Mobile educational facilities driving inclusive education in Africa

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  • Recognizing the vital role of education, students and their families across sub-Saharan Africa have started using educational technologies to supplement formal schooling during times of disruption.
  • Mobile laboratories (mobile labs) bring scientific tools and techniques right to the school parking lot, allowing students access to experiences far beyond what many schools can provide.
  • In Chad, a mobile school offers nomad children hope. Chad’s nomads make up almost a tenth of the country’s population and many children in the community hardly get an education.

Countries and organizations are taking perceptible actions for Inclusive Education to succeed internationally as well as in individual African countries. Internationally, countries adopted several treaties in support of Inclusive Education. Inclusion has become a global issue while in different countries we can find many stated intentions and written policies to move towards its achievement.

In Africa, a few examples include South Africa’s Department of Education White Paper 6: Special Needs Education – Building an Inclusive Education and Training System (2001), Namibia’s Ministry of Education Sector Policy on Inclusive Education (2013), and Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Education National Policy on Inclusive Education (2016).

According to UNESCO, current rates of educational access in sub-Saharan Africa are among the lowest in the world due in part to a shortage of physical resources. Unplanned disruptions to schooling also arise for a variety of extenuating circumstances, such as labor disputes resulting in teacher strikes, natural disasters like hurricanes, and public health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted in-person instruction around the world.

These frequent disruptions to schooling are detrimental to student learning outcomes and to building a highly skilled workforce to spur economic development in the region.

Recognizing the vital role of education, students and their families across sub-Saharan Africa have started using educational technologies to supplement formal schooling during times of disruption. Although physical resources like classroom space are scarce, it is projected that mobile connectivity will reach more than half of sub-Saharan Africa by 2025 according to SAGE Journals.

Mobile laboratories

Mobile Science Laboratory at Government Day Secondary School, Muduru Katsina. (Photo/ Africa on the rise)

Countries in Africa must embrace mobile science laboratories to effectively change the science education landscape. Mobile laboratories are a strategy to increase student interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers. Mobile laboratories (mobile labs) bring scientific tools and techniques right to the school parking lot, allowing students access to experiences far beyond what many schools can provide. Mobile labs are less expensive than traditional brick-and-mortar labs.

According to North-West University News, On March 5, 2020, the Sasol Foundation in South Africa donated a mobile science laboratory to the North-West University (NWU). To deliver practical science education to thousands of learners around the North West Province.

When fully utilized, this state-of-the-art mobile laboratory can serve up to 30 schools per year.

“Sasol is committed to continuing to play its part in the socio-economic development of South Africa, particularly in the communities in which we operate,” said Vusi Cwane, head of the Sasol Foundation.

He said the impact of the mobile science laboratories, which is one of the many key initiatives of the Sasol Foundation, has been positively evaluated by an independent monitoring and evaluation agency in 2019. This confirmed that innovation is a critical piece of the puzzle in addressing the underdevelopment of STEM capabilities in South Africa.

“The mobile laboratory will promote science, technology, engineering mathematics, and innovation by engaging communities in the North West through different science awareness programmes.

“The mobile laboratory will also enable the NWU’s Science Centre to expand its capabilities in teacher and learner curriculum support. By taking science experiments to schools more learners will be reached, especially those in remote corners of the province,” said Prof Dan Kgwadi.

Mobile School for nomads in Chad

Children sit in a makeshift open-air classroom at a nomad camp in Toukra, outside N’Djamena, on September 1 (Photo/ Reuters)

Meanwhile, in Chad, a mobile school offers nomad children hope. Chad’s nomads make up almost a tenth of the country’s population and many children in the community hardly get an education.

About 7 percent of the central African nation’s population of about 16 million are nomads. They move hundreds of miles from the south with their herds every year when seasonal rains turn the semi-arid central regions green with fresh pasture.

This way of life is centuries old but does not allow nomad children to access Chad’s formal education system. According to the Denmark-based International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, fewer than 1 percent of nomad boys and “virtually zero” nomad girls were registered for school in Chad as of 2018.

According to an article by Aljazeera published on September 12, 2022, Teacher Leonard Gamaigue was inspired to set up a mobile school when he saw children playing at a nomad camp in Toukra, outside the Chadian capital N’Djamena, during school hours in 2019.

“When we started, we had practically nothing, not even a piece of chalk,” the 28-year-old recalled, after a lesson in late August during which the children had carefully taken notes in exercise books on their laps.

Nearly three years on, his school – which follows the community when they move on every two months or so – has 69 pupils of various ages and basic supplies thanks to donations.

“They had never been to school before, none of them … today they can already write their name correctly, express themselves in French, do sums,” Gamaigue said with pride.

Digitalization of education

The transition to online education happened out of necessity, catalyzed by the pandemic, and came with implementation and access issues in many countries in the Global South. However, we learned that institutional thinking and psychological barriers can sometimes hold us back from embracing innovation, of which we are capable.

There remains an opportunity to do further research on what worked and what didn’t work during the period of emergency online education.

Going forward, technology can increase access to higher education and internationalization and push the boundaries of how we currently do things. We need to learn how to optimally tap into innovation in digital delivery.

Educators around the world have been astounded by the success of E-Learning processes and platforms that were hurriedly put in place by education departments, schools, universities, and private education facilities.

“Online education has been a thing for many years, but its growth in Africa has been slow not only due to issues of digital infrastructure, line speed, and access to appropriate hardware, but also due to the doubt with which online learning has been viewed, and the lack of digital skills from educators themselves” commented James Williams, Director, Events | Connecting Africa | Informa Tech, organizers of Africa Tech Festival, which will take place in Cape Town between 7 – 11 November this year.

Read: Tapping science and technology to keep Zimbabwe’s education ablaze

Albert is a Chemical Technologist and Author. He is passionate about mining, stock market investing, Fintech and Edutech.

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