Monday, March 07, 2005

A "Digital divide"?

A “digital divide”? Education is widely regarded as a pathway out of poverty, but is this a step too far? Two years ago, the government here, always striving to improve the lot of their people, were talking about spending millions of dollars to install plasma screens in over 1,000 schools; the idea being to beam standardised lessons into classrooms all over Ethiopia, by satellite link. Well, it has happened, despite the scepticism and disbelief of many. It is a wonderful piece of technology, but poses significant problems, both educationally and socially. The programmes were made in South Africa and undoubtedly offer high quality material. The snag lies in the fact that the teachers used for the programmes speak far too quickly, partly because the assumption, when the programmes were made, is that the audience will be native English speakers, too, and partly because they have a lot of material to get through in a short time. There have been two major impacts of this technology here so far: only those who have good English are able to keep up with the lessons, most students are beginning to feel left behind; and the teachers have become supervisors and technicians, turning the equipment on and off at the beginning and end of each session. The students even refer to them as DJs. Trend-watchers talk of the “digital divide” – the gap between those in our world who have internet access and those who don’t. The long term implications of this new technology are worrying. We’ve just completed a survey of library users - the students we know are deeply troubled now, there are no accompanying text books available and we can’t get hold of the teachers’ handbooks for any of the subjects yet but, through the Library, we can and will help them improve their chances of understanding the satellite lessons, even if it is only by offering English conversation. Any other ideas?


At March 7, 2005 at 11:24 PM, Blogger ah said...

Andrew - I had an email from an Ethiopian student saying almost exactly the same thing a couple of days ago.

It has certainly made me think twice about my initial enthusiasm for the whole project when I first saw it in action in SNNPR.

I have linked to your post on Meskel Square.

At March 7, 2005 at 11:26 PM, Blogger ah said...

Sorry, I forgot to sign that last comment. It's Andrew here.

At April 11, 2005 at 9:01 AM, Blogger Javier said...

Are you completly sure that this had been done correctly?

I mean...without corruption.

Hope you keep your blog, is truly interesting.

At September 30, 2005 at 10:16 PM, Blogger yekolotemari said...

It is interesting what you said about the South African curriculum being taught in Ethiopia. I lived in Ethiopia until the beginning of my high school years. I do not think most of my teachers were fluent or even close to fluent in the English language… and I actually went to one of the better private schools in Addis. I can imagine local teachers struggling to understand native English speakers speaking in English. I always taught that one of the major failures with the Ethiopian education system is the use of English as a medium of education… I would say more than 90% of the students do not get to learn things they should learn because of the language barrier. My suggestion would be to use Amharic as a medium of education (or local languages where there are enough capable instructors) and recruit the very few instructors with a relatively better fluency in English to teach English as a subject. That way, at least, most will learn the sciences, the histories, and, the rest that can be utilized to develop the country. At the same time, the few instructors probably would do a better job of teaching English [can’t do worse than now]. If such is the case, the South African curriculum perhaps can be used as a supplement for the local curriculum. The idea of using technology for sake of using technology is stupid. Technology is meant to enhance/optimize processes that are currently implemented. You don’t change your process to adjust to a technology. You adapt technology to enhance current processes.


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At March 5, 2006 at 9:17 PM, Blogger Furhanz said...

Dear Mr. Andrew,
The name aratkilo caught my attention while browsing for jobs in Ethiopia. I went to Addis almost 20 years back as a young child when my father was assigned an assignment at the Addis Ababa University by the Govt. of India. I lived at Aratkilo in the university campus. I would love to come back to Addis and serve the people there. I have been frantically applying for social service positions in the UN specially for Africa but have failed misreably. Hope some luck blows my way too.


Farhan Khan

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At April 4, 2006 at 3:01 PM, Blogger annechambers said...

Dear Andrew,
It was lovely to meet you and Janice again in Cockfosters last year. I don't know if you still use your blog, but I want to introduce you to something called Skype which is a free telephone connection between computers (you might find it useful for keeping in touch with the kids, and/or friends). All you need is a little headset (cost £5 from the website - the starter pack) and phonecalls between other computers is free. here's the site:
Happy Easter when it comes.
Anne Chambers, New Barnet.

At April 4, 2006 at 3:04 PM, Blogger annechambers said...

Dear Andrew,
I forgot to add, that in order to send you the above message, I had to become a 'blogger' myself and I've no idea what to blog about! Perhaps I'll find a use for it sometime. Best wishes,

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