Computer Literacy Needs a Boost

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By Frederick Philander WINDHOEK Though a step in the right direction to equip Namibian schools with computers and the Internet, many technical problems still prevail everywhere making ICT integration very difficult. This is one of the findings of an assessment of a pilot ITC project that was conducted among schools in the north of the country by Dr Michael Tjivikua and Namupa Negola. The two Namibian pedagogues announced their findings yesterday during a two-day ICT Integration conference at which the Deputy Minister of Education, Dr. Becky Ndjoze-Ojo, was the keynote speaker. Some 76 teachers and senior government officials are attending the conference that ends today. “It is a fact that schools now have equipment they didn’t previously have. However, the existing ICT infrastructure is inadequate to address the needs, and is unreliable due to frequent break-downs, poor maintenance, poor electricity supply and a lack of local skills for repairs,” said Tjivikua of the pilot project. It was designed to enhance teaching and learning in government schools. One of the main aims of the project is to train teachers to integrate and use ICT into teaching subject-specific curricula on Mathematics, Science and English in the classroom. “There exists a great deal of enthusiasm about ICT usage among teachers. Our training gave teachers new knowledge and sufficient skills. However, due to limited numbers of computers, teachers are not practicing their skills regularly and subsequently lack the ability to strengthen their skills and the confidence needed to effectively use ICT,” said Tjivikua. Seventy-eight teachers and 1200 learners in thirteen primary and secondary schools of the North participated in the project. He contented that the few time-slots available to properly implement ICT in subjects was a hampering factor and the non-functionality of computers severely impeded the work of teachers. “Despite the fact that with newly acquired ICT skills through which teachers have begun teaching differently, the introduction of ICT in schools has placed added responsibility on both administrators and teachers. Furthermore, a limited number of computers in schools makes the learner/computer ratio very high, causing frustrations because of fewer opportunities to utilize computers. This situation causes fewer learners to gain skills,” he claimed. In his view, learner exposure to ICT has added a new dimension to their perceptions about ICT and its benefits to learning. “Teachers have indicated that their learners’ performances have improved as a result of the integration of ICT in their subjects. Though very enthusiastic about learning, their development is stifled by teacher hesitance and limited confidence. ” Furthermore, none of the software programs mirror exactly the Namibian curriculum,” said Tjivikua. The training of trainers and the establishment of computer labs at government schools are two of a number of recommendations Tjivikua and his colleague made. “The school environment should allow more opportunities for learners to access the ICT infrastructure in view of the fact that the pilot project has made significant impact on teaching, learning as well as the lives and attitudes of teachers and learners,” said Tjivikua of the pro-ject that is financed by the American government. “Teachers are often likened to soldiers because both uphold democracy in their nations. While soldiers are seen as those who defend democracy, teachers are seen as foot soldiers that create democracy through education,” said the Deputy Minister Ndjoze-Ojo, when she officially opened the conference. In order for teachers to uphold, defend and create democracy through education, they should be adequately equipped and trained. “This pilot ICT project in my view is just the beginning of greater things to come and should be aligned to ETSIP as a springboard to Vision 2030. We must all ensure that this project is kept active and is replicated in all other regions,” the deputy minister urged. The assistant director of USAID, Douglas Ball, re-emphasised the fact that the American government’s provision of seed money for the three-year pilot project was a sound decision. “I personally have had the opportunity to observe teachers at Groot Aub being trained in the use of computers to improve their teaching. I could see from the excitement and the way Namibian teachers embraced the technology that they firmly grasped the importance of ICT in the classroom,” Ball said. According to him some 300 teachers have been trained through the ICT project to manage day-to-day class work, whilst school administrators have also been trained to manage their schools. “These achievements are notable, but significant challenges remain if we are to achieve our goals of training 12 000 teachers in basic ICT literacy and having 350 000 learners using ICT at least 30 minutes each week by the year 2010. However, we look forward to continued collaboration with the Namibian government in improving education in the country and transforming Namibia into a knowledge-based society,” the USAID’s representative said. Joe Davis of the Federation of American Teachers Education was also full of praise for the ICT pilot project. “This is a visionary teacher-to-teacher training project between the public and the private sectors although it started off as one of the Ministry of Education. This pilot project speeds up the learning and teaching process whereby the quality of education in the country in turn can be improved. A lot of money will be needed to continue and complete the project eventually so that Namibia can properly interact with the global village,” Joe Davis said.

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