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ICT in Primary Schools are Learning Tools, Not Tools to be Learned

By Lindsay Poirier on February 3, 2012

As teachers at a primary school in the Kisongo district of Arusha, Tanzania huddled into their computer lab, they quietly scoffed at me. What can a twenty-something American girl have to say in a meeting with all of us? I tried to remain upbeat and ignore the fact that I couldn’t understand what was being discussed in Swahili amongst the group.

“So I wanted to meet with everyone today to show you some computer software that can be used to support the concepts that are being taught in your curriculums.”

Blank stares. This was one tough crowd.

“Well there are lots of free tools on the Internet that you can use to help reiterate some of the concepts that you teach in the classroom.”

Crickets. Now I’m getting nervous.

I decided it might be best to open a program and demonstrate, so I opened Sebran, an open source educational software package, developed in Sweden. This would be a good start because it could be run in Swahili. I then loaded a math game that tasked students with counting the number of pictures on the screen and selecting the corresponding number.

“This game should be helpful to students in Class One who are just learning how to count. They can see several objects and then relate them to a number.”

I clicked on the first answer to show the teachers how it worked. Heads perked up. Ah, now we’re getting somewhere. I clicked on another answer. Now the teachers were closing in around the screen. One more answer. Now I had one teacher thieving the mouse from my grasp. They immediately started answering on their own and exploring the other games that were available through Sebran.

“Do you have anything to help with Class Two English?” “What about Class Five Science?”

I went on to show what I had collected and then explained how other educational tools could be located on the Internet. They all remained intrigued and attentive for the remainder of the meeting.

Guess what. This story took place in a primary school where each Standard had weekly ICT classes. Let me repeat that: Every student in this school sat in an ICT class every week. Guess what else. The ICT teacher, the one that instructs the students that sit in the weekly ICT class, was present at the meeting and was just as fascinated by the software as the rest of the teachers.

So if we have students that sit in an ICT class every week, being led by an instructor that has no prior knowledge of how to make use of educational software, what are the students doing in the ICT class?

Well I can somewhat tell you because I just so happened to stumble upon Class 5’s final exam in ICT from the previous year. It included questions such as: “An aluminum rod antenna is the type of __________.” “Most television sets use __________-power.” Or my favorite: “[True or False] Children are not supposed to watch television.”


And why is Class 5 being tested on these things in the ICT class? Because it’s what’s in the curriculum! The Tanzanian ICT curriculum lists objectives related to how a computer, radio, or television operates. Students are expected to know how to type up and save a document and how to transmit a message via radio. With instructors faithfully adhering to these policies, they don’t ever consider how technology can be used as a tool for facilitating instruction in other subjects.

I will admit that basic ICT literacy will be vital to students as they prepare to enter job markets where technology use is emphasized. But what is the ultimate goal of incorporating ICTs into education? Is it simply to teach kids how to use a computer? I hope not. What is the point in teaching kids how to use a computer if they are not using it for anything constructive to their learning?

The main goal of incorporating ICTs into education should be to improve or enhance the quality of a student’s education. This involves developing pedagogies for integrating the use of technology with the curriculums of other subjects. When used appropriately, technology has the potential to reiterate concepts learned in the classroom and allows students to think about these concepts in a different way. Furthermore, students are able to see a connection between technology and its applications.

Being able to offer this type of learning to students is dependent on several factors. First of all, the policies must back it. Teachers teach to the curriculum. They have been trained to teach to the curriculum, and with little prior ICT knowledge, there is little incentive for them to steer away from the curriculum. If teachers are going to use ICT as a tool for learning, then the policies should reflect that.

Second, teachers must have training. Teachers need sustained instruction, not only in basic ICT literacy, but also in the ways in which technology can be leveraged as a learning tool. A teacher will not take a classroom full of students to work on computers when (s)he is not comfortable working on it on his/her own. The ones that do this often find that they are unable to come up with productive activities for the students.

