The Aga Khan University (AKU)’s Institute for Educational Development, East Africa, based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania has pioneered the use of inexpensive tablet computers to address one of the biggest challenges in African education: how to quickly and cost-effectively improve the quality of teaching.
From inception, the Institute for Educational Development (IED) has focused on helping practicing teachers improve their instruction and increase student learning through its master’s degree and certificate courses. Underlying its strategy is a simple but powerful idea: teaching quality is crucial in determining how much students learn in school. More recently, IED has begun to explore the power of new technologies for learning to bring high quality professional development to teachers who live in rural areas and have no opportunities to further their education. The ICT Research and Development team is spearheading this initiative, led by Dr Brown Onguko and supported by colleagues who have participated in the AKU-wide Blended Learning Programme.
One of IED’s first efforts in the field involved using mobile phone text messaging to provide feedback to head teachers in Kisumu, Kenya. More recently, IED faculty and alumni worked with colleagues at the University of Calgary to develop a multimedia course for a simple tablet computer that incorporates video, audio and text. The lessons were carefully designed to help teachers in an isolated village in western Kenya deal with class sizes of 50 or more and deemphasise rote learning in favour of encouraging students to ask questions and think for themselves.
Using the solar-powered tablets, teachers reviewed the lessons in their own time, and then met weekly to discuss their experiences implementing the techniques they had learned. The results were impressive: they quickly adopted new methods that increased student participation and they continued using them after the programme was over, as Dr Onguko confirmed on a return visit a year later. “I wanted to know: could professional development be provided through technology to teachers in a rural area?” Onguko said. “Because right now, they have no access to training after they become teachers. Ultimately, it is the students who suffer as a result.” Since then, the Institute alumni who assisted in developing the course content have put their experience to use in Korogocho, an informal settlement in Nairobi, where they have used tablets to deliver a course to help teachers better assess student learning and their own performance.
Next up for IED: testing the approach on a larger scale, and investigating the possibility of establishing an Innovative Learning Centre to incubate and assess new methods for harnessing information technology to improve teacher and student performance. With the right blend of locally relevant content, face-to-face contact and digital delivery, IED could help revolutionize the delivery of professional development for teachers in East Africa, improving learning for thousands of children in the process.