EDUCATION seems to have been disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 pandemic because, in as much as schooling is expected to go on at home, parents at work are expected to supervise the learning process at home.
Many a time, real opportunities to make impactful
changes in society manifest in unfortunate situations. For instance,
this seems true of the internet. Arpanet, the precursor to the internet,
was massively boosted by the cold war of yesteryear.
The international agenda on education is set in the sustainable development goal 4 (SDG 4) as “…ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”
In his state of the nation address (Sona) 2019, president Hage Geingob said the following on education: “…expanding access to an inclusive and integrated education system from pre-primary to tertiary, provides an individual the opportunity to advance and develop the requisite skills to compete in the 21st century”.
Many education technologists agree that information technology (IT) is an enabler and a transformation agent of education. However, the digital divide may retard the transformation process if not properly envisioned. The term digital divide in this context refers to the difference between people who have easy access to the internet and those who do not.
My definition includes access to affordable data bundles as well as broadband services.
The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed our deficiencies in IT infrastructure as a country. Although voice coverage seems sufficient, the same cannot be said of access to data, more so in the semi-urban and rural areas. Without getting into the murky waters of telecommunication regulations in Namibia, the government through Cran (the regulator) can do more to improve access to data services.
Lifting the veil on IT in education calls for looking beyond connectivity and internet access. Further, IT as a transformation agent must permeate the entire education system including education delivery, school administration, performance management, teacher support, curriculum development, etc.
Calmness and composure at this time of the Covid-19 pandemic are required as we contemplate interventions that are in tandem with the desired long-term developmental outcomes. While swiftness and urgency is the expected reaction, there is considerable risk of increasing the digital divide.
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought us back to the drawing board to define the problem of education delivery in Namibia.
Well-defined problems lead to breakthrough solutions, according to Dwayne Spradlin, the president and CEO of InnoCentive, the pioneer in open innovation and crowdsourcing.
Albert Einstein once said: “If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it”. Michael Cooper, the founder of Innovators + Influencers believes that defining problems is the most important business skill one is never taught.
The common denominator among these great minds is, a solution is easy and obvious if the problem is well articulated.
Therefore, the reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic challenge is rigour in defining the problem of delivering equitable, inclusive, and accessible education in Namibia. Without rigour, opportunities will be missed, resources wasted, and end up pursuing innovative initiatives that aren’t aligned with strategic goals.
Once we start reconceptualising our education system as a collection of ubiquitous learning processes, it becomes dauntingly clear that those processes extend beyond the portals of any one building, the boundaries of any one school, and the borders of any one region in Namibia. For instance, e-learning should be a demonstrable option of an equitable, inclusive, and accessible delivery mechanism of learning to the majority of pupils in Namibia.
Suffice to say, cognitive biases (errors in judgement) are a real threat to a strategic solution to the problem of education delivery if hurriedly concocted.
Abraham Maslow said in 1966: “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail”. In the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, e-learning seems to be only one option for education delivery, therefore we need to find and use more options. If and when the Covid-19 pandemic is behind us, we still need to solve the education delivery problem.
I want to conclude on a positive note by saying that the Covid-19 pandemic should leave us in a better place in terms of defining the problem of education delivery. If we truly believe that education is an equaliser and has the potential to alleviate poverty, then we ought to go back to the drawing board and rigourously define the problem of education delivery in Namibia.
• Robert Gatonye is a former lecturer at Nust (IT department), an ICT consultant, a certified information systems auditor (CISA), and a certified public accountant.