Mainstreaming a critical enabler for a knowledge economy
By: Tigele Mokobi
The recent pronouncement by the Minister of Basic Education, Unity Dow, to allow cell phones and other handheld mobile devices as teaching aids in public schools is a welcome boost to the digital transformation of the country’s education system. The internet has become an integral part of everyday life and has ushered in a paradigm shift from the textbook based education system to a more interactive virtual education system across the world.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is universally recognised for its contribution to universal access to education, equity, quality learning and teaching, teacher’s professional development and more efficient education management, governance and administration. ICT is one of the focal sectors of Botswana Innovation Hub whose mandate is to work with other institutions to facilitate the country’s transition from a resource‐based economy to a knowledge‐based economy.
In its development trajectory, Botswana has enacted global and national structural and strategic frameworks that focus attention in the mobilisation of resources to address the major gaps in human development. The country ratified the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) that sought to move the world towards meeting basic human needs that promote dynamic, inclusive and sustainable development by 2015. However, it is evident that the target of universal primary education by 2015 has been missed by a wide margin by most developing countries, leaving millions of children out of school while, many others are receiving an education of such poor quality that they are learning very little.
Botswana has enacted a robust ICT regulatory framework and established advanced telecommunication infrastructure in an effort to close the gap between access to the internet and mobile coverage. However, though Botswana has one of the highest levels of access to mobile telephony in Africa, the majority of its citizens still do not have affordable access to broadband speeds for Internet connections. The enhanced ICT services required for effective participation in the knowledge‐based economy and society continue to elude the vast majority of the citizens, and there is evidence that the country’s competitive position in ICT is slipping, as measured in international rankings of the Global Competitiveness Index.
Human resource development from a resource‐based economy to the emerging knowledge‐based economy is propelled by innovation and Botswana’s transition from its resource‐based economy to a knowledge‐based one is underpinned by the creation of a national innovation ecosystem. Such an ecosystem is in turn supported by a robust uptake of ICT. Fortunately, there is an emerging move by some stakeholders in Botswana who have taken up the gauntlet to effectively close the digital divide and embrace ICT as a tool for universal access to quality education.
Amongst players in the forefront of this initiative is the Botswana Qualifications Authority (BQA), which has partnered with some organisations such as Botho University, Stepping Stones International and Out‐of School Training Unit with to establish a project that introduces basic computing to children in disadvantaged communities. The Hole‐in‐the‐Wall Education and Learning (HiWEL) project is a concept that was developed in India by the National Institute for Information Technology (NIIT). NIIT conducted
studies that revealed that, “semi‐literate children could quickly teach themselves the rudimentary basics of computers and internet”.
“The central concept of this learning process also known as Minimal Invasive Education (MIE), was that basic computing skills could be acquired by any group of children through incidental learning, provided that they were given access to a computing facility with entertaining and motivation content, and with minimal guidance,” states the BQA Annual Report of 2015/16.
To date, the project has established eight centres across the country: Old Naledi in Gaborone, Moremi in Maun, Shakawe (BQA and Botho University), and Bobonong built in partnership with Stepping Stones International. Further, BQA and the Out of School Education and Training Unit (OSET) built four sites in Lehututu, Mambo, Mopipi and Takatokwane which were built under the Memorandum of Understanding between the two parties to roll‐out the HiWEL project. It is interesting to note that the partnership with OSET caters for both child and adult learners. The project avails computers for research, recreation, and basic information on HIV/ AIDS to disadvantaged communities.
The use of ICT for teaching and learning cannot be overemphasised, and BQA has rightfully put it as a key learner support requirement among Education and Training Providers (ETPs). Apparently, it is a key requirement by BQA in ETP registration, and it is validated during learning programme accreditation. It is through collaborations such as the one BQA has with its various partners in the HiWEL project that we can see an increased uptake of ICT in Botswana, and nurture a vibrant national innovation ecosystem which supports a knowledge‐based economy.