Deliberate exposure of our children to supervised technology at an early age is extremely important if they are going to be at par with their peers around the world. I teach kids 11+ years how to program computers during their holidays at Therailsshop.
The difference in comprehension of technology is like day and night. Kids from international schools tend to pick up new concepts faster and are not afraid to take the knowledge and apply it on their own projects. In international schools a lot of emphasis is put on applying knowledge rather than just cramming facts and reproducing them in an exam.
Our local Ugandan school going children are not any less smart at all, but they are exposed to learning in a totally different way and it shows in my interaction with them. I also don’t ignore the fact that international schools are well facilitated with computer labs connected to the internet. The curriculum also includes ICT training very early on. Some schools I have been to also allow their students to have their own laptops at school.
This helps the kids demystify technology, and understand the fact that, tech is there to help and not something out there that only benefits people of a certain aptitude, age or social standing. They are in close interaction and become comfortable interacting with it. This greatly influences their adult interaction of with technology in the work place, a huge benefit if we going to grow a critical mass of tech and knowledge workers. The jobs of the near future involve very close interaction with technology and we cannot let our kids get left behind.
Through initiatives like what the TODIDEA is doing by taking ICT clubs to mostly UPE (Universal Primary Education) schools around Kampala to begin with and then scale, there is hope. These are mostly very poorly funded and poorly facilitated schools with unmotivated teachers. They deserve a chance to also get a relatively good exposure to technology. The TODIDEA is leading the conversation through action but we need more players if we are going to reach many schools.
We can achieve this through involving different players, these are government and the private sector. Private sector led in implementation and government in legislation and regulation. A level of regulation is especially good but again not too much to stifle growth and innovation. I see the private sector leading the conversation here because they are profit led and mass school ICT education provides economies of scale. Scale also means that private EdTech firms can offer a quality service at a subsidized rate.
Our country can achieve a level of delivering a balanced ICT education to the masses through partnerships. Government also has a much better ability influencing global partners to be a part of this initiative through the ICT ministry. Initiatives like the Chan and Zuckerberg and Melinda and Gates foundations are players that have funded and greatly impacted such initiatives. Chan and Zuckerberg foundation invested 24 million US dollars into Andela.
Andela trains software engineers in Africa and then connects them to internships that eventually turn into full time employment at big tech companies around the world. Andela believes that talent is everywhere but opportunities are not.
They have taken a step to tap into the huge talent pool that Africa offers. Learning technology is not limited by geographical borders, therefore everyone can learn and add value to the global tech work place and this also includes Africans. Andela is now in Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda, and they are doing amazing work. The run a very successful fellowship program where programmers and non-tech people are welcome to join. Successful applicants are given world class training and are prepared to join the tech work force around the world.
The innovation village in Kampala, a space where entrepreneurs meet and network is doing amazing work. Opportunities are tapped into through different players coming in to talk and motivate young entrepreneurs. Local EdTech companies call it home, and here they meet and try to forge a way forward towards increasing penetration levels for ICT education to the masses.
I have attended one of those talks, where the largest EdTech fund that sits in South Africa was introducing their fellowship program. Local firms in EdTech could and will benefit from this immensely. The private sector moves things a lot faster, we cannot rely on government only.
The parents and the teachers are also big stakeholders in this initiative. The role of parents is crucial because they meet the cost and the teachers deliver the lessons some cases. They all need to understand the benefits of introducing technology early to the kids because the kids are not yet empowered to make that decision. The teachers need the education and the tools to make delivery smooth and effective.
Educational technology is no longer a luxury. It is a basic human right and we owe it to our young people that are going to be leading this country soon. Technologically delivered education is ubiquitous and eventually cheaper for all. This is where government must put a lot of priority by investing in ICT infrastructure and therefore lowering communication costs which are a huge hindrance in delivering quality ICT education.
I conclude by calling out to private players to lobby government and government to use its influence to lobby international players in partnership with local private firms. Increase budget allocation to improving communication infrastructure. Through all these initiatives we can change the way ICT education is delivered and how far we can penetrate deep into the masses in our attempt to provide it to all. Our investment will not have gone to waste. At Therailsshop we are making our contribution albeit small but it’s a step in the right direction.