Challenges & Opportunities of ICTs in Education: A Case-Study of Malawi

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is gaining incredible momentum worldwide where dialogue is now on artificial intelligence, robotics, machine learning and automation. There are three sides to this conversation:

  1. What the effects these technological advances will have on the future of work and the skillset that will be required in future jobs;
  2. The necessary approaches that should be taken today in order to prepare for such advances;
  3. The inequality debate whether the digital revolution will further increase inequalities and disparities across and within societies and how to ensure that technology does not fuel inequalities.  

A grassroots reporting documentary case-study (by The Global Communiqué) looks at a developing country’s context, namely Malawi, to explore whether Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are being integrated into the public-school system and the challenges and opportunities experienced. This exploration, on ICT usage, is to decipher whether students in public primary schools and secondary schools (in African countries and particularly in Malawi) are being prepared for the technological revolution currently taking root.

 

The future of Africa is dependent on the way and manner its young citizens are educated today. According to the UN, 57 million children are out of school globally – of this number over half of these children, who are out of school, are in sub-Saharan Africa. The use of ICTs in education has the propensity to improve the education sector and its outcomes by attracting those that are out of school, reaching those learners who are in remote and far to reach areas as well as improve educational content. However, when filming the documentary, it was found that developing country-contexts (including those in Africa) face impediments to achieving this feat and making use of ICTs for education because there are barriers to entry in adopting and rolling out ICTs in public schools.

Such barriers to entry include:

  • The affordability of technologies in public school settings;
  • Access to continued electricity – given the extensive power cuts in some African countries, including Malawi (and the expense of using generators);
  • Qualified teachers and training of instructors who will make adequate use of the ICTs;
  • Cultural shifts and practices;
  • Lack of funding to maintain such technologies if in use;
  • High costs of internet use and slow internet.

These are among some of the numerous challenges associated with using and effectively rolling out ICTs in education in pre-tertiary teaching institutions. These “barriers to entry” and impediments to adopting ICTs in public schools ties in with the inequality debate because it prohibits some in society from being sufficiently equipped which will thereby widen the gap between those who have the opportunity to “jump on the bandwagon” of technological progress and those who are unable to do so.  

During one of the interviews conducted, Malawi’s Ministry of Education Spokesperson said that with the financial resources provided, public school administrators “have to meet their basic needs before they can begin to think about ICTs” in the bigger context “because adopting ICTs is not cheap”. Whereas at the same time, according to some of the teachers interviewed, ICTs usage in teaching also provides “much-needed support” and students also alluded to the enhanced learning experience and process when ICTs are incorporated.

This is a rapidly advancing and technologically-driven global village and it is only rational to ensure that students are adequately prepared for the jobs of the future. However, the reality is that some public-school administrators have to make difficult decisions with modest budgets they are given on whether to build learning shelters (classroom buildings) or hire more teachers for some of their students versus equip a room with computers (that will also need financing to be maintained). Notwithstanding, there are positive gains to be harnessed from the potential of ICT usage in education, but the related challenges cannot be ignored.

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Mary-Jean Nleya is a One Young World Ambassador and the founder & editor of The Global Communiqué. Follow her on twitter: @thegloco.