Sally Essuman

Knowing the views and attitudes of educators toward technologies used in their teaching and learning activities could be a framework for adopting new technologies into their practice. This paper seeks to highlight what some non-formal (NFE1) educators in rural community education programmes feel and think about educational technologies currently being used in their teaching activities and the implications of these for adopting new technologies. Using a qualitative method of interviews and observations, this paper focuses on themes including educators' self-perceptions of technologies; their prior experiences with technologies; conceptions of teaching adults in rural settings and other factors. The implications for policy and practice are also elaborated in the paper. The author is presently the Coordinator for the Student Internship Programme (SIP) at the University of Education, Winneba, Ghana. Previously she worked as the Education and Training Coordinator of a local NGO involved in micro-credit and savings for deprived women in rural communities.

Non-Formal Adult Educators and Technologies Used in Rural Ghana Community Education Programmes

This paper presents data gathered from some non-formal adult educators in rural community education programmes in Ghana. The experiences are excerpts from data used in my doctoral degree. The study was to serve as a guide to policy-makers, educators and practitioners in the field of rural community education, who anticipate using new technologies in their practice. It was to inform them about what works and what does not work in rural community education activities. This paper is also intended to contribute to a better understanding of educators' perspectives on teaching technologies used in rural areas.

This study was considered important because recently, Ghana has initiated many draft policy frameworks on ICTs, with a view to meeting its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and reducing poverty, which mainly prevails in rural areas. These frameworks, which include the "Information and Communication Technology Draft Policy ;"Plan work, 2001"; the "E-Readiness Strategy for Ghana" sanctioned by the National Information and Communication Technology Policy; "Plan Development Committee of the Government of Ghana in 2002" and many more are all in line with the policy captioned (Ghana Govern-ment-PSI, 2003). Explicitly, the PSI proposes the use of ICTs for such purposes as tele-medicine, tele-education and distance learning to help alleviate illiteracy and poverty in rural areas. The PSI is also to help provide access and quality education for the disadvantaged and poor people in society, particularly those in remote and rural areas.

Issues of concern to some practitioners are: what is the evidence that facilities and the socio-cultural environment of rural and remote areas can rapidly support the use of new technological devices? What is the evidence that end-users of such devices are skilful enough to use them? In addition to these are the issues of whether the adoption of modern communication devices would facilitate or impede teaching and learning in rural and remote areas. Or would modern communication devices used for teaching be responsive to local conditions bearing in mind the limitations in rural areas, such as lack of infrastructure? Can ICTs be sustainable in rural areas as is proposed in the PSI policy framework? If relevant language and limited content are regarded as part of the cause of low Internet subscriptions, as is the shared view of some social commentators in big cities where there is adequate infrastructure, then what is the evidence that the rural infrastructure would sustain internet subscriptions? These issues pose challenges that need to be addressed.

Background

Ghana is a small country situated on the West Coast of Africa in the Gulf of Guinea. It occupies a total land area of 238,539 square kilometres (92,099 square miles). Ghana is a multilingual country with diverse local languages, predominantly Akan (Fanti, Twi and Akuapem), Moshi-Dagomba (Mamprusi, Kusasi, Konkomba, Nanumba), Ewe, and Ga. The rural population forms about 66% of Ghana's 19 million people. The people are mainly employed in agriculture and lack many social amenities (Ghana Government-GLSS 4, 2000, p.4). It is argued that the multiplicity of the local languages sometimes makes it impossible for adult education programmes to be broadcast by radio and television as there is not enough air-time for the various languages (Siabi-Mensah, 2000; Ansu-Kyeremeh, 1992). In this regard would educators be able to cope with diverse skill competencies required of them in relation to multilingual and content knowledge of topics if ICTs are introduced into their practice? The utilisation of new technological devices requires high-level technically skilled and knowledgeable users. The capacities of endusers should be of paramount concern to policy makers and adopters.

