• August 11th, 2020

The coronavirus: A catalyst for technological transformation in education

On account of the Covid-19 global pandemic, so far over 185 countries have implemented nationwide closures, impacting over 1.542 billion or 89.4% of the world’s student population (total enrolled learners, pre-primary to university). That is about 20% of humanity (UNESCO Global Education Coalition, 31 March 2020).

In addition to losing out on content and the benefits of the most common and traditional face-to-face learning mode, a prolonged confinement causes students to miss opportunities to learn from peers and discover themselves, to participate in new initiatives such as cultural exchanges, and more. On a broader scale, disrupted learning and work routines have left learners and students, as well as teachers, faculty and staff of schools and universities, parents, guardians and caregivers feel overwhelmed by anxiety and the looming changes. The impact of medical, economic and social burdens rage on in cataclysmic ways.

Worldwide the education systems’ woes are now exposed, no less the result of outdated and inflexible teaching and delivery systems, often blamed on the lack of foresight, resource scarcity and entrenched bureaucracies. Nevertheless, much has been achieved in educational technology (edtech). But it is clear that henceforth out of necessity the world’s online education market will boom with long-term benefits, deriving from innovations and inventions that will also ensure holistic student engagement. The radical solutions will foster new individual capacities and institutional readiness with robust edtech and ICT infrastructures. These will enable lecturer facilitation of student-centric learning.

On the global scale, there are many educational management and learning platforms and tools that offer a variety of remote and online solutions for different needs and settings. These can be fairly easily adopted, up-scaled and implemented locally or globally. EduHappy, Zoom, Blackboard and Google Classroom are examples of such delivery systems.

Specifically in higher education, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) - through Coursera, EdX, Udacity  and FutureLearn - offer platforms that enable institutions to create virtual, remote and online programmes available to faculty and students. On-line degree-style courses even feature new and flexible certifications and fee structures. In addition to purpose-built high-tech edtech platforms, other low-tech mediums such as television, radio and social media are available and widely used. All these solutions offer wider access and inclusivity for all of Namibia’s pupils and students, thereby improving pupil/student success and attainment.  Currently some schools and higher education institutions in Namibia are, to various extents, positively engaged in virtual, blended and e-learning. But since school closures commenced, the digital divide has been laid bare. Most school administrators, teachers, pupils and students are constrained by lack of access to adequate technology and/or connectivity - unaffordable or unreachable to most - which would enable remote and proficient access. Going forward, the education sector should be driven to embrace the use new technologies offering better and wide-ranging tools and platforms with their attendant benefits, i.e. yielding higher levels of engagement and inclusivity. The fifth generation (5G) technology (wireless communication) will make a debut in education and will reinforce convergent technologies [Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), Cloud Computing, Cybersecurity, Machine Learning and Data Science]. These fields are, for instance, supported by supercomputing capability as courses or majors at the Namibia University of Science and Technology.

Consequently, the antiquated solutions will meet innovations in new national and institutional policies that will have a greater and more sustained impact. Wide consultations and networking, locally and internationally – will form the basis for critical mass and economies of scale - to yield broader benefits, through educational consortia. This is shown in South Africa where some universities are negotiating with edtech company Blackboard to transfer the cloud-based domain to that country (SA). This will lead to a zero-rated website (ac.za), meaning waived data costs for all students. 

This harkens back to earlier discussions in edtech development, in Tunisia in 2006, with the One Laptop per Child Initiative - to provide laptops to Namibian pupils en mass, and with former Namibian ministers of ICT urging them to provide dedicated and subsidised broadband connectivity to public universities at least, upon Namibia being connected to the broadband in 2010. Unfortunately these pleas did not yield solutions for the future. 

Institutions will gain from consortium memberships, providing cost-sharing benefits such as in licensing and broadband costs. In Namibia, the Xnet initiative (est. 2004) - a consortium-like arrangement created by Telecom Namibia and SchoolNet - eventually provided subsidized Internet connectivity to about 570 schools, 30 public and community libraries, five teachers’ resource centres, Namcol and its regional centers, and NUST and its regional centers. For the sake of Namibia’s future, it is now the time for the public and private sector leadership and the communities to embrace new ways - in a more connected world - to continuously develop and implement robust policies and plans, and avail adequate capacities. A new broad-based educational technology framework and models - that offer the necessary physical hardware, software, and educational theoretic – are basic requirements to express our competitiveness and relevance in the inevitable Fourth and Fifth Industrial Revolutions (4IR and 5IR). Indubitably, the largest peacetime disruption to education in recent human history is causing a shakedown of the current world order. But it offers immense opportunities for technological transformation leading to a new world order. Now is the time to reshape Namibia for the new world order.


*Dr Tjama Tjivikua holds a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry and 30 years of academic experience. He is the founding rector of the Polytechnic of Namibia (est. 1994) and founding vice-chancellor of the Namibia University of Science and Technology (est. 2015).

Staff Reporter
2020-04-03 10:05:16 | 4 months ago

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