Monday, November 23, 2009

Is there a Balance?

“Yippee!!” Oh yes, Maame Abena couldn’t help but to join in the celebration of the last penalty kick by Agyeman Badu which made the Ghana Black Satellites, champions of the under 21 World Cup competition.Maame Abena is just a little over one year old but always proves to be a quick learner even though she is still learning how to give the right answers to “How old are you?” and “How are you?” Her response has always been “I ya fan,” with a smile, of course. Maybe that’s her easy way out. Interestingly, her big sister who is close to 3 years old takes pride in her ability to keep her eyes closed to recite from memory letters “A” to “Z”. Does this make any difference by keeping her eyes opened? You’d better keep mute and congratulate her on that!

The question I ask myself is “are kids of today better off in their mental development in school than our time?” Hmm, I still remember basic and primary school days when one was forced to keep countries and their capital cities in memory. Wow! those early morning “Mentals” code named “morning tea” in school . Mental was arithmetic drill from student to student by the teacher in the classroom. Failure to provide the right answer within a stipulated time (usually within some few seconds) results in lashes in your palm, buttock or back (not fun!) And then, Spelling Bee code name “dictation” followed in the afternoon with the usual lashes upon those unable to spell some words correctly. We usually got scared when we encountered big words like crocodile, hippopotamus, trypanosomiases etc. Well, no wonder school wasn’t fun for some of us during those days, but I think it also helped us to be able to memorize definitions and formulas in the junior high school.

The senior high school was a lot more fun because we were allowed to use calculators in the classroom and even get access to formula tables during arithmetic, science and economics exams.

Today, some educators still find it hard to embrace technology in the classroom because they complain it’s reducing brain development and encouraging laziness on the part of students due to easy access to information for homework, project work or assignment. “Students of today think they know more than their teachers and parents” is what most tutors say but I don’t think it’s true. 

During the introduction session at “The Breakthrough Learning in a Digital Age” workshop by Sesame Street recently, Dr. Eric Schmidt (CEO, Google) stated that “our challenge today is to narrow the gab between Education, Learning and Internet” which I concur.

The basic tools and context for learning has changed from pens and pencils to mouse and keyboard, papers and books to applications and software, classroom and school community to the internet (global virtual community).

But sadly, some of our local lecturers in some universities still insist on producing the replica content of their handout/lecture notes as answers to exam questions without any additional facts from the internet. Others restrict you to only books from the shelves of the school library but the reality, often times is, these books (if even available) are too old. 

Search engines speed up research with access to diverse related and recent facts. More time is spent on critical-thinking and critical-analysis, summarizing and synthesizing, then designing and problem solving. The days of direct instruction in the classroom for the 1st position student are gone. This age is a collaborative construction classroom. No more teacher-directed classroom, it’s now student-directed classroom. The theory-based lessons should be practically based with more skills as knowledge.

Ultimately, we learn for life and not for school in the 21st Century for a better balance of education.

© Harry Tetteh

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Is Social Media a Fad?

“If Facebook  was a country it would be the world’s 4th largest” – I paused, thought about it again, and smiled after watching this video presentation posted on Youtube by a colleague member of the social media group on Linkedin. The 21st Century virtual world is growing enormously and I think it’s based on the fundamental fact that the cyber world has no boundaries let alone, a President, Minister or immigration officer to be in charge. No visa needed, the only green card of citizenship is getting internet access. The speed at which we travel is only a click away in the cyber world.

If the number of people in this virtual world is skyrocketing then obviously, it’s become part of our life today. Some of us first login to our social network pages after launching our browsers before checking emails. Number of friends online are becoming more than offline friends again regardless boundaries with increase in diversity. The spirit of network building among various interest groups in the cyber world is countless – we see it in various discussion groups and forums on Ning, Google, Yahoo, etc. Besides, there’s been high increase in online education according to a report by US Department of Education. Not to mention the high rate of online banking and transactions on Amazon, EBay, and PayPal. In this information age, what happens to anyone in any country stays on; Facebook, Orkut, Bebo, Flickr, Digg, MySpace, Youtube, etc.

News papers are experiencing record decline in circulation because we no longer search for the news, the news finds us. For example, more and more pieces of content (web links, news stories, articles, blog posts, notes, articles, photos, videos, podcasts, etc.) are shared on Facebook and Twitter daily. In the near future, we will no longer search for products and services; they will find us with social media.

