Jerome Morrissey, CEO of Global eSchools and Community Initiative (GESCI) in Kenya, knows there is one thing that technology can never replace – the teacher.
And yet the professional development of teachers has often been a crucial omission when national ICT policies are drawn up. For that reason GESCI works to build leadership at government and classroom levels.
In an interview Mr Morrissey, who will be presenting the work of GESCI at UNESCO’s flagship ICT event Mobile Learning Week on March 7 to 11, said: “Historically at school in relation to technology we have not paid enough attention to teachers and there has been advice from everyone including the doorman on its correct use. It has been the same in the western world up until very recently when the focus finally turned to where it should be which is on teachers. Technology is of little use without teachers trained to use it in a pedagogical context.”
The GESCI international agency, founded by the United Nations ICT Taskforce in 2003, currently works with governments in 16 African countries training middle and senior level officials in the dynamics of leadership, building knowledge societies and coherent policy-making. It also helps prepare teachers and the systems they work within to equip learners with the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in a new knowledge society.
No lack of policy but little of it effective
“The majority of ICT in education policy initiatives have lit up the sky for a moment before leaving everyone more in the dark than ever. That’s why we work strategically at the level of governments and ministries of education to inculcate schools-based immersion strategy and scaleable models. Providing leadership development means that those people move higher to positions of real power and influence on educations; policy - that is where true sustainability kicks in .”
The agency will provide minimum technology in the form of laptops where needed and bases its work within the UNESCO ICT Competency Framework which outlines the competencies teachers need to integrate ICTs into their professional practice.
Mr Morrissey’s work has been greatly enabled by the improvement in connectivity in Africa, at least in French-speaking countries, and by the cut in smart phones prices which means that 50 per cent of people have some kind of connection.
“We find that smartphones are immensely useful in teacher professional development even where internet is poor as they can use mobile phones to send messages, information content, training resources. In a vast classroom of 70 pupils or so a digital slide show has massive potential.”
Work to be done on changing people’s perceptions
In this respect Open Educational Resources are crucial with teachers trained to build, source and re-purpose quality open source materials and other freely available online content, videos and simulations.
“The other advantage is that, in the past, to train a teacher you had to take them out of the classroom for a week or so which was a disaster. Now they can catch up on training by phone or device out of school hours,” he said.
Mobile technology can also be used to spread health messages for women and he believes there is great scope for developing informal and intergenerational literacy packages too.
Despite progress Mr Morrissey says there is work still to be done in changing people’s minds.
“There is still a certain skepticism about the use of technology in education and some of it is derived from the fact that billions have been spent on ICT integration but it has still not been shown to be really effective,” said Mr Morrissey. “But what donors and partners from the West don’t fully appreciate is how useful mobile and other technology is in Africa and how much that is widely understood. Mobile Learning Week is the perfect opportunity to tell people that.”