Opinion Article 6

The Challenges of Communication and Education in Africa

Charles Okigbo and Carol Okigbo

The promises of communication technologies' contribution to African social development have gone largely unrealized, in spite of many decades of both ad hoc and purposive uses of media to support social change and behavior modification. In the period immediately preceding political independence in the 1960s, many African countries were optimistic about the positive contributions that the modern mass media along with western education could make to national development. Not surprisingly, newspapers, radio and television stations as well as ambitious infrastructure in higher education were some of the development targets of the independence era. African development planners could look to western countries, and see how their media and educational systems provided the engines for public education, professional development, and economic expansion that coalesced to yield sustained social development. The same trajectory was envisioned for Africa.

The reality since the 1980s has shown that the western model has not been replicated in Africa, as the majority of African counties were (and still are) overburdened by evident and abundant under­development, in spite of their investment in communication media and formal education. At present, the outlook for socio­economic development in sub­Saharan Africa is not attractive, as some countries are experiencing zero or negative growth, declining investments in the media and education, and the increasing incidence of diseases and national disasters. The situation is compounded by pervasive unstable politics, inter­group conflicts, and a mono­crop agricultural culture that produces mostly primary products. These lead to serious challenges that can, in themselves, present great opportunities for communication technology and education.

The poverty in Africa is not necessarily a result of technological inertia or lack of formal education. It is more a result of misapplication of technology and the adoption of inappropriate educational policies which very often are implemented without proper research to determine their applicability and suitability. Meeting the challenges of the future will need new approaches to communication technology and education.

With regard to technology, the focus should be on intermediate, time­tested, durable, and cost­effective techniques that can be sustained in the harsh tropical environment of sub­Saharan Africa, rather than the latest technological innovations. Traveling the superhighway is not necessarily better than using a battery­operated tape recorder to teach rural African communities. It is often overlooked that 70% of Africa is rural where basic facilities for advanced technologies are lacking.

We cannot deny that there is an important place for some of the latest technologies in Africa, especially in some of the urban centers such as Johannesburg, Nairobi, Lagos, Cairo and Abidjan. Admitted also is the fact that African countries can " leap­frog" and jump into the modern technological age, but we must caution that learning to walk, before attempting to run is the most logical step in systematic growth. The answer is to adopt a needs­based approach to technological innovation. The needs of the particular society and publics must be considered before any attempts to embrace or reject any particular contraption. Technology ­ both as a communication medium and an aid to education, must be a means, and not an end. There is still room for mobile cinemas, rotary press, and battery­operated transistor radios among people whose average per capita annual income is less than US$200. The South African "Wind­up radio" which uses neither batteries nor electricity is a good example of need­based technological innovation. This holds tremendous promise for both school­based and informal education in Africa. Such intermediate and culturally­relevant technological tools are needed in many areas - agriculture, education, health, and public affairs.

There are significant new developments all across Africa, especially in the area of individual initiatives, multi­party democracy, and community revival. The serious problems confronting the school systems in Africa (among which are declining financial resources, lack of discipline, exodus of manpower from the teaching profession, lack of motivation for remaining staff) have left many Africans re­inventing the individual initiatives that had characterized pre­colonial Africa.

The informal sector of skilled (but often uneducated) artisans, is proving to be the bulwark of many African economies. Auto mechanics, plumbers, iron workers and other such groups are adopting available intermediate or rudimentary technology to meet their community's needs, in the absence of sophisticated and unaffordable new technologies. This development needs to interface with the educational system to ensure that this is not just a passing fad. Similarly, the evolving democratic culture and the pervasive new community revival initiatives need to be supported with appropriate technological and educational methods. Sustainable growth is enhanced by stable politics and participatory community development. Technology and education are fast acquiring new roles in the sustainable development of Africa, with the informal sector and individual initiatives now taking more central positions than was the case in the past. In the process, many people and communities who were formerly at the periphery are now being drawn into the vortex of social development.

For African countries to overcome their present development deficits, they need to integrate appropriate technology and education in a sense that will enable them use problem­based approaches, instead of too easily borrowing from what obtains in other parts of the world. This poses challenges to policy makers who need to encourage intermediate technologies and also promote both school­based and informal educational opportunities for learning. The media and educational systems have important roles in social development. These roles must reflect the particular societies and their needs. Above all the people must be active participants in the development process. The tasks for UNESCO, UNICEF and other similar agencies is to encourage needs­based and participatory approaches to the integration of technology and education to avoid unnecessary copying of foreign models without due consideration for cultural sensitivity and differing levels of development. There is hope for African sustainable development if the right mix of technology and educational methods can be found to address some of the most pressing development deficits on the continent.

Charles Okigbo is senior lecturer at the Mass Communication Department at the University of Nigeria. He is currrently the Executive coordinator for the African Council for Communication Education (ACCE). ACCE's main objective is to foster maximum cooperation in all aspects of communication training and practice in Africa. Carol Okigbo is lecturer at the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication, Nairobi. Her current research covers Strategic Education and Communication in Social Change Campaigns.

Charles Okigbo (ACCE) and Carol Okigbo (Daystar University), Nairobi
P.O. Box 76540, Kenya
Tel.:254 2 713559

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