Raissa Malu

The education of the future in D.R. Congo

Elèves participants à un atelier au Village des Sciences de la 5e édition de la Semaine de la Science et des Technologies

The deployment of new technologies for education in Africa is ancient. But it lacks concerted policies.

This lockdown period gave me the opportunity to participate in several webinars and to discover interesting resources. I attended a webinar organized by the African Union (AU) on Education in Africa in the face of the crisis, the weblive on Digital as a response to the crisis organized by La Tribune Afrique and the consulting agency 35°Nord, in partnership with Huawei, and I participated in a live debate organized by Ishango live days on "innovations for an education of the future in the DRC".

Reading reports

For the World Africa Day on 25th May, I discovered the Agenda 2063 of the African Union. And as the World Bank is preparing a report on digital technology in the DRC with concrete proposals to make to the Government, I immersed myself in reading the report Le numérique au service de l'éducation en Afrique (Digital Opportunity for Education in Africa) produced by the Agence Française de Développement, the Agence universitaire de la francophonie, Orange and UNESCO.

It has been published in 2015. Five years seems like an eternity when it comes to digital technology, but when it comes to digital technology for education in sub-Saharan Africa, this report remains highly topical.

The importance of ICTE

In the field of Information and Communication Technologies for Education (ICTE), everyone agrees on 3 points:

  1. they allow access to educational resources at low cost;
  2. they bring an added value compared to traditional teaching;
  3. they are a complementary solution for teacher training.

The incredible penetration rate of mobile phone in Africa would be a favorable factor for their integration. On the Orange Developer site, we can read that in 2019, Africa was positioned as a continent with one of the highest rates of mobile use (almost 80%).

The risk of retreat

But, it must be said, these technologies are still scary. We are afraid of losing our status and advantages. We are afraid of inequalities (as if our societies were examples of equality).

We are afraid of inequal education. And when we are afraid, the first reflex is to retreat into what we know: a classroom, four walls, a roof, benches, a blackboard, a teacher, (wise) students, paper textbooks and all expenses paid by the state! I found it interesting to share here some information to fuel the debate.

Since the 1960s

In the Digital Opportunity for Education in Africa report, we discover a fascinating timeline, the history of ICTE integration in sub-Saharan Africa. The adventure of ICTE began on our continent in the 1960s to increase access to education, improve its quality and equity. The first technologies that were used were television and radio with the aim of massifying education.

The then President of the World Bank, Robert Mac-Namara, said in 1968: "Because of the terrible and growing shortage of qualified teachers in developing countries, we must find ways to make good teachers more effective. This will require investment in textbooks, audio-visual equipment and especially modern telecommunication technology (radio, film, TV, etc.) to achieve the goals of education."

The efficiency of radio and TV programs

While the impact on school performance remains unknown, evaluations have shown that these school radio and television devices have helped to train a large number of primary school teachers and have had a positive impact on girls' education. Up until the 1980s, Television Education Programs (PETV) increased school enrollment, reduced repetition rates, and children had acquired a better oral command of French in areas where these programs were tested.

The beginning of the digital

In the 1990s and 2000s, there was a wave of computer equipment in schools. The computer room makes its entrance in African schools.

This was the period of familiarization with the use of computer and digital tools in a collective framework. Whether it be personal initiatives, NGOs, cooperation or development agencies, everyone wanted to have schools in Africa with computer devices.

Lack of strategy

Unfortunately, these many initiatives did not fit into true national ICTE strategies. These mostly philanthropic actions have nevertheless strengthened equity of access to computer devices for students and teachers.

From 2000, the appearance of the personal computer made it possible to move towards the individualization of computer practices with projects such as "one child, one computer". This individualization opened up new possibilities.

Content-centered approach

It is no longer just a question of becoming familiar with technological tools, we now want to be able to use ICTE in addition to traditional learning. There is a paradigm shift. From a tool-centered approach, we are moving to a content and uses centered approach.

The mobile penetration rate in Africa is favorable to this change. Starting in 2010, the continent is developing m-learning (mobile education) with the arrival of pads and cell phones.

Touchpads and phones

Touchpads are much more practical than computers. First of all, they are relatively cheaper and use less energy (they can be charged using solar energy).

Second, it takes only a few hours for a student to get to grips with the device, whereas the computer requires longer training. As for the cell phone, it has spread faster in Africa.

Interactive white board

Another technology that emerged in the 2010's in African schools is the Interactive Whiteboard (IWB). "An interactive whiteboard (IWB) also commonly known as Interactive board or Smart boards is a large interactive display in the form factor of a whiteboard. It can either be a standalone touchscreen computer used independently to perform tasks and operations, or a connectable apparatus used as a touchpad to control computers from a projector." (Wikipedia)

Technologies coexist

What is interesting is that these different phases coexist in time and space on the African continent, as well as within the same country. For example, in an African city, you will find a school where students have a touchpad at their disposal and take courses online, while only 20 km away, you have to consider giving courses on the radio to compensate for the closure of schools because there is no other possible device!