No wonder businesses and government institutions are partaking in social media activities to reach out to their share of the virtual community. Many business organisations are using Linkedin, and as their primary tool to find employees. Others target Ads based on either your PC internet protocol (IP) address to determine your location or content of your keywords in search results to market their products and services. If businesses want to innovate and grow, it depends on how they value and treat information as I mentioned in my first blog post "Is business life water". Successful companies in social media act more like party planners, aggregators and content providers than traditional advertisers – by listening first and selling second.

Some government use social media to communicate and engage citizens in various policy programs for their country. Others use social media as a target for their campaign purposes.

In this new dawn of the 21st Century, I am yet to read about “Cybernomics Theory” proposed by today’s Adam Smith, depicting the “digital hand” rather than the “invisible hand”.

Social media isn’t a fad, it’s a fundamental shift in the way we live, communicate, connect and relate to each other in the 21 Century. So see you on Facebook and don’t forget to twitt my blog!

© Harry Tetteh

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Who's in Charge?

Have you thought for a second about this; does the way we live our lives today gives technology much authority over our lives? For instance, today’s world would not be adaptable to people of a few generations ago and nowhere is this truism greater than in the world of computing. Over the years, technologies have been invented to address society's problems or to fulfil its growing desire for speed and convenience. The microchip has truly revolutionised the way in which we live and work. Technology pretty much touches all of our lives in some way and hence technology news is a vital resource that can keep us up to date with developments and changes in the 21st Century.

Take an average work day of a 'knowledge worker', someone whose main work day is around information. For example, a programmer, a stock broker, an investor, a sales person, a consultant and other office workers.

He probably has a cell phone, a laptop and an organizer. This is in addition to the land line he has on his desk. Of course he also has a desktop computer, or a laptop that he takes with him at home and on trips. On that computer, he must have email, e.g. Microsoft Outlook probably with immediate notification when a message arrives. He also has an Instant Messaging program, such as Yahoo Messenger, ICQ or Skype. He has client contacts on all of those means of communication, as well as family and friends too. He may also have other network contacts from Facebook, LinkedIn or Myspace whiles keeping updates with interested news on Twitter.

A Skype message pops up with a client asking for a quote on something. Meanwhile, his sister pops up on Yahoo Messenger asking him about how a relative is doing. An email notification comes in with a SPAM announcing mortgage rates. Another email message pops up about corporate news. His office phone rings with a colleague asking him something work related. Outlook Calendar pops up a video conference meeting reminder. His cell phone keeps beeping about an SMS text message he earlier got from a friend. He also needs to check the latest news on the web, the latest comic movie, some corporate information and newsletters.

Well, I think you get the idea now. Life is turning into a series of interrupted interruptions and leaving us the question – who is in charge? How is someone supposed to do any work or enjoy some reading/research without being interrupted? The sheer number of ways that we can be contacted here and now is always multiplying. As a result, our attention span is shorter and shorter as time goes by. The only time for peace and quiet - where you may be in charge may well be on a remote island with a book where there is no technology – not even a cell phone and internet.

© Harry Tetteh

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Change for Africa?

The change Americans embraced some few months ago has started to spread around the world as we look forward to welcome it in Africa soon. The President of United States, Barack Obama who is also an African descendant and who has been an icon of the change is coming to Africa through Ghana in July. With obvious reasons, our local media are making lots of noise about his visit especially choosing Ghana as his gateway to Africa even though former American Presidents including Bill Clinton and George Bush respectively did the same when they came to Africa. This may be because of Ghana’s history of democracy and good relationship with the USA but rumours are pointing hands to the recent oil discovery on our shores – which could also be a good reason – or perhaps both. Notwithstanding these debates, the fact of the matter is for us Africans to use this opportunity to seek cordial but pragmatic relationship with the USA.

A cordial pragmatic relationship should be built on mutual respect which transcends economic and social relationship. Thus a mutual respect which recognises Africa as any other continent in the world enjoying peace and equal opportunities. But the reality is that Africa is facing tough competition and huge hurdle to attract American investors especially in the current economic crises since news about Africa is mostly about poverty, political instability, war, chaos and unrest continent. The point is, like any other continent, it’s not surprising that disarray may arise within a section of the region on the continent but most western media attribute such occurrence to the entire African continent, unfortunately. That is once it’s in Africa then it means the whole Africa is affected. Even though I didn’t live to see my great grandparents, my grandmother who is still alive but close to 100 years old never experienced any war in her lifetime which I believe most western folks may doubt based on what they see and hear on the news about Africa.

This is not only a historic disappointment but the upshot has been negative opinions and attitudes towards Africa with accompanied rippling effects including fear for potential investors to explore our continent which is full of untapped potentials, resources and opportunities for the good of the world. You would be interested to read more on “Money Talks in Africa like Everywhere else”. And the high rate of unfounded refusal of visas for African travellers to the United States.

