Technology is the new baton in the Great Relay of Mass Education

On your mark! Get Set!…

The global education system is evolving. A few centuries ago, the goal was to create a “bureaucratic machine”, learners had to be identical and were trained for paper-based work. To join the said machine, good students had to write well, do calculations of head and be interchangeable.

In my parents’ days, not much had changed and the requirements of good learners were the same. Schools were few and far between and one would have to run kilometres to and from. Depending on which side of the tracks you were born on, one would either write in the sand and speedily commit it to memory before the elements erased it, or use one exercise book for all subjects.

My fortunes were better, I had access to crayons, notepads, fountain pens (it was the biggest deal when you were finally allowed to use one) — you name it! My only task was, and I was up for it, to transport these materials to and from my educational centres. I certainly contributed immensely to the school bag industry.

Today, there have been vast transformations to the global education system, with schools being more inclusive of all types of learners. Changes have been made to the curricula, technology has been adapted as a tool for teaching and learning. One can learn whatever they choose to.

Or can they? When it comes to choice, anyone from low and middle income communities would laugh at my face. They would think I’m speaking not of today, but of 2030, maybe 2050.

I refuse to extend it past that.

Amongst the several things poverty robs us of, choice might well be the greatest of all. We are still training our students to join a bureaucratic machine that is fast becoming obsolete: when it comes to employability, only those with access can generate choice and move forward, while others without it often lag behind.

Our governments did meet major milestones towards increasing the access to education, but that was only the first leg of the race: long term development requires opportunities beyond mere education — and even before, according to the United Nations, up to 57 million children remain out of school. We’ve got work to do!

The quality of education matters just as much as access to it. We need to ensure that students receive the same great quality of education regardless of their location, and develop all the skills necessary to keep learning throughout their lives.

In ages gone past the only way to achieve this goal was for institutions to document all their training information on paper, and send it off on a voyage across seas to all corners of the globe. This took months and has often not arrived as intended.

But we are now living a digital revolution, that reshaped all aspects of our world. In this great relay of educating the masses, the baton we are passed with is now technology.

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A Chalkboard Education training session in Benin, 2018

But there is still such an enormous disconnect between our existing education systems and the future of work we must take into consideration! We are guilty of referring to children who can operate mobile phones as smart and gifted. We marvel at how we would have been unable to do what they do. However, if we take a closer look, we realise that there is only one difference between the “smart and gifted” and the other: access to technology.

As custodians of the present, we need to ensure that our education is relevant to the present while designing the future. We need to encourage our learners to use tools that will be the hallmark of their generation.

For our continent, as we dream of double digit economic growth, let us run away from creating more spare parts for the human bureaucratic machine. Let us sprint towards curricula that prepare our learners for the opportunities and challenges ahead.

We have wrapped up the first month of the new decade excited about our resolutions and beautiful vision boards, ready to hit the ground running with our eyes on the prize. Let us now pause for a second and think about what baton we will be handing over at the end of our race.


About Genevieve Simiyu, C.O.O. at Chalkboard Education
Genevieve is an expert in education project management and distance learning. She leads operations and business development in anglophone markets. Prior to joining Chalkboard Education in Ghana in 2016, this double major graduate from University of Nairobi worked as a project manager at AIESEC and at Lancaster University.

Educational technology in Africa and emerging markets

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