The DigiSchool is with us. The Ministry of Information Communications and Technology (ICT) officially launched the DigiSchool program in March this year. With the disbursement of more than 500,000 laptops and tablets to selected schools across the counties, the first phase of the digitisation of learning in schools is already in place. In the second phase, another batch of tablets and devices will be distributed. By April 2017, more than one million devices will have been distributed to schools across the country.
By August 2017, the DigiSchool Program will be running in all public schools in Kenya.
As expected, teachers have been apprehensive about this program, some openly resisting it. The excuses they raise: Why roll it out before training the teachers? Their concerns are valid, but misguided.
They need not worry. Kenyans will not crucify them if they experience some hiccups in navigating the virtual school. The reason for our leniency is this: in this DigiSchool Space, the teacher-students roles will be reversed. How?
TWO TYPES OF RESIDENTS
In the DigiSchool, there will exist two types of residents — the digital natives and the digital immigrants. Students will be the natives and teachers will be the immigrants.
Let’s clarify this. Our children currently in primary school are aged between seven and 13 years. Those in secondary school are aged between 13 and 17 years. This means that all students enrolled in school today were born between 1999 and 2009. The term for the generation born after 1999 is digital natives. These are children who found technology in existence. They have grown up surrounded by digital media.
Other terms that experts use for this generation include ‘net geners,’ ‘netizens,’ and ‘homo zapiens.’ Others include the “net generation,” “the Google generation,” “Millennials,” and “Generation Y.”
As digital natives, children in our schools are fluent speakers of a new language, the “digital language”. Having been born in the digital age, they have learnt to multitask. Experts say these net geners are able to do their homework as they watch TV. Does this speak to your heart?
On the contrary, most teachers, just like we parents, belong to the generation of digital immigrants. Technology found us here. We learnt to interact with it later in life.
As immigrants, teachers have an arduous task. They must learn the digital language. They have to adopt a new accent.
As experts explain, some accents exhibited by digital immigrants include printing out e-mails; printing out a document to edit the hard copy instead of editing it onscreen; and making a phone call to tell an intended e-mail recipient that you have sent them an e-mail.
Don’t we do it all the time?
Moreover, unlike the digital natives, teachers did not get a chance to practise the skill of multitasking. That is why they don’t agree with our children that learning should be fun. It is the reason we instruct the children to switch off the TV when they are doing their homework.
CHILDREN AE DIFFERENT FROM US
We must come to terms with the fact that our children are different from us. They have grown up with bits and bytes. Their neurons are wired differently.
At birth, they found technology here. Accordingly, their ability to interact with technology is at a higher level compared to ours. They are naturally wired to explore the features of mobile devices, search the web, listen to music as they study, watch TV as they do homework, create websites, update their social media pages, set their devices to receive instant updates on social media and attend web events, among managing other digi-things. These abilities will obviously become evident with the rolling out of the DigiSchool. What’s more, this reality will definitely change the family, societal, and school dynamics.
For the above reasons, teachers must rethink their relationships with the digital natives. They must reach out to children, find out their expectations and desires.
In DigiSchool and at home, children will want more freedom as they play, work, and study. They will demand edutainment. They will expect the DigiSchool package to deliver education integrated with entertainment. And teachers must be willing to support this new mode of study.
In forging new and effective relationships at the DigiSchool, teachers must factor in all these demands in their mode of education delivery. The approaches to teaching and learning will have to accommodate these expectations and make learning suit the needs of these digital natives.
For effective delivery of the digital learning, teachers must come to terms with the reversed roles in the teacher-student relationship. In DigiSchool, the digital natives will certainly be the coaches, the mentors, and the experts. Teachers will have no option but to humbly take up their place as part-time students of these digital experts.
Upon embracing this new setting, teachers will then actively engage with the learners. The reversed-roles scenario eliminates the need to train the teachers, as their students will superbly deliver this training free of charge. It will be a win-win-win situation that will save the taxpayer billions of shillings.
Dr Wanjiku wa Njoroge is a content developer and editor in a local publishing house.