MY HERO of the day is Dr. Yusuf Nsubuga, Director of Basic and Secondary Education a the Ministry of Education in Uganda, for displaying sense and sensibility over the debate of accepting digital gadgets into Ugandan schools.
When the pronouncement was made last year banning mobile phones in schools, it was both narrow cast and narrow minded; narrow cast because it focused only on mobile phones and did not take into account the convergence of gadgetry that made tablets operate much the same as mobile phones, and narrow minded because the edict focussed on the negatives of possessing mobile phones.
Even after Dr. Nsubuga made his pronouncement at a workshop of educationists over the weekend, , according to report in The New Vision, another Director in the ministry, in charge of Higher Education, referred to “the use of ICT gadgets by learners in schools as ‘a necessary evil’…”
And that links to the main reason why Dr. Nsubuga stands out as my hero – because of the statement attributed to him as follows:
“It would be difficult for some of us born in the 19th century to accept such changes; but surely, the onus is on us to prepare citizens for the 21st century.”
100% correct! This is a doctor clearly deserving of that intellectual title!
THAT is the approach we need to take to the decision of whether to give our children mobile phones and iPads and laptops. Not because of the fears of the negatives and ills we associate with these gadgets, but because of the hopes we have of making use of the positives that they have the potential to give us.
Yes, of course there is a danger of pornography creeping onto those devices, and a danger of predators making contact with our children in an attempt to abduct them for financial gain or to molest them.
That danger needs to be addressed and dealt with squarely but without throwing the baby out with the bathwater, as the British used to say.
The benefits of equipping our schoolchildren with devices connected to the internet need to be fished out of that web (excuse the pun) of complicated content using focus and a lot of planning.
Last year I rejected the ministry announcement and insisted that my children carried their phones to school with them provided they followed my rules, which were simple. That meant that I had to instill in them the discipline needed to obey authority, as well as to not break out of the prescribed regime simply because of the excitement that comes with peer pressure.
They therefore went to school with their phones and kept them off until school closed, at which time they had to switch them on and notify us (their parents) when they were getting into the car with their appointed driver.
Even before considering the benefits to their own education, the fact that we could track their movements by saddling them with internet-enabled phones, gave us the comfort of spending an additional couple of hours at work, where the driver would drop them for us to continue with the journey home.
On that journey, meanwhile, we always encourage the children to begin their homework research using a number of websites and the mighty Google. That is not to say that we did not get involved in discussions with the children over their homework content, but there is only so much school stuff we can remember so the internet is a fantastic backup for our old, dated, parental brains.
At home, they transition easily to their computers to finalise whatever research they are doing, and we also occasionally jump in to help, which sometimes leads to our emailing them helpful links and ideas (since their reading room is removed from ours) – yes, they have their own email addresses!
They don’t have Facebook or Twitter accounts yet, but they are on WhatsApp, which we monitor to ensure that they don’t get up to any shenanigans we would strongly (key word) disapprove of.
But we are realistic about the fact that kids will be kids, and dangers will exist – even adults get distracted heavily by social media online porn.
The idea that our children will have access to billions upon billions of educational data by simply having access to a smartphone while at school is worth the risk of them losing a little time to the other distractions.
That risk, though, is diminished if we are sensible about our approach and plan it out. We gave our children Apple machines because they give us the Parental Control option that limits their internet access to certain sites only permissible by us, their wise and all-knowing parents, and also allows us to limit their access times so the computers lock them out around the time we estimate they should be going to bed. With the iPhone, we can trace their movements using Find My Iphone, and because we control their email passwords, there is little (not zero, sadly, but little) chance of someone sneaking contact to them through that channel and luring them to a dark corner somewhere.
The system is not complicated at all, and simply requires us to spend a little less time watching TV, having that evening drink, and visiting our own interest websites, to focus on what is good for them.
It gets better – there are tens of thousands of education-based websites and apps out there that parents can use to help their children study, including content that teachers themselves can use to make their educational methods much better than the text books and pamphlets that my wife and I used twenty something years ago.
If our educationists thought harder about this, there is the chance that many of our children would be going to school with just an iPad or tablet similar, and absorbing much more education and learning than they do with those bags full of exercise books – and please don’t read this as my suggesting that we go that way right now…it IS the future.
And you know what else is important here? The parents get to subsidise educational costs further by buying up these gadgets, downloading these apps and subscribing to these educational services – much as we already spend money buying text books or, in some cases, photocopying pages and pamphlets out in bulk.
Most of all, though, our educationists need to get to the point where they realise that they should begin providing these materials in digital format so that their education can be picked up all around the world and not just in their individual classrooms (or under trees, in some cases). It’s actually inexpensive and can be very effective – but only if we take the first steps.
From there on out, it won’t be far fetched for us to begin assembling tablets right here in Uganda for use in promoting our education.
As Dr. Nsubuga says, the onus is on us to head into the future!