Analysis of the data collected by the 12 national research teams reveals a multitude of uses of ICT in the nearly 120 African schools participating in the project. These uses vary from initiation of learners to the fundamentals of computing, to the creation of elaborate projects involving learner-created websites, videos, field research and experimentation content.
The types of ICT uses found in PanAf Phase I data can be grouped as follows:
- Use as the subject of learning;
- Use as the means of learning;
- Other uses.
As noted in other ICT4ED projects in African schools with support from IDRC (for example the "Pioneer Schools" project), Phase I data shows that the majority of the uses of ICT fall into the first of the groupings above, while very few fall into the second (use of ICT to teach subjects other than computing itself) while current literature argues that the latter is where usage should be concentrated.
In this context, ICT are not used as a "way" to learn, they are "what" is taught - educators focus on initiating new users to the basic functions of the machine. For many it seems especially important to understand these functions fully before proceeding to applying them to other learning situations.
The data shows that many educators are convinced that in order to use computers for learning one should first be able to name the parts of the machine. The interviews conducted in the course of Phase I were inconclusive in identifying the sources of this conviction, however the link between educators' attitudes reported, and the uses of ICT in teaching and learning, seems strong.
This teaching "of " (rather than "with") ICT that characterizes usage in African schools is limited to demonstrating to learners how the computer functions, occasionally through the presentation of certain tools including word processing or spreadsheet software popular with the educators responsible for the actual computer rooms. It is challenging to quantify this observation precisely, but the evidence suggests that about half of institutions from which data was collected in Phase I subscribe to this mode of "pedagogical integration" - teaching computers to learners.
Though the teaching of computers may have its place in numerous regions of Africa where schools are the only venue for accessing and learning ICT, it is paradoxical that in cities where 75% of learners report frequent use of cybercaf├ęs - and are comfortable with at least the basic functions of computers - the approach to computers in schools would be so limited.
In this context, PanAf Phase II presents doubly important opportunities to permit education practitioners and policy decision-makers to move beyond this initial mode of the integration of ICT. Nonetheless there are nuances to the generalization - some learners are actively involved in gaining competency with ICT, rather than passively absorbing the subject matter as presented by educators they maximize opportunities presented to become engaged in the learning process.
These learners are called upon to appropriate ICT, and the data shows they are relatively successful in doing so, though practical sessions presented by educators are often brief and resources otherwise limited. This second mode of integration presupposes that learners will at some point have access to computers, in order to apply their lessons to real situations. These situations, educators report, are more challenging to manage, even if they understand their value from a pedagogical perspective.
Some educators have indicated that they would prefer not to facilitate this type of learning situation, given the impression that they would "lose control" of their classrooms - and demonstrating, through this, an attitude that ICT present a menace to the role of teacher. It is important to retain, despite these challenges to directly and actively implicating learners in the use of ICT, that this mode of use is particularly valuable in enabling a learner-centred style.
Recent literature clearly shows that learners gain ICT competencies better through active manipulation of the machines as opposed to a "hands off " theoretical approach. Across all schools participating in Phase I, the use of ICT to teach subject matter other than computing itself was almost completely absent. In fact, despite the demonstrated potential impact of this type of use on the quality of education in Africa, such pedagogical integration is rarely observed.
Finally, PanAf Phase I research showed that several educators use ICT to conduct research with the objective of better informing their lessons in mathematics, philosophy, chemistry, history, electro-mechanics, industrial design, etc. ICT, therefore, are serving to improve the lessons prepared by educators, notably through Internet-based searches resulting in updated and enhanced professional knowledge.
Rare is the case of learners called upon to learn a variety of subject matter, and to appropriate their own educational experience, through ICT. This mode of usage could accompany use of ICT by educators, and coaching of learner ICT-use.
The goal, however, is to avoid passivity and rote learning. Learners should, at some point in the lesson, actually use ICT to learn. For example, in the case of primary school projects, learners can gain social or natural science knowledge directly through the use of ICT. Education should no longer be centered on the educators, but rather on the learners. Scientific literature supports the effectiveness of this type of usage, and by extension its potential for the improvement of the quality of education in Africa. Here again is the role of PanAf Phase II - to directly support this type of change in education systems on the continent.
Finally, and as noted in previous reports, the research indicators are divided into 12 themes. Of particular interest are the qualitative responses from educators and learners regarding use and impact of computers for teaching and learning in the participating schools. Among these, perhaps the most important are educators' and learners' reflections on the impact of ICT on lesson-planning, access to knowledge.
Open access to these newly collected narratives from the field is an unprecedented ICT4ED resource, and an example of great leadership by African researchers. From a scientific perspective the project has contributed enormously by making available gender-disaggregated data on the pedagogical integration of ICT in African schools - as noted by Dr. Nancy Hafkin:
"The PanAf Observatory is to be congratulated for its commitment to the collection of sex disaggregated data [...] Researchers participating in this project may not be aware of the uniqueness of this [...] but what they are doing by collecting sex-disaggregated data is still the rare case...".