During my fieldwork I noticed that in the whole country a lot of effort is put into stressing the importance of ICT education. I considered this an interesting observation, because most of the children in the town I was staying did not have a computer and sometimes not even electricity in their homes. When I asked teachers about their ideas on the use or non-use of ICT materials, they immediately mentioned the difficulties it causes, because: how to teach about ICT without having computers or electricity available?
However, one of the schools I visited had been able, with some money of the community, to build an ICT lab. Their computers were a gift from a charity program. In our (Western) eyes they were very old computers – with a floppy disk drive. But, in Africa you learn again how to appreciate the small things, instead of always wanting more, higher, newer and better, because does that really make you happier in the end? I don’t think so.
One day I was allowed to observe a lesson, which is not that common, because these lessons are not given on a regular basis. The school did not have an ICT teacher anymore, because of a teacher shortage. Therefore a ‘normal’ teacher took over the ICT lessons for the whole school, while his own class was handed over to someone else.
The lesson started with some physical exercise – stretching of arms, legs and fingers – followed by a song about the meaning of information and communication: a nice interactive introduction I would say. The shorter children were asked to sit in the front while the taller ones moved to the back. The teacher started by asking what they had done and learned during the previous lesson. This was necessary, because the last lesson was a long time ago. After some time of thinking a child came up with the answer: “the parts of the mouse”, which was correct. Reflecting on what I observed, I now think the whole lesson was about exactly the same topic as the one before. Which was actually not so bad, because most of the children could not remember a thing.
A mouse was taken from one of the computers and shown to the children. One by one they all got the chance to hold it and touch the different parts. The teacher told them about the different parts and drew a mouse on the whiteboard. In his drawing he connected the different parts with a line and wrote down the specific names. After that the class was split up in two. The first group came to the teacher who showed them a poster of the parts of the mouse and they talked about all the different parts. In the meantime, the other group had actually nothing to do. Then they switched and the first group waited until the second group was finished. Finally, it was time for the exercise. The teacher wrote some questions in English on the whiteboard which the children had to copy and answer. However, it was P1 (group 3 in the Netherlands), so it took them a while to write everything down. Most of them do not even understand English yet, because they always speak the local language.
As I already said, at every school ICT is on the timetable. However, many schools do not have computers or even electricity. When they have a classroom for the ICT lessons it is always nicely decorated with many posters, schedules and schemes to teach the different parts and programs of a computer. It made me wonder why they paid so much attention to a subject that raises a lot of difficulties and also costs a lot of money, while most of the times they do not even have money for the ‘normal’ text- or exercise books. One of the teachers explained to me that the reasons for this are the exams.
The government believes ICT is such an important subject and they want every child in the country to take this ICT exam, even the ones from the rural areas without computers or electricity. According to the teachers, ICT is well taught in the bigger cities, where they have more facilities. Therefore, I hope that the children at these rural schools without computers get enough information from a book to do the exam successfully, because sometimes there was only one book available for the teacher.
To come back to the lesson I observed: why didn’t we do something practical exercise with the computers? Light off! (power failure).
Tessa Gruijs is an MA-student at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at VU University Amsterdam