

They are very good when it comes to use of Whatsapp, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, among others. In a research I carried in some schools only last year, I discovered that most public schools did not have a qualified computer teacher to start with.

ICT skills enable teachers to use technology more effectively in the teaching process, thus achieving educational goals more efficiently, and in doing so, save time and increase productivity in the classroom.

Now to expect our teachers to cope with new ICT teachings tools that they themselves do not have is like asking a blind man to lead a three-year-old to cross a busy road.

To this end, the concerned ministry must first equip the teachers with the necessary skills so that the tablets and phones to be introduced will be put to maximum use .

A bolder step would be to make ICDL certification compulsory for all teachers who graduated in the last five years.

And make it a point that all student teachers at our training institutions have an approved ICT qualification before graduation.

No doubt the new generation is digital savvy. ICTs cannot be stopped. But asking pupils to bring tablets to school is putting the cart before the horse.

The larger challenge is more social than technical. Take a walk around after school breaks and see how our kids are hooked on their phones.

This is a new reality. Trust me, you do not want to see some of the stuff that is being exchanged on those phones.

Work around that has proved that very successful certain schools in Zimbabwe include use of pre-programmed tablets.

In short, these tablets have limited applications that are non-education. This can easily be done at a system level. In other words, the ministry must have approved tablet vendors.

These vendors will be able to supply and configure them to block bad content. A pilot-run being carried out in a public school in Bulawayo allows all these devices to connect to an “intranet” that is not connected to the internet for certain age groups.

The devices connect to what is called a digital library with “all” educational material needed by the pupil for the purposes of their education and study. They can access internet at their homes.

I find it very disturbing that an educationist like Lazarus Dokora finds it normal that phones must also be part of this. There is a big difference between a phone and a tablet.

How does a pupil study from a phone? Tablet yes, phone, no. Tablets can have WiFi access only whereas smartphones have other access methods like GSM/3G/4G/Bluetooth that easily distract pupils in class.

The other part has to do with parents and guardians. Tablets play a major role in our schools children use these devices for educational purposes.

Parents are generally divided on this matter. And that is very normal. Peer pressure, status symbol, old school mentality come into the mix when this debate is started.

But I must hasten to say that college and varsity have been more intuitive and productive in the use of these devices because they are computer literate and more mature than school pupils.

The idea is certain in line with where technology is heading. But I can say it now that more than 80% of schools are not ready for this since most of their teaching staff has not been formally ICT trained.

It is needless to discuss the other factor of cost of gadgets. I will leave that to the reader to ponder upon.

The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education must form an inter ministerial committee or panel to address this tablets issue with the ICT ministry so that they come up with an e-learning working document.

No rocket science is needed to figure out that as long as school heads and teaching staff are not in the forefront of this, so many dubious versions of e-learning will do the rounds. You have been warned.

Here comes a chance for ICT professionals to get involved in equipping schools with the necessary skills training and support.

Feedback: ndlovu @ Ymail.com

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