Imagine learning to drive without a car. Now imagine practicing piano without a piano. How about cooking without a stove?
This is precisely what many students have to do, every day, just in order to progress to high school. Confused? Let’s take a journey to Africa – no, not to Wakanda – but to Ghana, in western Africa. We start our trek in the capital city of Accra, located on the Gulf of Guinea in the Atlantic Ocean.
From here, we journey 4.5 hours north on highway N6, through tropical jungles, to reach Kumasi, one of Ghana’s largest metropolitan areas. After turning onto a smaller highway, we continue north for 2.5 more hours before we arrive at Sekyedumase, a small town surrounded by jungle and lush rain forests, located in the Ashanti region.
Sekyedumase is home to the Betenase M/A Junior High School, where Richard Appiah Akoto, 33, teaches information and communication technology (ICT). All students in the Ghanaian public school system are required to pass a national exam covering many subjects, including ICT. But there is just one problem...
Betenase High School has no computers.
So how can Akoto possibly teach ICT to his students? The answer is one that is as inspiring as it is sad:
Yes, Akoto is teaching Microsoft Word on a blackboard with coloured chalk. His students copy the drawing into their notebooks to review later. The national exams rely on the ability of students to recall information from their syllabus, which means memorising the various parts of a desktop computer and knowing how to perform basic computer functions, such as using Word. Akoto’s drawings help his students to a certain degree and his dedication and commitment are truly admirable. However, having to give a written exam about computer technology without ever having seen a computer is extremely challenging – only one of Akoto’s students was able to get an A in last year’s ICT exam.
“Definitely those in Accra will pass the exam because you cannot compare someone who is in front of a computer, who knows what he is doing with the mouse to someone who has not had a feel of a computer mouse before.”
~ Richard Appiah Akoto
How ironic is it that children in underdeveloped countries have to use a blackboard to learn about the very technologies supposed to uplift and benefit them in the first place. Technology today is almost always aimed at business goals and market potential, instead of a global vision or humanitarian purpose. The market for the poor is never studied until higher markets are profited off of. When the time comes to create a simpler, run-down version of a product for these poorer markets, companies almost never pay attention to the specific needs of the poor. Therefore, the little technology that does make its way to towns like Sekyedumase is neither durable, nor efficient, nor simple to use.
After Akoto’s photos went viral, an entrepreneur called on Microsoft Africa to do something about the situation. Tech leaders from around the world and in the African tech industry drew the attention of Microsoft, which promised to equip Akoto with a device, as well as fly Akoto to Singapore to attend the annual Microsoft Global Education Exchange Summit. The happiest part of this story takes us back to Ghana, where Akoto’s students received brand new computers from donors in both the UK and Accra.
Akoto’s dedication to teaching his students with what he has is an inspiration to educators around the world. His vision and love for teaching and innovative thinking should be spread to school systems in both developed and developing countries. However, his example in Sekyedumase shows that the lack of resources is not the only obstacle for students – it is also the lack of a proper syllabus. It is a great sight to see that Ghana has implemented ICT into its national education program, but even it is nonetheless outdated. Akoto has a personal laptop, but cannot use it in class because the ICT curriculum has not been updated since its introduction, and therefore does not match what his laptop can do.
Curriculums all over the world have changed far slower than the world has, and that has begun to cause a severe bottleneck in talent and knowledge. Education should evolve at the pace of tomorrow, and with technology, it can. Instead, however, it moves at the speed of 40 years ago – students simply memorise chapters in textbooks, never to truly understand the world around them. Too much attention is given to grades and report cards instead of instilling the pursuit of knowledge in young minds. And most clearly, Akoto’s ICT class must be taught on a blackboard due to the cost of computers and communication networks.
Education and technology are the two superpowers of our modern world. They have the potential to uplift human civilisation like nothing before, and we simply can not continue to neglect schools like Betenase Junior High or students like Akoto’s. The opportunities are endless – if we can move away from capitalising on our innovations and instead channel them to solving problems in the service of humankind.
“New technology is common, new thinking is rare.”
Sir Peter Blake