Nicholas Negropante, founder of the One Laptop per Child Program, says “Connectivity is a human right.”
I think it is amazing that I get to live in foreign countries, teach amazing students from all over the world and collaborate with colleagues who bring such diverse experiences to the table. Prior to moving to China, I taught in Mozambique. I loved it. Besides getting married and having 2 children, I lived 3 blocks from the beach and taught in a classroom with a view of the ocean. My students were eager to learn and brought a wide array of languages and life experiences to our classroom. It is what I thought international teaching was always going to be like: involved parents, engaged community, and an overall sense of happiness.
In my class, I did things like Tech Tuesday which is when I would introduce a cool app that allowed them to show their learning in new and interesting ways. I also encouraged them to explore apps and teach each other about ones they thought were useful. So while our work with apps was beneficial to a degree, things like drones, robotics, and VR were only just catching on. This is not always a bad thing. Maputo was very idyllic, and had an old school vibe. It reminded me of my childhood with kids playing outside, unlocked doors (in the gated compound), parents were very restrictive about iPad time, and family time was emphasized. This was all great in our insular bubble, but what happened when people moved to a more technologically advanced country? They would have to play catch-up. One reason I enjoy being a COETAILer is because after living in Mozambique for 4 years, this network has pushed me head first into the deep end of rapidly developing technology.
The downside of teaching in the 7th poorest country in the world is that access to electricity is limited and blackouts are frequent. This was certainly an issue for the students who I taught, but as the children of diplomats or country managers of multinational corporations or NGOs, I knew they would end up being okay in the future. They will be the leaders of tomorrow, just as their parents are the leaders of today. The parents modeled the importance of education, hard work, and connecting to the bigger world with a sense of empathy and purpose. Their children were and would continue to follow that lead. They will live elsewhere in the world. They will have access to the latest technology. They won’t get left behind
Digital divides also mirror prevailing economic gaps, amplifying the advantages of children from wealthier backgrounds and failing to deliver opportunities to the poorest and most disadvantaged children. Children in a Digital World UNICEF Report
What does it mean that there is limited internet connectivity in country? As a means of comparison use the interactive map provided by The Telegraph.
Where the lack of technology and infrastructure has the greatest impact is on the local population. What will their future look like with limited access to internet? According to Wikipedia, less than 10% of the population of Mozambique used the internet in 2015.
This is not a poor Africa post; it is a post about my perspective on where we should be focusing our educational technology energies.
I am all for blending technology into my lessons, and it is absolutely important to teach the students in my class how to navigate an ever changing world. However, we cannot forget to share some of that focus and energy with places like Mozambique or any other developing country. With limited access to technology, there is no chance the people of Mozambique will be able to truly benefit from the technological advancements happening so rapidly. All students need to have 21st century skill and to be able to access the world around them. The interconnectedness of the world is inevitable. For example, a rural farmer in Mozambique could reach out via the internet in order to secure a microloan or purchase seeds or fertilizer online at a lower price than they could locally.
Digital technologies can deliver economic opportunity by providing young people with training opportunities and job-matching services, and by creating new kinds of work. Children in a Digital World UNICEF report
Building these skills allows students to access the future. For example, without the ability to navigate the internet or even access to the internet students are severely limited in the possibilities of a positive future.
The question becomes how we help the students who most need technological skills that will help them gain access to knowledge and networks that can improve their lives. Technology is the way forward for all students. Without basic technological skills or even access to the internet students will be left behind.
They will learn skills that will allow them to earn and save money which leads the way out of poverty. This improvement in access to technology would benefit not only the country of Mozambique, but the world at large. It is important to remember genius in unlimited, opportunity is not.