Sunday, January 29, 2023

More details needed on e-learning

As the president Mokgweetsi Masisi recently said, government is continuing at full speed to hand out gadgets that include tablets and laptops to schools around the country. This is to allow for what if done properly could revolutionise learning and indeed our education system. Supplying these gadgets is by a mile the easier part. E-learning takes much more than these electronic gadgets. The infrastructure is nowhere near what will be needed.

There are many schools that will need electricity. Classrooms are still badly dilapidated. And we have not even started talking about the internet. But Botswana government has made big strides in rolling out the internet. And for that they deserve credit. The trouble for now is that such internet remains largely in the urban areas at the expense of rural areas. There is still a shocking digital divide that is so much a big character of this county. It will be tempting for those in power to start breast beating and wanting to take credit. There is still a lot to do. The education of this country has taken a big knock over the few years. It will take much more than handing out laptops to bring it back to competitive levels. The extent of the changes that will be necessary is huge in scale.

The necessary changes will also need to be introduced at speed. Our worry is that by handing out these gadgets, it would seem to us like government is climbing the tree from the top. Where is e-education policy? Where is the e-education strategy? And most crucially where is the e-education content? All the above are very crucial for any serious e-learning structure. Without these one is bound to ask just what the computers are for? Like we say the gadgets are important. But only when they can be utilised. Otherwise the beneficiary would be the supplier who is obviously making a killing from this procurement. Across the world, e-learning has become a fully-fledged industry. It reached unprecedented levels during the pandemic. But Botswana still has a long way to go. We should be careful not to put horses before the cart.

For e-learning to deliver the much needed results, it has to be planned and be implemented properly. There has to be coherence and proper coordination. Or else we risk turning these gadgets into a white elephant. Botswana is on the cusp of a digital revolution. Online learning is clearly the future. But still we need to be guided by honesty and professionalism. Or else we will get lost as a nation. We have seen a growing number of young Batswana providing online training tools. They should be given a chance to assess them on merit. The challenges our education system faces cannot be wished away through just platitudes. We need to confront the problem with steadfast clarity. We should not put politics ahead of substantive sea changes that are so clearly needed.

The reason why private schools in Botswana have become so unimaginably expensive is a direct outcome of the collapse in the quality of publicly provided education. For many parents the only way to give a fighting chance to their kids is to go the route of private schools, expensive as they are. That can be reversed. And e-learning might just be the beginning of it. Only it has to be done accordingly.

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