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The future of education in Africa rests on digital transformation

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Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA) – Learners at Namadzi Primary in Malawi use stones and bottle caps to count. Technology enables new approaches to how learning is delivered and assessed, and can make certain educational approaches viable and scalable, the writer says.

By Kailene Pillay

Technology has opened up new prospects in every aspect of our lives.

When Covid-19 struck, technology provided new platforms in education – dramatically changing the way learning and teaching was conducted.

The pandemic transformed ways of working, living, and relating on a global level. As a result, the education sector has had to adapt, driven by the need to digitalise education and training to remain competitive and provide high-quality education.

With that said, the past few years have shown that the traditional approach to education is unsustainable.

While online education existed before Covid-19, what the pandemic has done is to place a firm spotlight on the necessity for alternative access points to education.

This is also the view of CEO and founder of Valenture Institute, Robert Paddock, whose focus has been on the Future of Secondary Schooling where he ask the pertinent question, do we we now go hybrid or adopt an exclusive online teaching approach?

Paddock was one of many panellists who engaged at a recent virtual hosting of the 8th Annual Future of Education Summit, by CNBC AFRICA in partnership with FORBES AFRICA, under this year’s theme The Pathway to Digital Transformation.

At the Summit, panellists unpacked teaching theories and discussed a pathway for organisations to embrace the increased need to transition their operating models to the future needs of students, staff and campus infrastructure, in a post-Covid world.

Paddock was able to touch on how Valenture, a social enterprise, has turned physical limitations into digital opportunities by enabling students to choose an aspirational school regardless of their circumstances.

“Unfortunately, what it also exposed was the radical digital divide that we experience in our country, and the necessity to start investing a huge amount of the infrastructure spend into digital infrastructure,” he said.

The Future of Education forum was established to bring together thought leaders from around the world to discuss the all-important subject of tertiary education. Through an exchange of ideas, they should be able to provide solutions to the growing unemployment and the future needs of the African continent, said Rakesh Wahi, co-founder of the ABN Group and founder of the Future of Education Summit.

Business leaders, educational experts and technology specialists shared their innovative solutions to challenges facing the traditional education model in the digital age.

Keynote speaker and vice-chancellor of Lancaster University, Professor Andy Schofield outlined the needs that have to be met in a post-pandemic reality where technology could drive growth, bridge the gap and improve the future of all students.

“Students across Africa are able to access our academic excellence in teaching and research throughout the Continent, and choose from a wide range of foundation undergraduate and post- graduate programmes, earning a British qualification closer to home,” he said.

Bello Tongo, the CEO of Tongston Entrepreneurship, spoke on incorporating entrepreneurship thinking in education from primary to tertiary levels, while drawing on his extensive experience as a multi-award-winning entrepreneur, educator and industry leader.

Tongo said that entrepreneurial education should be purpose-driven and started in childhood.

“Entrepreneurship, enterprise skills and knowledge are developed in isolation of other subjects, unfortunately. It’s important that whatever entrepreneurial attitude, skills and knowledge that the child is going to get, has to happen by this period,” according to Tongo.

Experts were also of the view that universities have to come to terms with the rapid change and adoption of technologies. These advancements influenced social e-trends towards digitalisation. However, like all other revolutionary changes, digital transformation involves intense adjustment. The changes in the socio-economic-education system resulting from the globalised economy impacted higher education in terms of standard, decentralisation, virtual and independent learning.

Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, the vice-chancellor of the University of Johannesburg, deputy chair of the presidential commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and recently appointed Rector of the United Nations University in Tokyo, spoke about Transformation in the Education Sector.

As an accomplished scholar with multi-disciplinary research interests, including artificial intelligence in engineering, computer science, finance, social science and medicine, Prof Marwala brought great insights into this topic.

He revealed that UJ spent almost R10 million a month to get students data access during the pandemic.

“We don’t just train people to go seek jobs, we also train people to industrialise our society,” Marwala said.

“One thing that has worked is that UJ is actually an innovative university of the fourth industrial revolution, and therefore, some of the digital tools that we are using we actually develop ourselves. We have technologies such as augmented reality and virtual reality that really makes some of the experiments much more accessible.”

As education systems respond to new societal, economic and digital needs, schools and higher education institutions are on the front line of change. There is a strong need to focus on effective delivery of policy and practice in building teacher skills, partnerships as well as digital skills and emotional well-being of students.

Increased online learning, the advance of mobile networks and need for flexibility in learning has led to the emergence of mobile learning.

Technology enables new approaches to how learning is delivered and assessed, and can make certain educational approaches viable and scalable.

Kailene Pillay is an IOL multimedia journalist.

This article is original to the The African. To republish, see terms and conditions