Korea made it, and so can Africa!
Dr. Peck Cho, emeritus professor of the University of Dongguk, Republic of Korea, began his presentation on “ICT in Education: A Blessing or a Curse?” by taking us back in time to the 1950s, following the Japanese occupation, when Korea was “one of the poorest countries in the world”. The country’s disastrous situation at that time was reversed “within a single generation”, and Korea’s development is now founded on a flourishing economy.
Dr. Cho, an engaging speaker, emphasized that Korea had, as a matter of national consensus, put all its efforts into the education of its children: 11,000 schools were built, 483,000 teachers hired, etc. The most connected country in the world today (an average Internet connection speed of 14.2Mb/s), Korea continues to focus on education, but now it relies on ICT, which, given the ubiquity of smartphones in the country, has the potential to enhance skills for anyone, anywhere, anytime. “And the proof is”, he added with a laugh, “that 40,000 students can now take my courses each year, while in my previous 20 years as a professor, I taught only 4,000!” For him, the solution is clear: stop investing in traditional schools and concentrate on ICT, which is no more expensive than building schools.
However, the heart of his argument lies elsewhere. Dr. Peck Cho is persuaded that the use of ICT, without a change in our understanding of what learning is, will merely increase the quantity and speed of the wrong kind of education. We need to develop better, more intelligent education, education that is active, interactive, integrating and contextualized. In short, we need to focus on learning and not on teaching, to leave room for the creativity and the emotions of individuals. While it is true that the OECD’s PISA ranking places Korea first in the world in mathematics, science and reading, it also indicates that Korean pupils are the least happy in the world.
Learning through ICT thus rests on two foundations: the accessibility of knowledge and information, and connectivity between teachers and learners. This will require a reform of teacher training and strong political will.
For Africa, the issue is simple: “either accept the change or don’t! Do Africans want to remain consumers of ICT or become creators of ICT?” To affirm once again that Africa can overcome its handicap, as Korea did, he concluded with the famous words of the late Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”