It is our hope that President Obama’s visit will help unveil the true image of Africa to the United States and the entire western world. Many African countries have good economic prospects – particularly given the demand for natural resources from India and China. Mining, agriculture, and tourism are the flywheels of the African economy. Collectively these generates majority of the foreign exchange earned by most African countries. Unfortunately technology which is the vital tool today in development of all sectors including communication and transportation is what is lacking most in Africa. Get more insight from “Africa The Place to Be”

Africa seeks a new direction and focus today, where the western media will concentrate on the peace, prosperity, good governance, democracy which most African countries including Ghana are enjoying. A new direction, where American and other international investors will be keen to explore and invest in Africa – this we believe will help absorb some of the shocks of the economic crises. We seek a new direction where focus will divert from competition to partnerships and collaboration for the good development of the world and humanity. More partnership programs ranging from education, health care, security and technology. More collaboration programs in capacity building on all fronts of development.

Utilising technology to bridge the knowledge gap between Africa and the developed world – making it possible for educators and kids in Africa learn with kids in the USA, Europe, Australia, Asia, etc. in a secured online platform. Not implementing the “One Laptop Per Child” program which realistically is three or more children per laptop – for the fortunate few, unfortunately. Encouraging and promoting more exchange learning programs for the youth of Africa and developed nations for multi-cultural understanding. It’s time to live in the future but not in the past.
Mistakes have been made, some good stories have been untold and opportunities have been limited if not denied in Africa, but now is the time to join hands to solve the world’s problem together based on mutual respect, while creating a new world of possibilities for the future generation and for all of humanity.

Quote from President Barack Obama:

...the interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces that drive us apart. That is what it means to share this world in the 21st century. That is the responsibility we have to one another as human beings. This is a difficult responsibility to embrace. For human history has often been a record of nations and tribes subjugating one another to serve their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners of it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; progress must be shared.”

“Akwaaba” – Welcome home - President Barack Obama

© Harry Tetteh

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Video games in classrooms?

A recent article published on USA said that nearly one in ten children and teens in the US who play video games show behavioural signs that may indicate addiction and this has led to poor test results by skipping homework for video games. This article also reminded me about a debate I had some time ago with some staff at Opoku Ware School, Kumasi, Ghana, when I was a teacher during my national service. The debate was about the relevance of technology in all context of education and I encountered questions like “What if technology dies out? Don’t you hear about internet frauds (popularly known as Sakawa)? And also what if another thing comes to replace technology?

It amazes me how in all the debate these days about the decline of education we ignore the most fundamental of its causes. Students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer suitable for the old educational system which is still being used to teach and assess. Today’s students have not just changed incrementally from those of the past, all their ways of live have also changed and not exclusive to their slang, clothes, body adornments, or styles, as has happened between generations previously.

Video/computer games, cell phones, internet (instant messaging and email) are integral parts of their lives. This ubiquitous environment and the sheer volume of their interaction with it, today’s students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors. Marc Prensky refers them as the Digital Natives.

For those of who were not born into the digital world but have, at some later point in their lives, become fascinated by and adopted many or most aspects of the new technology are, and always will be compared to them, Digital Immigrants.

The importance of the distinction is this: As Digital Immigrants learn – like all immigrants, some better than others – to adapt to their environment, they always retain, to some degree, their "accent," that is, their foot in the past. There are hundreds of examples of the digital immigrant accent. They include printing out your email (or having your secretary print it out for you – an even “thicker” accent); needing to print out a document written on the computer in order to edit it (rather than just editing on the screen); and bringing people physically into your office/desk to see an interesting web site (rather than just sending them the URL). I’m sure you can think of one or two examples of your own without much effort.

Should the Digital Native students learn the old ways, or should their Digital Immigrant educators learn the new? Unfortunately, no matter how much the Immigrants may wish it, it is highly unlikely the Digital Natives will go backwards.

Computer and video games are so engaging – and education is often so not engaging. Not because that is the “natural state of things,” or “the nature of the beast.” Although many hold the opinion that “learning hurts” and “games are fun,” any of us easily can think of enough counter-examples to prove this isn’t a universal truth.

The reason video games are taking most time of students is because the primary objective of the game designer is to keep the user engaged. They need to keep that player coming back so that the person feels like he has gotten value for his money. That is their measure of success.

The goal of keeping users (students) engaged is, of course, not the primary concern of educators. The primary goal of educators is to instruct, that is to get the material across with most times less engagement.