ICTs have the ability to effectively support student learning. It should be the main focus of ICT4E practitioners to veer policy development and teacher training in a direction that promotes technology as a learning tool. Doing so will provide students with better education and understanding of how technology can benefit various aspects of their lives.


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I am an undergraduate student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute studying Information Technology and Science, Technology, and Society. The focus of my studies is on International Development. I have a particular interest in incorporating ICTs in primary education in Sub-Saharan Africa.
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8 Comments to “ICT in Primary Schools are Learning Tools, Not Tools to be Learned”

  1. cyprian says:

    Computers, if they can be supplied and teachers know what to do with them, should not be a waste of money poured down the drain for playing cards.

  2. andrewjdupree says:

    Very cool post, Lindsay. Here in Haiti, some teachers and principals seem to want computers just for the sake of having them. There’s a definite lack of understanding of what can be done with them, and their use (or lack thereof) reflects this. Such a world of possibilities, but if no one guides you on those first few steps the journey never begins. A lot of that has to do with content – we’ve had a tough time finding good stuff in French. I’ll have to check out this Sebran – sounds promising.

  3. MBITI says:

    Lindsay,here in cameroun all is politisee;a taecher ‘s salaries can not allow him to buy laptop and survive,we waiting all for government ,and we can not teach what don’t know,if government can to each teacher a laptop and cut 20% OF his salarie until get the total of money of laptop and train teacers ,ICT WLL be succesful in EDUCATION IN CAMEROUN.

  4. sbehague says:

    Bravo Lindsay, great post! I came across a similar problem 10 years ago working on a project in Guatemala. The objective of the project was to teach teachers how to develop their own learning materials in indigenous languages. Never having used computers, the teachers wanted to spend an entire school year learning how to use them so that they in turn could spend a year teaching their students how to use them. That view quickly changed once they had a chance to sit down an “play” around on the machines. The motto of the project became “Teaching WITH Computers, not ABOUT Computers.” I’m glad you helped enlighten those teachers in Tanzania.

  5. Apunyu says:

    In Uganda, Teacher training institutions do not take computer training as a serious ingredient to teacher education, when teachers are passed out, most often, they are not only computer illiterate but also technology shy(not very willing to adopt technology). It is practically impossible for teacher who can not differentiate between Click and Right Click to embrace ICT as a tool to aid learning. We must therefore first use ICT as a tool to be learnt before we can we can use it a learnig tool

  6. Abdulwasiu says:

    Great post indeed,I am a Nigerian interested in using ICT4E and ICT4D tools in bridging the digital divide.I am working as teacher currently and the Sebran game you mentioned has been of great help and I am currently sharing it with friends who are involved in private teaching of kids and the feedback from the teachers and students have been great.I run a search on free open source educational tools for Junior Secondary and Senior Secondary Schools and I stumbled on Quiz-Buddy.
    I simply request for a website where I can find other free educational games like Sebran for both Primary and Secondary school students.
    Thank you in anticipation of a favourable consideration.
    Abdulwasiu CCNA

  7. Luke Musongong says:

    What I will say is that old habit are very difficult to be discarded for new ones. The experience in this article is similar to what personally pulled my attendion to write ICT books for Nursery 1 and 2 as well as Primary 1 to 6 which are today in the educational curriculum of our country – CAMEROON. Despite all that effort there is still feet dragging on the part of the primary school teachers to use ICT fully in teaching because they are reluctant. However, what I know is that things must change especially when the pupils will cause teachers to run from teaching as the technology is moving at a break-neck speed. It is actually true that the teachers do not have the needed resources to get the computers but they must do something instead of only lamenting while technology is evolving.

  8. Brain says:

    I believe computer has become an integral part of the human being. As now computer is necessary in each and every field you go. All those old paper works were replaced by modern device in terms of computer and software. They help better to do the things fast and with less efforts. Student should be taught computers from the base as they can become proficient once they grow up and are ready to face the challenges of business and work. Wonderful share.