Complementary Models

These are complementary technological models that African countries should develop in their national ICTE strategy: courses in audio and video files on CD/DVD/USD keys, Internet platforms that can also be adapted to low bandwidths, short educational videos broadcast on TV, short lessons broadcast on community radio stations, published in local newspapers and sent by telephone, local servers that share content without the Internet, and printed materials. This is a hybridization (thought, assumed and not experienced) of pedagogical models and tools for a better integration of ICTs.

The case of D. R. Congo

Take the case of D. R. Congo. Within the Direction des Programmes Scolaires et du Matériel Didactique (DIPROMAD) of the Ministry of Primary, Secondary and Technical Education (PSTE), there is a school radio and television equipped in recent years to produce digitized educational content. The Ministry of PSTE has also equipped itself in 2018 with a modern television channel entirely dedicated to education, EDUC TV, accessible via channel 13 of digital terrestrial television (DTT).

Educational resource centers

Since 2015, the Ministry of PSTE through the Project of Support to Basic Education (PROSEB) has set up 35 educational resource centers in these regions called Greater Ecuador and Greater Kasai, with computer devices (laptops, a server, a WIFI router, a projector, a screen, a multifunction printer (scanner, photocopier)). The centers are places of training, documentation and personal work for teachers. They are equipped with VSAT antennas and solar panels.

The contents of the local servers (digitized training modules) must be updated by synchronization with the national server located in Kinshasa.

Schools access to the network

In 2018, the Education Project for Quality and Relevance of Education at Secondary and University Levels (PEQPESU) has geolocated approximately 82% of secondary schools, or 25,116 schools throughout the DRC with 44 national supervisors, 398 provincial investigators and 420 touchpads equipped with free and open source software.

The report of this geolocalization indicates that 82% of geolocalized secondary schools have access to one or more mobile networks.

Test phase

At the beginning of 2020, the PEQPESU launched the test phase (in 20 pilot schools in 6 provinces of the country) of the Math Whizz system. Math Whizz is an intelligent system that evaluates the level of students in Secondary 1 (grade 7 of Basic Education) in mathematics in order to offer them personalized teaching sequences to help them progress at their own pace.

The pilot schools were equipped with computers, a TBI, Internet access and energy. With the recent closure of the schools, the PEQPESU will provide access to the Math Whizz platform to parents, students and teachers who are willing to continue the pilot phase from home with their own device. This work is carried out with the company Whizz Education.

Deployment

Next school year (2020-2021), PEQPESU will install computer rooms in 540 high schools. This project also finances the interconnection of the country's universities and higher institutes.

And I specify that the Ministry of PEST has its own website, a Facebook account (22k mentions I like), a Twitter account (5.6k Subscribers) and a YouTube channel, Educ TV Officiel, (1.09k Subscribers).

Diverse obstacles

Over the last 15 years, we have tested several interesting projects (I have only mentioned a few of them here). However, we are still struggling to scale up.

Why is this? Because pedagogical, economic, technical, infrastructural and institutional obstacles still need to be overcome if ICTE are to be a real development lever for the DRC and Africa. In truth, the integration of ICTE does not depend so much on technological advances as on the appropriation of these technologies by users!

Teachers' skills

Consider the case of teachers. For this to work, our teachers today must not only have the skills to use ICTE, but also to create and share local content. The challenge is therefore to adapt technologies and educational content to the needs of teachers and students and to local specificities.

In this regard, I invite you to discover the excellent work done by my friend, Arielle Kitio, Ambassador of the Next Einstein Forum for Cameroon (2017-2019), with her company CAYSTI. In DRC, we also have interesting private solutions. In particular, there is SCHOOLAP which will launch in a few days the first virtual Congolese school with pedagogical content developed by local teachers, and ETEYELO with its KlasRoom solution which is an e-learning platform that allows teachers to go on interacting with their students.

Coordination and coherence

In conclusion, as the authors of the report on Digital Opportunity for Education in Africa put it so well, the DRC, like other African states, must put in place a macro-national framework that allows the different experiences and initiatives to develop in a coordinated and coherent manner.

The State plays a major role as a driving force for the integration of ICTE and as a factor in accelerating their deployment at the national level. However, this requires an increase in the capacity of service providers and beneficiaries.

"The wealth of modern nations is measured by the quality of the grey matter they are able to mobilize", Prof. Dr. Ing. Felix Malu Wa Kalenga (1936-2011)

Tech is fun, join us! 😉

This post was first published on Linkedin.

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