Technology has come to schools. Throughout Africa, schools and teachers are faced with the dilemma of how to use technology in the classroom. Technology enhances both teaching and learning but rapid technological advances mean that teachers, even in schools with meagre resources, can be faced with a bewildering array of systems and software that they are told will make teaching much easier.

It doesn’t matter what the system or software is, or who the manufacturer is. It has to be evaluated properly so teachers know what effect it will or can have on teaching and learning in the classroom.

This may seem obvious, but it doesn’t always happen. All too often, schools buy technology without evaluating it properly for its contribution to their teaching and learning goals. And then, even when the technology is potentially useful, the schools might not give any support to the teachers that have to deliver that technology, which means it can become a waste of time and money.

The classic example is a rule that every child must have a laptop in school, or a tablet. If the school hasn’t evaluated the technology, and particularly the software programs available against teaching goals, and if the teachers haven’t thought about how the technology can lead to better learning outcomes, it can be a poor purchase.

Before taking on a decision that will cost a lot of money, schools need to find out how effective it will be. Yes, many students are familiar with smartphone or tablet technology, and can navigate them with ease, but the question is, how will it enhance their learning experience in school?

This is not a decision for the schools alone. Teachers have a crucial role to play, not only in evaluating and recommending technology, but in working out how it can improve classroom learning and examination results. I’ve come across a number of examples where teachers are instructed to use laptops or tablets for up to 20 minutes a lesson. Again, teachers need support in working out how to do so.

Technology is only effective if teachers plan their lessons to incorporate technology. They must frame everything from the perspective of learning outcomes — what do they want students to do, and how will technology help them do it? This applies irrespective of whether exams have to be hand-written. Teachers need to focus on how they can use a laptop and software to enhance the learning experience, so that when students come to write the exam, they are betted prepared to do so.

Many schools teach children how to use computers, including simple things such as how to use a word processor or how to use a spreadsheet. It’s the teachers who must think about the possibilities of using these skills in the classroom, across a range of subjects, to improve learning. For example, homework is usually set to reinforce a lesson. The technological approach could be to ask students to research something on the internet, and prepare a brief presentation to share with the class to show that they can apply the technology.

It’s not necessary to use technology for every lesson, but in the modern world, technology does need to be incorporated in at least some of the teaching. Teachers have to evaluate the benefits of technology for teaching a subject, or aspects of the subject. The beauty of this approach is that it is not teacher- or subject-specific. It applies to all teachers, wherever they are, whatever the technology available and whatever subjects they are teaching.

Around the world, and particularly in Africa, the level of technology and how it is used in schools crosses a wide spectrum. The top schools are incredibly well connected; they have super-fast broadband and they can have multiple classes all accessing the internet at once. At the other end of the spectrum, the only computer may be the teacher’s computer in the classroom, or the one in the staff room.

Africa is particularly well connected to mobile telephone technology. Students, and especially the younger students, are much more comfortable with mobile phones and smartphones than they are with laptops. There are even smartphone apps than can aid learning.

Technology is available, at all levels. It is up to the teachers to use it effectively to assist learning and achieve better results.

• Lind is the professional development and training manager at Cambridge University Press

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