Groupcall, the education communications and solutions company of which I am co-founder, works very closely with schools throughout the UK and Europe to develop our products. Because of this, we have been privy to invaluable insight from heads, teachers, governors, SLTs, parents and students, and we know that today’s children have a natural affinity for technology and gravitate towards it. In my experience, children in developing countries are no different. When I first went to Africa, over 30 years ago now, the first thing kids would ask you for was a pencil. They understood what these things meant: a chance to learn, an education! Today, one of the first things they will spend money on is a mobile phone, for the exact same reason: they understand its potential.
Indeed, one of the greatest inequalities in the contemporary world is technological inequality. It’s the new ‘haves and have nots’, the new ‘know-hows and know nothings’. It deprives vast numbers of people from the 21st Century. In many areas of life, Africans are making the leap from the feudal age directly to the technological age, by-passing the industrial one en route. They are developing their own software appropriate to their own specific needs. They are building a mid-21st Century economy. It becomes imperative, therefore, for the children of Africa to be technologically adept if they are to participate in this massive opportunity.
So technology is king then… or is it?
Undoubtedly, technology can play an important role in transforming education, however, what good is the best technology to students without a teacher who understands it and can explain its fundamentals? Or a teacher, period. The biggest stumbling block when it comes to education in the developing world is the lack of teachers and the sub-standard training provided to those in post. That’s the real issue. So, in my opinion, yes, technology is important, but teachers are vital; high quality teachers are king.
I recently read about a guy whose younger cousins were having trouble with maths, so he created some simple video tutorials, and put them online. That was Sal Khan – what he started evolved into the Khan Academy, now hosting countless educational videos that have been accessed millions of times, for free, with two-thirds of those watching them located in areas of the world where education is less than wonderful. The point to note here is that children in the developing world want to learn, but in school, their needs aren’t being met.
Feeding the need
The two biggest needs in education in developing countries right now are an increase in the number of quality teachers available to students, and equality in the use of technology. Thankfully, there are numerous charities out there that have opened the door to IT education for millions of children in the developing world. Take for example Computers4Africa; providing good quality, affordable IT equipment in Africa is an easy way to begin to level the playing field and impact whole communities at every level. Computers4Africa provides refurbished IT equipment to schools, colleges, and humanitarian and community projects in over 23 African countries. By supplying computers to schools and colleges, students can be taught IT skills which broaden and increase their education and career opportunities. There is increased earning potential of up to three times the national average; this helps lift them and their entire family out of poverty forever. To date, 1.5 million children have accessed IT with one of the charity’s computers, and this month, 345,000 students will be using one.
In addition to establishing charities, we can help to level the playing field through initiatives, awareness events and collaboration. There are a number of high-profile technology companies that, over the past number of years, have launched global initiatives to increase access to technology for children in the world’s poorest countries. Dell’s Youth Learning programme, for example, believes that ‘access to education and technology is not a luxury, but a necessity’ and as such, works directly with non-profit organisations around the world to close the learning gap.
Awareness events such as the Education World Forum (EWF) are also incredibly important. Here, education ministers are tasked with new thinking, and can set about creating a whole new generation of sentient, intelligent human beings for their respective countries. As freed Greek slave, Epictetus, once said: “Only the educated are free”, and although that was over 3000 years ago, and has become somewhat of an educational cliché, it is, nevertheless, incredibly and increasingly pertinent today. Epictetus was allowed to learn and in doing so, worked his way to freedom. The same is true in our worlds: both the developed and the developing.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sir Bob Geldof is a musician, businessman, author, activist, and founding partner of Groupcall, launched in 2002. Visit www.groupcall.com for more information.