Not So Different

In the first session of our workshops in Africa, we asked the teachers to identify barriers to effective technology use. Then, working in groups, they had to determine which of the barriers they identified was the biggest problem. Each group wrote their top barriers on poster paper. Then, they exchanged lists with other groups and brainstormed possible solutions.

barriers-to-ict-useThe most interesting part of this process was the list of barriers they came up with. What are the major challenges facing technology use in South African schools? Lack of technology skills. Not enough technology. Too little time. Those three showed up on nearly every group’s list.

Sure, there were some others. One group thought that the fact that we don’t teach in the learners’ native language is a major problem. And security came up as a concern a few times. Their schools are very well protected by North American Standards. They have high fences with razor wire running around the school. Inside, they have two layers of bars on all of the windows. In the school where our workshops were held, the door to the computer lab looked more like a bank vault than a classroom. There were also some concerns about computer viruses, which are a pretty big problem.

But for the most part, the concerns are resources, staff development, and time. That sounds pretty familiar. If I did the same exercise with any group of teachers in America with whom I’ve worked, the same three issues would come up.

While it’s comforting to know that we have the same problems on both sides of the Atlantic, it’s also little disheartening. We’re supposedly the experts. We’ve been doing this for a long time. They’re looking to us for answers. But they don’t like the suggestions we offer. No one ever has enough resources. We can do things like share computers, get mobile technology to be moved among classrooms, open computer labs outside the school day, and have students work in groups on a single computer. For professional development, we can offer after-school workshops, summer PD opportunities for staff, and online offerings. All of these take more time, though, and that’s the third big problem. We could extend the day, or extend the year, to compensate for this. But that raises the other big problem — the one nobody talks about. We don’t have the money to do what we really should do.

Maybe the biggest lesson we’ve taught (and learned) is that there aren’t easy answers to these things. So we’ll keep working on solutions that will help alleviate problems, and continue to slowly make progress…