· Smartphones for the information and digital age
Years back, the mere possession of information in one’s head was such a big deal that one got glitzy grades and awards for it. Teachers went to great lengths to have students copy notes in various notebooks, one for every subject. The more one was able to memorize information and pour it all out for examination scores, the higher they advanced in the rankings. Whether one was able to fully understand the information as reproduced was not such a big deal. Neither was it essential to have the skills to use the information one had accumulated to solve societal problems.
Similarly, we laboured on long divisions and multiplication tables, including additions of stacks and stacks of figures, decimals and algorithms. In due course, however, the introduction of slide rules to resolve long divisions and multiplications saved us from the arduous tasks. Better still the advent of “Texas instruments” made life much easier through the ability to solve quickly mathematical tasks of sines, cosines, and the rest.
“Adapt, Empower, Measure”
The world we lived in then is quite different from the one we inhabit now. Today we live in the Information and Digital Age! The Internet, for example, connects people and information anywhere in the world with the ease of a few keystrokes. And in some cases, progressive people and companies are shifting into paperless offices and lifestyles.
On 7th February 2015, I was invited to serve as a mentor in a program at GIMPA, Accra, organized by the United States Department of State dubbed “Tech Camp West Africa”. With the theme “Adapt, Empower, Measure”, it was designed to update and support youngsters from the sub-region in digital awareness. The session was conducted on smartphones, with no paper; and as can be imagined, the youth – as forward looking as ever – met those challenges keenly. The very few who stuck to the use of paper seemed out of joint with the times.
Key educational outcomes
In the 21st century three key educational (and tangible) outcomes as exit points cannot be ignored. The following questions are in order: One, what product can one produce as a result of one’s education? Two, what service can one provide? and Three, what societal problems can one solve and profit from as an entrepreneur?
“Infrastructureless scaling” has supported new digital companies like UBER – the biggest taxi company without taxis; GOOGLE – the world’s biggest library with no shelves of books; FACEBOOK – the world’s biggest publisher with no newspapers; AIRBnB – the world’s biggest hotel with no hotel rooms; SNAPCHAT – the world’s biggest photo studio with no cameras.
From Amazon’s retail revolution and Netflix – the world’s biggest movie theatre with no theatres – giant global companies are being built in university labs and in people’s garages. This knowledge is available in virtual classrooms to everybody.
As the ICT entrepreneur, Moses Baiden, put it, this 4th industrial revolution – the Age of Digitisation – is the mother of all revolutions and is altering the world dramatically. As a country and as businesses Ghana needs to carve out a sound vision and be deliberately involved in a major way.
Use of smartphones in SHS
Ever since I advocated for the structured and disciplined use of smartphones in Senior High Schools (SHS) in August 2017, the feedback keeps coming. Here are a few:
One: “Thank you for stirring the e-awareness pot again. Hope progressive forces come forward. GNAT is expected to [lead] at the coming of the on-line learning revolution. I have to admit that many Techiman parents think our WiFi and BYOD (Bring your own device) policy is evil. But the students use the smartphone responsibly for the most part and under supervision.”
Two: “Fully support the use of technology in the classroom. As a teacher I believe any tool that makes my students more engaged is good. I’m not afraid of distractions. My job is to make my class engaging enough so no student will find anything better to do than engage.”
Three: “SHS students using mobile phones will rather [make] them have access to information in and out of school. Giving them the guide as to how to access information and learning platforms makes them savvy and hungry for more knowledge.”
Four: “You have made relevant points in there which need to be looked at carefully by our leaders to make it run as you proposed. Thanks for sharing sir, it’s a great suggestion since they can use that in doing research to support their studies. All we need are rules and regulations to check children who might use it as a distraction. I totally agreed with your analysis when Randy Abbey was reviewing it with his panelists on Good Morning Ghana.”
Five: “We must stopped magnifying the negative sides and focus on the numerous advantages on the hand set.”
Six: “I read the article and my take is that Teachers may be disconcerted with the amount of knowledge available to students per smart phones which they themselves don’t command. I however think the issue of equity is real for rural schools. How do we address this divide? That said, I don’t think our youth should be left behind in this digital age. In any case a good number of these kids already own smart phones. Will the provision of good computer labs help?”
On that last note, this is to wish all educators, a belated Happy Teachers Day. God’s abundant blessings! Amen!