By Abdikadir Ismail

11 March 2015 - 03:44

'It's the world of high technology where many of tomorrow's jobs are likely to be found.'
'If children can’t access the internet, are they already being disenfranchised from the world of work before their age reaches double figures?' Image ©

British Council

What can be done to ensure school students in developing countries are not later excluded from the world of work? Abdikadir Ismail, a British Council digital ambassador, reports from rural Kenya on ways to close the 'digital divide'.

According to the US Department of Labour, 65 per cent of primary school children will end up doing a job that hasn’t been invented yet. And it's the world of high technology where many of tomorrow's jobs are likely to be found.

But if children can’t access the internet, are they already being disenfranchised from the world of work before their age reaches double figures? Around the turn of the millennium, there was a lot of talk about the digital divide – the gap between developed and developing countries that could open up as digital products and services transform the world.

To some extent, the evolution of mobile technology has narrowed that digital divide. ‘Tumetoka analogue tuko digital,’ as Smart Joker, Kenya’s music and stand-up comedy sensation, sings in a mix of Kiswahili and English: ‘We have come from analogue, now we are digital’.

In the urban centres of Nairobi and Mombasa, superior infrastructure and private sector investment have brought a new generation of Africans firmly into the digital dimension by providing access to information technology (IT) and the associated skills.

For example, in the Aga Khan school in Mombasa, students now complete their homework entirely online and parents can check the progress of their offspring on mobile phones, using school management software that would be advanced even in the developed world.

But in rural settings like the dusty town of Maralal in Samburu County where I work, there is still a long way to go. As a digital ambassador, I am one among a network of teachers and IT trainers whose role is to spread the word about the digital world. Here, in the furthest reaches of the network, are the five steps we've taken to close the digital divide.

1. Getting the hardware in place

It's hard in the West to imagine the excitement at Maralal Primary School, when we brought in the first laptops. For some of the two thousand children gathered in the Kenyan morning sun for the assembly, it was the first time they had seen a computer. The school's assemblies take place outside because there is no hall capable of holding so many people. But fortunately, it rains so seldom in Maralal that, for most of the year, this is not a problem.

2. Creating the first generation of 'digital elders'

How do you start to teach IT when the teachers themselves are paralysed by a fear of this new world? Our head teacher, Musa Abdille, had a solution to this problem. He locked teachers out of the staff room and didn’t share the keys, forcing them to use the digital hub as the staff room!

Those teachers who showed interest in the computers have, in effect, become our first generation of digital elders. I showed them how Excel could be used to help them analyse, store and retrieve results. From there, we moved to the school timetabling software. We have gradually made the teachers feel they belong in the digital world by establishing how useful computers can be in daily life.

3. Securing the connectivity

Now that we had created an interest in how computers could be used in the school, the teachers were ready to look further afield, realising how much the internet brings within the reach of Samburu County. But this brought its own difficulties.

Teachers clubbed together to purchase data bundles from a mobile provider. But only five could get online at one time, and that was starting to inhibit the teachers’ new-found ambitions. But through a partnership between the British Council and Airtel Kenya, we succeeded in securing a router for the school, giving them 8GB of data per month.

4. Continuously training the teachers

Teachers in the school are now developing their skills through distance-learning. Four of the teachers have done online degrees in education from the hub, while the special-needs teacher, Fozia Mohamud, who teaches children with hearing impairments, has completed a degree in counselling.

Students have gained basic computer skills through Microsoft-accredited courses, while some of the secondary teachers are taking more advanced courses on programming, using games and developing apps.

5. Never giving up hope

Expensive school management software is still beyond us but we're aware of what's happening in the rest of Africa through our WhatsApp network. This enables teachers to exchange ideas, and we are currently pursuing some cheaper options which can improve our school management.

So even in the dusty playgrounds of Maralal town you can hear the refrain...‘Tumetoka analogue tuko digital’.

The British Council, working with Microsoft, is helping teachers and learners across Africa gain the 21st-century skills they need to live and work in a global economy. Find out more about Project Badiliko.

Find out about school partnerships and professional development through the British Council's Connecting Classrooms programme and prepare your students to take their place in the 21st century.

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