Why ICT is critical in ‘illiterate’ Africa

By Issa Sikiti da Silva, Dakar, Senegal

Sub-Saharan Africa has one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world. Lowest adult literacy rates were  below 50% in 2012 in 10 sub-Saharan countries, namely Benin, Senegal, Chad, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Niger, Mali and Sierra-Leone, according to a September 2012 report released by UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS).

An education specialist, Mamadou Dieng, tells Biztechafrica that ICT learning is critical in reducing the high levels of illiteracy in a given country provided that there is a political will to spend massively on infrastructure and reform the entire education system.

Dieng says most education systems in Africa are way beyond their time and need a major restructuring to make way for ICT methods of learning, adding that bypassing this advice will not bring about the desired results even if a given country were to spend fortunes in investing in ICT education.

A digital-minded Dieng says: “Traditional learning, in my view, is no longer effective and sustainable and needs a partner in these fast-changing times, and that partner is ICT learning. There is no doubt about that.”

The levels of learning and understanding of African pupils and students graduating from or attending non-equipped ICT institutions are pathetic nowadays, and this is a cause of concern, he says.

“Ask yourself why is that our kids finish school but they are not ready for the workplace.

“Why don’t we reform the whole education system and redesign new systems that will put both traditional learning and ICT learning at a equal footing?” he asks.

“This will mean introducing ICT learning in the early stages of the child’s life, right from pre-schools up to higher education, and I tell you, the results will be fantastic.

“As a continent riddled with illiteracy, we continue to make the same mistake over and over again, organising traditional classes for illiterate people without including any aspect of ICT learning. It’s a waste of time and energy. ICT learning makes learning easy and has the potential of offering to the learner multi-faceted ways of understanding and skills.

“You emerge from a learning institution not only as someone who can read and write ABC, but also as a digital-minded person full of digital ideas, who can take on any kind of challenge.

In Social Dimensions of Information and Communication Technology Policy, Chrisanthi Avgerou, Matthew L. Smith and Peter van den Besselaar acknowledge that ICT is meant to improve all levels of education, adding that it will strengthen attempts to eradicate illiteracy and encourage people to overcome illiteracy.

For British educational ICT consultant Terry Freedman, ICT can provide both the resources and the pedagogical framework for enabling pupils to become effective independent learners.

“Where ICT is taught well, it has been shown to enhance pupils’ levels of understanding and attainment in other subjects. That’s because “real” ICT is more about thinking skills than about mastering particular software applications,” Freedman wrote.

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