Emerging Issues in Education
The marriage of new media communication technologies and learning is a subject for intense debate, not just in Zimbabwe but globally.
New communication tools, including cell phones, laptops and the Internet, have transformed classroom interaction, thereby resulting in mixed feelings and even calls for abandoning their usage in pedagogy.
Adversaries of the use of these tools characterise the platforms as portals for anti-social, unproductive behaviour.
They also raise security concerns and say it is too expensive for some sections of society.
On the other hand, advocates of new communication technologies in educational processes argue that if leveraged on, the tools can enhance the learning process.
Given the fact that smartphones have invaded all the spheres of social and economic life, it would be amiss if schools had nothing to do with them, especially considering that Education 5.0 embraces technology in the transformation of society.
Banning these tools will definitely derail Government’s efforts in modernising education and improving the quality of education in our schools.
Welcome to the column Emerging Issues in Education. This week we focus on debates raised in use of new communication tools in schools.
Understanding social networking
Social media enables users to create content and participate in discussions with others on the web through text, videos, photographs, audio.
The term social media is used to refer to the convergence of audio-visual and telephone networks with computer networks through a single cabling or link system.
Examples of social media networking sites that learners can make use of include Duo, Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram and You-Tube.
The activity of communicating online is called social networking or netiquette
Social media usage in schools
The criticisms levelled against the use of new communication technologies in the teaching and learning processes is the absence of physical supervision and monitoring of the learners.
Traditionally, the role of the teacher has been to provide direct instruction and providing feedback through a face-to-face approach.
Critics are therefore raising questions regarding the monitoring and supervision of learners on social media platforms.
The effectiveness of social media as an indirect approach to pedagogy is therefore interrogated from that angle.
It should be pointed out that technology can be controlled and effectively used in education.
As a result of globalisation, our systems should be in congruence with current trends in education.
Access to anti-social sites
Social media also exposes learners to inappropriate material.
Sexual predators and human traffickers also make use of the sites that learners use and they can be unknowingly lured by these people.
Children may also access sites that are anti-social and that may derail their attention from school work.
This is why some schools have completely banned the use of smartphones.
Cyber bullying becomes a safety concern when social media is used as a weapon for malicious behaviour.
In fact, popular social networking sites including MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube have received intense criticism from parents and schools that are concerned about the online safety of learners using these sites.
Despite the presence of the law, cyber bullying crimes are rampant and quite often, offenders are not apprehended.
There is need for supervision of what the teachers and the learners’ access on social media to allow for learning to take place.
Costs of smartphones and data
According to the Zimbabwe Statistical Agency (ZimStat 2022), only 58 percent of households reported that they owned a smartphone.
On the same vein, most smartphone users are concentrated in the urban areas (TechZIm).
It, therefore, shows that the use of new media communication tools depends on one’s economic situation, accessibility and availability of network.
Most teachers’ technical skills are lagging behind and they may not know how to integrate and make use of social media in pedagogy.
Some teachers have difficulty in using internet (Jump, 2011).
Instructional problems presented by teachers on the use of smartphones in the classroom force critics to disregard use of the tools in class.
This is why teachers’ colleges are now equipping teachers with ICT skills.
Replacement of hard copies
Despite the criticism raised against technological gadgets like smartphones and tablets, these devices can be very handy at schools.
Those gadgets can be turned into mini-libraries, especially in cases where they are non-existent.
The mobile devices can also replace the heavy, physical textbooks through soft copies.
Technology has made research far easier.
Decades ago, learners would have to open big books and encyclopaedias.
Today, many of those same books are available in digital format and can be accessed online.
Learners who use the internet also learn computer jargon and strengthen their IT skills faster.
Learners can collaborate and discuss various subjects with other learners from around the world.
Creativity and innovation
In line with the philosophy of Education 5.0 which seeks to promote creativity and innovation in order to industrialise the country, schools have been tasked to be champions of industrialisation.
With the increased focus on technology in education and industry, this will help learners build skills that will aid them throughout their lives.
The use of technological tools in the teaching and learning process equips learners with innovative ideas.
Visual and Performing Arts lessons can be made available to people all over the world through the use of online galleries.
Linking theory with practice
Information Communication Technology is a subject that is part of the Updated Curriculum Framework (2015-2022), therefore embracing new media communication tools in instruction is linked to the philosophy of progressivism that seeks to use education as a tool for social-economic transformation.
Social media also plays a vital role in the modern business world as it exposes learners to vast professions in the world.
Learners can also send work to their teachers from anywhere, thereby allowing the learning process to go on outside the walls of the classroom.
A closer analysis of arguments against use of social media communication tools reveals that different schools experience different challenges, even though there appears to be some common ground.
Nevertheless, the use of new media technologies in education, with good engagement, can enable greater inclusiveness for learners.
While the use of such tools has its shortcomings, their adaptation will benefit us in the 21st century and beyond.