Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Developing critical infrastructure from a human and a societal perspective 5

Posted in business and convergent technologies, UN-GAID by Timothy Platt on December 5, 2013

This is my fifth installment to a series on infrastructure and on developing it to fit and work within a social context, based on my recent experience in East Africa, and particularly in Northern Tanzania (see United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID), postings 16-19 for Parts 1-4.)

I have been writing up to here about Tanzania and its diverse cultures and peoples, and about the need to develop computer and internet systems for their educational system that people can use and that they will not simply see as challenging their way of life. And I have at least briefly discussed some of the basic pieces of the puzzle that would have to be assembled in accomplishing this: societally and technologically.

I have also at least briefly touched upon some of the unifying factors that would help to make this possible, beginning with Tanzania’s two national languages: Kiswahili and English, and how their public school system is taught in them (see Part 3.)

As a part of a larger Part 2 and Part 3 discussion of their school system, I outlined something of their national examinations system that is used to measure and track student academic performance and accomplishment, and eligibility for advancement to a next level of course work in this public school system. These tests are also used to identify students who might be better candidates for vocational schools, as well as for advancement along a more strictly academic path.

As soon as a school system adapts standardized tests of this type, it is inevitable that they will also have to adapt standardized curriculums too, and I add standardized course materials and educational modules – that would provide learning opportunity for mastering the material to be tested on in those standardized examinations. Tanzania follows a version of the British school system, which is to be expected given the impact of British culture and approaches in general on that part of East Africa, dating to its colonial period. And it has a system of nationally standardized study modules for each public school grade and certainly through the primary, secondary and high school systems that I focus upon throughout this series.

• If a system of computer and internet access and training are added in practice into this system of coursework modules actively taught, and if this becomes a widespread part of the actual, realized school curriculum, this change is going to open the door to wide ranging and even seemingly open-ended change in the overall school curriculum as a whole.
• New sources of content will become immediately available, bypassing the content availability bottleneck of limited school textbook supplies, and for both numbers of copies and numbers of book titles available.
• This would allow for access to richer types of educational content including multimedia that would enliven and expand upon the educational experience available, but it would also open the door to widespread availability of a dramatically wider diversity of opinion, and at all grade levels that have access to this technology.
• From the perspective of the school system’s administrators and those who develop and maintain this system of approved, standardized coursework modules that are to be nationally tested upon, this means selecting and adapting content and content presentations that would support the overall school system’s needs in providing as widely available a quality education as possible. But this also opens the door to entirely new pedagogical challenges that will have to be addressed, and to round out this posting, I will at least briefly touch upon two of them. And I will also at least touch upon a content management best practices suggestion that I would offer here too.

The emerging need to teach students to more critically evaluate and judge what they see and hear, and for relevancy and for reliability and accuracy: When students see a limited and carefully crafted body of academic content and only that in school, there is little room for, or I add impetus for explicit education on the issues of evaluating a diversity of sources or opinions. When students only see one approach and one relatively narrow body of supporting facts, they are not likely going to even have the materials to work with that they would need, in order to become savvy and informed in discerning what is and is not reliable – as is essential when you find yourself exposed to the open-ended content of the internet as a whole. Adding computers and online experience to the classroom and to students’ experience will change all of this, and of what is needed here.

The emerging challenge of keeping an educational system unified enough for content so that a national testing system can still make sense, without stifling opportunity to more openly learn and without denying the very real value that access to computers and the internet can offer: Even if the issues that I raise here in general terms and as a matter of principle are widely accepted – in principle, there is most definitely going to be active debate and disagreement as to what is to be explicitly taught, what is to be available online through the schools, and what is to be blocked, and for that, how and for whom and by whom and according to what criteria and agenda.

One approach that I would highly recommend for addressing at least some of this, is development of a national Education Department web portal that at the very least could be used as a one stop center for finding online content developed by and for this educational system, plus outside content that is specifically vetted, selected and approved for enriching the standard core online portions of course of study modules taught.

• Such a portal system can house content areas specifically directed towards students.
• Such a portal system can house content areas specifically directed towards teachers and school administrators, with login access controls to limit access to this to teachers and school administrators if needed.
• Such a portal system can support interactive online communications and sharing between teachers and school administrators where they get to share best practices, locally produced content and local insight. Access to this can also be controlled if needed.
• And interactive online and peer to peer connectivity could give students from across the entire country, opportunity to meet each other and learn about the richness and diversity of their country through shared experience and conversation.
• If students could meet and get to know other students from other tribes and tribal cultures, as fellow students in similar classrooms and from their same country, this would create opportunity for them to better understand their country as a whole and would serve as a bridge of unifying understanding for them. This is a lesson that could bear fruit way beyond the classroom, and both in developing young minds and in promoting good citizenship.

If I were to summarize this posting in one word it would be “idealistic.” If you do not think and plan in terms of what you would achieve as a best possibility, you will never come close to reaching that as a goal, and it is likely you will remain unsure as to what your idea of “best” even is. But any program as complex and far-reaching as I discuss here is going to generate disagreements, with differences in both priorities and goals, and even of what “long-term desirable” might mean. So my goal for the next installment to this series will be to bring this discussion back to earth, with a discussion of change and of the complex interplay between acceptance of it and resistance to it. Of necessity, politics enters that type of discussion, but so do basic considerations of how people adapt to change, and how their pace of such acceptance is shaped. I will at least begin a discussion of this complex of issues in a next, Part 6 to this series. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID) and at my Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 2 directory, and see also that directory’s first page.

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