Tag Archives: Indigenous Knowledge

Innovation Africa 2017

I recently attended the Innovation Africa event in Maputo, Mozambique with colleagues from Cambridge University’s Faculty of Education, Cambridge Assessment, Cambridge University Press‘s Education Reform and Cambridge University Press’s global digital team.

The Cambridge team in front of their stand

Innovation Africa is an annual ministerial conference bringing together African countries’ education ministries, tech companies (hardware/software) and education-support businesses.The event is held across three days; Day one is the ‘Africa Leaders Day’ and is open to government officials and select private organisations only. Day two and three are the main conference days which take the format of panel discussions in the mornings with short one-on-one meetings scheduled in the afternoon, where service providers can meet directly with education officials to discuss projects.

It appears that most African countries represented have nascent digital plans, with a focus on embedding 21st Century Skills in the curriculum and creating a ‘knowledge economy’-ready workforce. For example, Zambia has a project called Smart Zambia whereby they are creating digital resources to support teaching as well as distributing 75,000 tablets to learners.  Kenya has set up an e-learning cloud with freely available digital resources for teachers and learners. They have distributed over a million devices to learners, assembled in Kenya via a public-private partnership with Brazilian Positive BGH.

At the conference, IBM launched their Digital Nation Africa project, an online digital literacy course curating open education resources into three training streams, the Digital Explorer, the Digital Innovator and New Collar Jobs. This innovative platform is freely available for residents throughout Africa, with the hope that education ministries adopt it as a means to distribute relevant local content in their countries.

UNESCO also used this opportunity to launch their report on accountability in education, providing feedback on the monitoring process they conducted over the past year with a focus on governments, schools, teachers and parents.

Pioneering home-language learning of mathematics in a digital environment in South Africa

Learning mathematics in a second language has been identified as a major barrier to understanding mathematical concepts and terms for South African learners. The Cambridge Maths Dictionary App (English and isiXhosa) is an easy to use, helpful mobile reference tool for South African learners aged between 10 and 15 years old (Grades 4 to 9). Written in a language that is easily accessible to non-­mother tongue speakers of English, the app  contains over 900 Maths terms and definitions in both English and isiXhosa. Words are explained using examples relevant to the South African context and entries are supported with compelling visual content  to further enhance the explanations and to reinforce the concepts.

Developing this app, the authors wanted to ensure that all the mathematics terminology needed in the South African Intermediate and Senior Phase classroom was covered to really support learners in their studies. More than this, they wanted the content to be interesting, creatively presented and, most of all, learner-friendly. By helping learners to acquire and understand the terminology used in the mathematics classroom, they are able to engage with the concepts in a meaningful and constructive way, rather than being hindered by possible gaps in comprehension.

The app gives users  the ability to:

  • Easily search for a Maths term in English
  • Toggle between the English and isiXhosa definitions by swiping left and right
  • Tag words as Favourites for a personalised, quick and easy reference list.

The app was developed when Cambridge University Press (CUP) noticed that home-language isiXhosa students struggled with understanding English mathematical terms and definitions, and this was hindering their progress in the subject as a whole. This issue is seen throughout South Africa, where learners are often taught subjects  in their second or third language. Currently this multilingual learning environment seen by many educational practitioners as a challenge to overcome, rather than a potential strength to leverage. CUP, however, is an advocate for bilingual education and the recognition of languages like isiXhosa as a co-medium for teaching and learning. This approach also debunks the common myth that African languages are not developed for teaching mathematical concepts and encourages students to value their home languages.

Drawing on current trends in education and technology, the app makes use of a mobile learning resource to develop 21st century skills in learners. This approach is premised on the use of devices like cellphones, smartphones and tablets, and taking advantage of the enhanced functionality they are able to offer. It makes use of both the medium and the content to encourage learning, helping learners to develop their digital literacy while at the same time ensuring that they acquire subject-specific skills.

While this approach to learning is in line with global best practice, up until now it has been difficult to take advantage of in South Africa because of limited access to smart mobile devices. The new generation of cheaper devices that have since entered the market, however, gives many learners in this country access to quality educational media both inside and outside of the classroom. As these devices become more and more common, they open up exciting possibilities in education, making it easy for learners to access and share information and develop their skills outside of the classroom through self-directed study.

CUP South Africa is committed to the advancement of African languages in the digital space, previously working with Worldreader to make 360 primary-level story books in a number of African languages available on mobile phones. Other organisations operating in this arena in South Africa include:

ICTS for Indigenous Knowledge Preservation

I recently had an article published in the ICT Update magazine, in an issue focused on ‘Crowdsourcing and engagement’. My article was on how libraries in South Africa are using ICTs and community journalists to collect indigenous knowledge.

ICT Update is a bimonthly printed bulletin, a web magazine, and an accompanying email newsletter and mobile website. Each issue of ICT Update focuses on a specific theme relevant to ICTs for agricultural and rural development in African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.

Download the PDF …

Local Users, Local Language, Local Content

Presented at the IAMCR 2012 Conference, Durban, South Africa.

The Ulwazi Programme uses the public library infrastructure, Web 2.0 technologies and the community to collect and disseminate indigenous knowledge and local histories. This user-generated content is compiled in an online digital library in the form of a website and access is provided through current mobile and web technologies. In this paper I describe the history of the programme, its objectives and its structure. The website’s usage statistics are then unpacked to reveal the demographics of its users and popular content, with a focus on the use of the regional vernacular, Zulu.