So the controversial Minister of Education, Lazarus Dokora is facing the wrath of parents and educationists who insist that cell phones (smartphones, tablets, phablets) and other devices in the school are a distraction, a behavioral problem, prone to thefts and open children to the risk of “bad” websites and so forth. He’s even had to defend his position in parliament.
So what really? Is this a Dokora problem or is he just suffering because he talked about the elephant that’s taking up the whole sofa? Has anyone considered the use of devices that don’t necessarily have to make calls? After all, whether we choose to ignore it or not, and whether we are aware of it or not, Zimbabwean youths have managed to get their hands on a cell phone of some sort.
Has Zimbabwe really considered that while we are still talking about to have or not to have, there are some countries that have developed curriculum for instilling ICT skills into their society at a very young age, in the same way kids learn music or swimming at a very tender age.
Six year olds are learning to code in China so they can develop products that they will sell to Zimbabweans of the same age (who could have learnt how to make the products themselves) twenty years later. As Zimbabweans we are stereotypical for referring to some of these skills and sports as zvevarungu (for the whites) and yet here is an opportunity to change that culture.
There are countless learning opportunities that can be realised through e-Learning and introduction of devices in schools. Why else would Econet invest in the EcoSchool project?
Why are we content with it being for tertiary education only? What about the use of tablets to teach in preschool via the use of special applications. If we used to gather around an FM radio for a thirty minute lesson at school, one that we remember today from Radio 4 (now known as National FM), why should we not utilise devices in the classroom?
Imagine how simple it would be to explain the theory of plate tectonics via such visual and practical aids. Content (General Science) would cease to become just a theory, the practicality of which may play a role in developing psycho-motor skills once computers in all forms become core curriculum as tools of trade. I am pretty sure i would have understood hydrocarbons chemistry better if i had the tools that are available today. Its a simple 5 minute video on Academic Earth.
I only owned a cell phone in my early twenties however. My two year old child knows how unlock and navigate an S4 to and get to Talking Tom. He still can’t pronounce it but he knows how to use it. I can be secure about my child doing that because the cell phone has a “Kids Mode”, a secure environment within the phone that protects my child from undue exposure.
My point is, most parents fear the dangers of smartphones because they themselves do not know the fuller extend of what they can use their device for in terms of functionality especially productivity and security.
This is why you see some “big” people stacking gadgets on top of each other in boardroom meetings; a mbudzi for calls, a for-status iPhone and Galaxy tablet for email and documents management outside the office. This whole picture is wrong. How then do we expect a parent like this one to comprehend the full functionality including censorship and restrictions on a device that they can afford their kids?
Do parents actually know that they can restrict access to rated sites? Do parents know that it is now very easy to track a stolen device? Do parents know that a device can even work without making or receiving calls?
You don’t shut down the internet because there is pornography, No! You regulate it. The same way you don’t disallow some very key learning tools because it they have their own dangers. Restrictions must be put in place on the device and the developers who figure this out quickly will earn themselves a healthy living. The educationists who develop the curriculum will do a great service. Restrictions can be put in place at school level. If a child uses their device where they are not supposed to, they get punished.
The President Computerisation Program might have gone quiet, but it had it spot on from the start. Saying children cannot have devices at school is like saying,
Thank you for the computerisation drive but we are not interested in upgrading to 2015. We will use our Pentium 1s at school and S6 Edges at home.
If anything, this country should unlock a lot of potential within the youth by globalising youth’s perspective beyond just Zimbabwe. We have some of the best developers here but they have no market for their products locally because the same parents who sent them to school to learn code are today killing a market that they could serve. If children learn to use devices at a good age, they grow up with a smaller world than generation before and their thinking is not limited by boarders.
The government should even go beyond allowing use, but developing a proper curriculum that incorporates ICT as fundamental. If we are to liberate our youth and generations to come we need to start deliberately planting and cultivating ICT industries in them. Who knows, maybe by the time they are in Grade 7 they will be able to code in one programming language. How else to we develop a Sahara Valley.
Then there’s the issue about those who cannot afford them, specifically the debate around rich and poor gap. The answer for me is simple. This is opportunity for creating jobs and employing numerous graduates walking the street today unemployed.
If Gtel and Astro can sell affordable custom phones, why can’t the Ministry of Education figure out the same arrangement for inexpensive tablets for learning? Through government financing (for neutrality) every child would be supplied with a device when they enroll into school.
They would then pay for this device over the course of their education. A locally assembled tablet can sell for $100 and this is not much over six terms. In all of this we are not even talking about the opportunity to develop applications or repair devices and the jobs that a local assembly plant for these devices would create.
I’m going to have to agree with Minister Dokora on this one.