Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Dear Dora, Don’t Do This.

3031357749_3383ed9146 BusinessDay reports that the Federal executive council is planning to spend 3.6 billion Naira on computers and internet connectivity in 260 schools around the nation. Professor Dora Akunyili made the announcement, no doubt because it’s her job to share the word, but also because her ministry would probably be responsible for making it happen.

I’m a firm believer that every Nigerian should have internet access for education, commerce, communication and entertainment. Such a plan shows that our leaders are turning their minds to the future and realising the necessity of raising our children on the technologies that will elevate them to prime position among their peers. Nevertheless, I think it is a rotten idea and I’ll tell you why.

I work in corporate IT and one lesson we learnt over the years is that technology is only a viable investment if it supports a valid business process. An investment in IT infrastructure for schools is only valid if it supports a properly designed educational curriculum with an educated and motivated staff to deliver it using a set of well iterated designed tools and processes. While I am not privy to the FEC’s plans, and with no details so far beyond the press release, it is unclear whether the plan takes this into account.

Yes we need to enable the next generation become comfortable with technology, both from the perspective of teaching them the fundamentals of maths, science and from using it in the classroom. First, however, we need to enable the faculty be competent and comfortable with the technology. I don’t mean the teacher tasked with teaching a computer class. I mean all the teachers. The teachers need to be able to prepare their lessons on computers. They need to be able to do research. To be able to use technology tools create, to grade and score tests. To be able to confer with other teaching professionals across the world. There also needs to be incentive to do this. If they’re not well paid and well trained, I fear we may see the next wave of 419 rising from the staff rooms of our nation’s schools (aided by the students) using computers provided by the government.

Secondly, the technology tools need to be used to teach the subjects themselves – not just as show pieces for “this is a monitor. This keyboard. This is a mouse.”. The technology should be used to teach English. Maths. Music. Physics. Biology. Elementary science. The curriculum showed be woven around the tools and the tools used to present the subject matter.

Lastly, a comprehensive, powerful yet simple educational software stack needs to be developed or purchased. This stack would have the curriculum, the digital forms of the books to be used for all the schools and classes. It would have tools for tracking student progress and for identifying educational deficiencies, exceptional students – as well as malpractice (both among the teachers and the students). This technology would enable customising the appropriate plan for each student’s need. It would be used for testing students as well as aggregating results across the nation. It would be used to define as well as validate educational policy. An example of a platform that can be used and built upon is Moodle.

The 3.6 billion is better spent on a whole bunch of things before the idea of internet access and computers for the schools themselves are even considered. And I’m not even going to start on the other infrastructural things that need to be in place to make the FEC’s plan viable (electricity supply, anyone). In short, information technology needs to be used to fix the educational system itself before anything else, otherwise the money will be wasted. Until that is done, I’ll have to say don’t do it, dear Dora. Please, don’t.


(Thanks to Loy Okezie for pointing out the Business Day article to me)

Picture courtesy of flickr.com