Connecting learning to life and life to learning

Full title: Connecting learning to life and life to learning: is there a role for technology?

Educators and learners in Africa are appropriating and domesticating information and communication technologies (ICT) in culturally and socially relevant ways that are linking schools and universities with wider communities. This flattens the hierarchies of school and classroom structures, deepens the relationship with knowledge and opens the educational experience. We argue in this article that if African students are to be prepared for active participation in and shaping of 21st century living, both teachers and students will need to make good use of technologies. The evidence comes from eight years of research in 15 countries and over 150 educational institutions from primary level through university in all regions of Africa. The data collected is “open data,” online for access and analysis by others.

In thinking of ICT in education, some think only of open learning resources, distance education, and co-constructed learning materials. However, the integration of ICT into teaching and learning opens education in so many more and profound ways. The use of technologies opens schools and universities to wider communities, to the world. The process connects learning to life and makes room for students’ lived lives in the learning experience. Educators and students join communities of people well beyond their school, village, town or country. People are empowered to question and rebuild social constructions. It was Freire who said that no one educates another and neither does one educate himself alone; people educate themselves through the intermediary of the world. His vision becomes ever more feasible in Africa in the age of internet.

While one might think ICT is a way to inject western values into educational systems around the world, the use of computers and internet and other ICT can be a way for people to reconnect with themselves, their culture and their values so as to better project themselves into the future. The image of Africa, painted by media conglomerates, is a flat one that does not begin to capture the nuances and complexities of the continent and its peoples. However, African students are beginning to represent themselves and their realities to each other and to peers in other lands. While intermediaries such as textbooks and publicity and films remain, the power of handling tools of representation directly should not be underestimated. African students create and share and engage on their terms to project to others around the world what studying and living in Africa is like and what being a world citizen and an African means. Guidance from teachers remains paramount in this process.

This paper provides a glimpse of what is going on just under the surface in many schools and universities in Africa and announces the color of the future. We suggest that learners will translate and reflect the “openness” they experience at school in their life after school. Twenty-first century African students will expect more interactivity and opportunities for participation in society. However, systemic practices and policies are needed in addition to individual innovation to ensure that ICT use helps migrate learning to a more active, dynamic and open process. Without such a migration, an opportunity to reform educational systems to be more in sync with African mores and contemporary concerns may well go out the window.

Authors: Thierry Karsenti, Kathryn Toure and Abdoulaye Barry

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