Cheap Technology Advances Generate Hope for Education in Africa

The northeast portion of Nigeria is riddled with conflict, but at least one classroom is making the future look a bit brighter for its students through the use of a $40 credit card-sized computer called Raspberry Pi, with which the teacher can project mathematical charts on to a whiteboard in the classroom.

The class is part of a co-ed private secondary school in Yola, which is the capital of Adamawa state.  Students are part of an extra-curricular class run by the American University of Nigeria (AUN) reports The Economist.

The class is a way in which the university is preparing students for university degrees in science, technology, math, and engineering.  Nigerian students say that they want a technology revolution like their Chinese counterparts, and the school’s teachers feel the same way.  This is a reasonable goal based on the affordability of technology like the Pi.

Rapid population growth, lack of textbooks, and a serious lack of qualified teachers all work together to make Nigeria a country that is facing a severe learning crisis.  A complete rethinking of education, in general, will be needed before any improvement can be made.

Experts in technology insist that computers, tablets, and smartphones can help.  Since connectivity is making great strides, reaching children through technology will be easier than through traditional educational methods.

Already the experiment in Yola is improving learning outcomes and AUN is seeking to add this program to other Nigerian universities.  The Boko Haram regime makes schooling nearly impossible, and an ineffectual government will make distributing technology to schools nationwide extremely difficult, but this class in Yola is giving many the hope they need to soldier on.

The Linux VoiceFeed recently interviewed the educational team behind the Raspberry Pi Foundation – Ben Nutall, Clive Beale, and Carrie Ann Philbin – and got their points of view on IT training in the UK.

- The people involved in developing the Raspberry Pi were 50% teachers and 50% software developers.

- The importance of teachers and developers getting together through workshops and like-minded gatherings to learn and exchange ideas and ask questions cannot be overstated.

- Technology is engaging and universal. It can draw in students at all levels of competency.

- The Pi allows real freedom for teachers.  It is durable,  does not have to be authorized, and has been the catalyst for exploration and creativity.

- Teachers need an allotted time to develop their technological skills.  Time should be given to teachers, also, for visiting other schools, businesses, and companies that are using the tech skills that teachers want to teach their students.

- Changing the way teachers teach is a long-term exercise.

TechCentral has published an article by Regardt van der Berg, which explains how a small-form-factor computer for South African schools will impact the country’s education.  Johan Roos, founder of Enterprise Intelligence, developed EduCube, which offers a range of software for students from grade one to the last year of high school,

EduCube caters to all levels, has 440,000 Wikipedia entries stored in the device, stores past exam papers, and educational games.  The EduCube can be used where no Internet connection is available.  The devices have a maintenance agreement which includes updated content every three years.