Our little research cluster of Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria, the University of Dar es Salaam and the State University of Zanzibar in Tanzania, and Makerere University in Uganda (and the University of Edinburgh of course!) have been lucky enough to receive some more funding to continue our work exploring digital education in SSA. Since our initial meeting in Dar es Salaam in late June we have been hard at work consolidating our efforts, identifying new research strands, and pursuing more funding.
The new local of digital education in Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda
Our proposed research programme interrogates commercialised edtech policy and discourse, and its effects on how educational infrastructure is being built and (equally important) imagined in the Global South in higher education. This obscures local context and educational practice with a global, marketized and standardised new ‘normal’ which is often implicit in reinforcing colonial divides (Shahjahan 2011).
Using post-digital and post-development frameworks, it will take account of the impact of the SDGs and supranational policy pressures, and build understanding of the relation of global edtech to these instruments. The educational systems of Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda have become increasingly entangled in a network of actors: supranational and national policy, NGOs, funders, and commercial organizations wanting to capitalize on these perceived gaps in local capacity. Education is being renegotiated through an explicit, inexorable link to technology, an explicit call to rapidly construct technological markets for education throughout sub-Saharan Africa, and an implicit erosion of local educational autonomy as a result.
We will interrogate the effects of global edtech regimes on key disadvantaged groups: refugees, internally displaced persons, nomadic groups and women. Given the region’s ‘young population profile, low investment in education and training, emerging skill shortages in key sectors and the importance of new technologies’ (Ayentimi and Burgess 2019), Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda are particularly susceptible to the erosion of educational autonomy consistent with calls for educational transformation to service the global imaginaries of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). The discourse of 4IR is representative of a growing wave of edtech policy, discourse, and practice increasingly entangling education in sub-Saharan Africa in commercial activity.
This research programme explores alternatives to this erosion by exploring community-owned internet networks (CN) and participatory models of educational development. It interrogates the role that community networks might play in extending higher education into underserved (largely rural) locales and key disadvantaged groups; it will do so in partnership with three existing community networks, four universities, and commercial organisations from Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda. This programme advances a research and development agenda exploring a renewal of the local alongside digital and educational inclusion. It will span two discrete themes to do just that.
1: Practice, policy, and the reshaping of education in Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda
This theme involves several discrete bodies of desk research that interrogates the intersections of policy and practice and their impact on the erosion of educational autonomy in Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda. The first involves the identification and analysis of supranational policy pressures; and then subsequently the educational entanglements of actors, policy, and practice in Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda. This will be done through a political economy analysis of higher education (Asiyai 2015) amongst its structures, institutions and actors, and a critical discourse analysis linking ‘micro‐level textual analysis and macro‐level exploration of the authoritative knowledge generated by national and international policy‐making institutions’ (Vavrus and Seghers 2009). These allow for the interrogation of how these particular nations are approaching the issue of edtech and educational development. The insights gleaned from such an analysis are critical to challenge agendas around educational development in these countries that do not lend themselves to technical solutions alone.
2: Community owned internet (COI) and surfacing local educational autonomy
This programme of work will identify sociotechnical accounts of practice at the national, institutional or individual level in Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda, particularly for key disadvantaged groups of refugees, internally displaced persons, nomadic groups and women. through a field-based largely qualitative and highly participatory agenda. Bentley et al’s (2017) participatory exploration of the technological practices of favela residents in Brazil is instructive here in providing capacity to surface both existing technological practices of the favela residents and the technological installations themselves (mesh networks, for example). Such participatory methods surface otherwise latent technologies and practices which begin to define the ‘new’ local imaginaries in education in Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda. This work will build on existing research including a Mastercard Foundation-funded project exploring pathways to higher education for refugees in Lebanon and Uganda with the School of Social and Political Science; current GCRF-funded research on digital education for internally displaced persons and nomadic groups in Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda; and past partnership with USAID on research on the gender digital divide (USAID 2019).
Identifying possible alternatives to global edtech imaginaries is central to this research programme, and will be approached via an interrogation of the role that community networks (CN) might play in redefining local educational autonomy in higher education in Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda.
So lots to do but very happy to receive funding to get started.