How Can Digital Education Contribute to Intellectual Development in Africa?
By Raymond Erick Zvavanyange
In continuation to an earlier article on technology to which I was a contributor, we recognised the fact that both the millennials and baby boomers across time and space are fully engrossed in learning through computer and digital technologies. When one looks deeper at this engrossment something stands out too – we now have critically engaged minds. I think what I like – politics, health, arts and music, business, governance, and science, the list is too long to mention.
Digitally engaged minds and digital leaders are contributing to an intellectual culture in Africa, for example, the hashtags: #ebafosc, #BlackLivesMatter, and #WildAfricas found on the social networking platform Twitter have been used to drive conversations across borders. The amplifying effect of the ubiquitous computer and digital technologies has done much to the cause of an intellectual culture. The African continent in one way or another is finding digital education awesome and they are using it to interrogate our education and systems. With education interrogated as such, the nature of our intellect becomes apparent. That is and should be the nature of intellectual development in Africa.
Alfred North Whitehead who was an English mathematician and a philosopher examined the nature of education during his time. His thoughts on education are worth revisiting. In a famous lecture on “The Aims of Education given to the Educational Section of the International Congress of Mathematicians in Cambridge, England” in 1912 he said, “Education is the art of the utilisation of knowledge”.
Relatively, digital education also known as educational technology is the effective use of technological tools in learning. It is pushing teachers and learners to the edges of knowledge and understanding. Digital education is like a daily dose of positive transformation with far-reaching impacts on how Africans should conduct themselves. Without government regulation and oversight together with policy and advocacy from leaders and civilians at the frontlines to ‘monitor this fast-paced transformation’ as a result of computer and digital technologies, the inevitable is bound to happen – our cherished transformer might spiral out of legal control.
“We have to remember that valuable intellectual development is self-development and that it takes place between the ages of sixteen and thirty” said again Alfred North Whitehead. This is more than good news to the Millennial as there are as many good features about digital education as there are social media channels. One simply should include as part of a near-to-hand toolkit: creativity, entrepreneurship, imagination, and innovation. There is no limit as to what digital education should encompass. A precautionary principle though: Digital education should be advanced with careful thought and action.
Because of the premium on modern teachers and learners to have ‘alphabetical skills’ it is important to meditate on some of the intellectual and practical featsas a result of digital education.
Firstly, digital education is giving teachers and learners the chance and possibility to dream of a better ways to manage nature and human lifestyles. We dream of what is possible and we make possible that which we dream of. For example, the Reimagine Education global awards innovative higher education pedagogies enhancing learning and employability is an opportunity for thinkers and doers to propose outside-the-box solutions and approaches in education. The Innovation Prize for Africa also extends the possibility of Africans to dream and test improved market-oriented solutions for African-led development. And even outside the domain of education, digital education is allowing people in Africa to catch-up with developed countries more especially in ways to improve the investment opportunities and economic development.
Secondly, digital education is allowing teachers and learners to interact with each other as well as engage in intelligent conversations on pertinent issues. There is now more examples of co-creation of knowledge, products and solutions. The innovation and tech-hubs taking shape on the continent of Africa is one example where ‘the ability to disrupt’ for the sake of the common good is a badge of honor. Learners’ development, for example, as the numerous continent-wide fellowship programmes shows are leading the way in intellectual development. It is also timely that the World Bank next report will focus on the impact of Internet and digital technologies on development.
Third, in an almost ironical way digital education diagnoses its own problems even as it provides solutions and understanding to users. Digital education has redefined learning. One needs to strike the balance in order to get the best from it. In some places, people in Africa are beginning to do away with previously held questionable traditions because of increased awareness, dynamism, and the desire to be better people. In Alfred North Whitehead’s own words, “education should be useful, whatever your aim in life. It was useful to Saint Augustine and it was useful to Napoleon. It is useful, because understanding is useful”.
Take Home Messages
Digital education has brought about a culture that needs to be fully understood, used, and if need be, changed based on its merits. This is evidence that we are all teachers and learners when we present ourselves at its portals of engagement. And that in itself, is one of the aims of education, to prepare the young and old to participate in a culture that advances our collective abilities, wisdom and intelligence. Digital education, as with all other forms of education should effectively enhance our life here and now. Its greatest aim perhaps should be to advance our critical intellectual development.