Fostering 21st Century Learning in sub-Saharan Africa

by |July 7, 2010
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A student uses a SmartPen to complete an assignment.

The following is a guest blog, authored by Jim Teicher, Executive Director, CyberSmart! Africa.

Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author in this blog do not represent the opinion of the Millennium Cities Initiative, the Earth Institute at Columbia University or any of its professional consultants.

How can every school in Africa deliver a 21st-century education? That is a question the Millennium Cities Initiative (MCI), the Millennium Villages Project (MVP) and CyberSmart! Africa, an education NGO that provides teacher training and related ICT interventions designed to narrow the learning divide between Africa and the developed world, hope to address.

MCI, MVP and CyberSmart! Africa have partnered in both Louga, Senegal, and in the nearby rural community of Leona, to provide teacher training and technology solutions that have the promise to be inexpensively and easily replicated in all schools – requiring minimal, if any, infrastructure investment.

Students used the SmartPen to facilitate English instruction by drawing a car and then recording the names of its parts in English.

Louga students used SmartPens to facilitate English instruction by drawing a car and then recording the names of its parts in English.

This past spring, CyberSmart! introduced an individualized 21st century learning tool – the Livescribe Pulse Smartpen. This SmartPen represents an eye-opening learning intervention in a world where technology integration has always been associated with installing expensive school computer labs, and learning ICT skills, which often have little bearing on everyday teaching and learning activities.

The SmartPen records and links audio to what is written in a special ‘dot paper’ notebook. Then, after touching the pen tip to whatever was written, the linked audio plays back though the pen’s speaker or plug-in earphones. The power of the rechargable SmartPen lies in its ability to simultaneously combine four ways of learning – reading, writing, speaking and listening.

We are using the SmartPen to support instruction in English, science, math and geography, as well as for student note-taking. Students in the CEM Grand Louga Middle School recently used the Smartpen to record and play back all of the steps necessary to solve a lesson in geometry. On the same day, students in an English-language class drew a picture of a car, and then wrote and recorded the names of all of its parts in English. This innovative technology enabled the teachers to check each student’s ability to write and pronounce each word. Such an intervention packs a powerful computer into a traditional look and feel, and expands our notion of what it means to have the latest technologies in service to learning.

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A teacher encourages learning with another CyberSmart! tool, an interactive whiteboard.

Furthermore, this type of technology allows teachers to become agents of change – guided to create their own lessons and collaborate with other educators within their professional learning communities. The teachers share what works, and what doesn’t, supporting each other both pedagogically and technically.

All aspects of this pilot initiative correlate to 21st-century teaching and learning standards adopted by UNESCO and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). The implications for this pilot initiative are substantial, in that a variety of unique, low-cost ICT interventions – including the SmartPen – can be adapted and replicated to provide new learning opportunities for schools around the world, including those in the Millennium Cities and Millennium Villages.

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