How can we make games educational without sucking the fun out of them? It is high time instructional designers, educators/teachers and game designers collaborate to produce games for students across all levels of the educational curriculum. This will transition from not learning by what students are being taught but being exposed to things in the context by which they are already interested in. We inherently care about what we are doing when playing video games, the enthusiasm is already there, and so game designers just have to channel it.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if there were video games on all subject areas in school? For example a game that says, play this game and you’ll pass any statistics or economics test or having a database of games online (like Youtube for videos) that allows anyone to search games on any topic.

Games can influence students to learn a new concept in life. For example playing SimCity 3000 introduces players to the model of urban life, complete with simulated citizens (Sims), traffic, commerce, industry, utilities, taxes, and other important aspects of city life. This allows students to learn as they assume the role of mayor by creating and managing their own city. Games above all are fun! Games can enrich audience’s lives.

When children put down the controller they should have the opportunity to bring something from their recreation into their lives by simply exposing them to new concept and game designers can lay down the grounds for extra learning. For example getting interested in and research on topic, story or the character in the game.

Children and teens assimilate information better through things that they are already interested in rather than in things that they are forced to learn at school or at work. Games produce learning with engagement and once students experience this, they’ll want to learn with engagement all the time. All educational curriculums should be designed with engagement as a very important component than content.

Simulators in the form of video games are been incorporated in pilot and military lessons and other technical fields of endeavours. Anyway, technology has come to stay for good so let’s learn to channel it in all our endeavours to facilitate and achieve our goals in the 21st Century.

© Harry Tetteh

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Infected by the virus?

Yes, I admit that I’ve given up on looking into detail about the recent financial jargons in the global media which basically portrays the global economic and financial trends in the 21st Century.

The FTSE Index. The Dow Jones. Subprime Mortgages. Bank Bailouts. Wall Street. Credit Crunch...YIKES! The list goes on and on. Over the past months, these words have been bandied about by a frenzied, mainly western media descending upon us. Investors are in panic, financial traders are in depression, hitherto great banks are in meltdown and savers are worried as to what happens next to their savings and pension funds. Looks like the major western economies are in serious trouble, and it is spreading around like a nasty worm virus. I think only my uncle Agyemfra and his folks are safe now.

The medium through which this global financial turmoil affects developing countries include financial channels and real channels. Financial channels include effects through: stock markets, banking sector (borrowing from advanced economies, foreign ownership of banks, exposure to sub-prime market), and foreign direct investment. Real channels include effects through remittances, exports, imports, terms of trade, and aid.

According to Antoinette Sayeh, Africa’s Director of the International Monetary Finance (IMF) “there is a drop in global demand for goods and services produced in Africa. Import demand in the EU, the US and emerging Asia which together account for Africa`s exports - is falling sharply. The drop in export prices will also affect trade and current account balances.”

Foreign direct investment (FDI), and remittances, which are an important source of foreign exchange for some African countries, are also at risk of declining. Such a decrease is likely to compromise the financing of many infrastructure projects on the African continent.

Ghana is equally at risk since we have a significant share of foreign owned banks and our economies strongly rely on foreign direct investment. These may probable result in pressure on budget as government revenues decline.

G20 finance ministers have pledged to make a sustained effort to beat the recession after they met on Saturday 14th March 2009, but much effort is required by each country on the continent. Each developing country needs to set up a crisis task force to consider the best possible policy responses – short term and long term economic and social policy responses.

Raila Odinga, Prime Minister of Kenya, once said “they say that when America sneezes, Europe catches cold, Asia develops pneumonia and Africa’s tubercolosis gets worse. This is what we are beginning to see.” But I know my uncle Agyemfra will not agree with Raila.

My uncle Agya Kwaku Agyemfra, who lives in a very modest, simple house in my village (not mortgaged, of course), with his wife and six grandchildren. He does not draw a pension. He lives off his small farm, has never held a bank account, and has never sought or been offered a bank loan for obvious reasons. Of course, all those other fancy financial terms do not mean anything to him, for he lives entirely outside the system. Since he enjoys no electricity, he has no TV or any other modern gadgetry, his major luxury being a constantly malfunctioning battery-operated transistor radio. The concept of rising bills is therefore beyond his grasp. He only relies on a trusty, if rather charming, rickety bicycle to get along, so rising fuel prices are not much of an issue for him.

Whiles others toss in bed at night worried about the security of their home, their savings and their jobs, My uncle Agyemfra, in contrast, continues to sleep soundly at night, I suppose, not infected by any virus.

© Harry Tetteh