A Literature search indicates that modern technologies such as ICTs have been well received worldwide and even in poor areas with characteristics similar to what exist in rural Ghana. It cites "Rural Connectivity: Grameen Village Pay Phones" in Bangladesh where local enterprises rely on GSM cellular technologies to carry out their businesses. In India, places that did not have a telephone now have Internet kiosks where families email their relatives abroad. Homeless children in Asuncion in Paraguay are learning to surf the Web at telecentres, and many more (Haddad, 2002; UNDP report, 2001). In these reports, the initiative profiles span health, education, economic opportunities, empowerment and environment. UNESCO also reports Mongolia using radio to show women how to set up and run small businesses; Indonesia using radio to teach school children scattered in the country's outlying islands, and the telesecundaria TV project for secondary schools in Mexico being successful in remote and rural areas (UNESCO-newsletter, 2003).

Whilst the evidence in these reports is not being disputed and there is no doubt that there is a place for modern devices in education and other developmental programmes, there are other aspects of effectiveness and appropriateness that need to be considered. Not all new technology projects have proved to be successful everywhere. Hawkridge points out that in Côte d'lvoire for example, an attempt to use television to raise the quality of basic education and widen access did not last, as a result of teachers' attitudes (UNESCO, 2003; cited in Perraton and Creed, 2000, p.6).

This study's assumptions were that:

  • NFE educators in rural community education programmes have multiple roles to play as guides, counsellors, facilitators and managers of programmes. They are often the implementers of policies, in which case their needs and attitudes toward programmes should be considered crucial.
  • NFE programmes are helpful and useful with broad-based community oriented activities which meet diverse learning needs of rural people. In other words, NFE approaches tend to address the diverse needs of isolated, disadvantaged and socially excluded people, who are generally people in rural and remote areas.
  • NFE is oriented towards helping individuals to solve problems that they face within their communities and also to improve their living conditions in the community.
  • New technologies would provide new opportunities for educators to fulfil their roles as facilitators, guides, counsellors and managers of E programmes in rural andremoteareas.
  • New technologies would be useful to drive the implementation of NFE programmes in rural and remote areas.

The central issue is that as decision-makers contemplate the adoption of new technologies in NFE activities, educators might be confronted with challenges relating to their needs and attitudes toward technologies in general. The focus of this paper is specifically on educators' perceptions of and attitudes toward ETs2 currently being used in their practice and what the implications of these might be for the adoption or rejection of new ones.

The main research question guiding the study was: what are the views and attitudes of NFE educators towards educational technologies and what are the implications of these for the adoption of innovatory methods/techniques, such as new technologies? To further investigate the main question the following sub-questions were posed:

  • What factors are likely to affect educators' views and attitudes during the use of ETs in their teaching processes?
  • How do educators use ETs in their teaching processes?
  • What factors do educators consider appropriate if new educational technologies are to be used in teaching processes in their settings?

The Methodology

Forty-two (42) educators in three commonly known community education programmes, namely health and family planning; environment, and literacy and numeracy education programmes, were purposively sampled, interviewed and observed during their teaching activities.

Discussion of Findings

It emerged from the analysis of data collected that the essential aspect of using technologies in rural education programmes is to ensure that the technologies are appropriate, available, accessible, acceptable to learners and sustainable in the setting. Educators indicated that knowledge and skills to use technologies effectively in any teaching and learning process build up positive attitudes towards those technologies.

Educators have both positive and negative attitudes toward technologies currently being used. The benefits derived from using teaching technologies include the excitement and stimulation of learning; making learning more effective; ease and sufficient time when teaching; and improvement in roles as educators. Frustrations which built up negative attitudes toward using certain technologies include: constraints that educators encounter in the process; conflicts with community leaders, which usually centre around beliefs and practices of some social groups; lack of infrastructure to efficiently support the functional use of some technologies; lack of knowledge and skill to enable educators to use the technologies adequately; and limitations on the part of learners because of their low educational backgrounds.

It emerged that there are some educators with anxieties and feelings of low ability in respect of certain devices. These educators compare their abilities with others in different environments and from that devalue their own. This has resulted in their lack of self-confidence and self-worth to attempt using certain technologies.

"The noise about computers and others [modern technologies] we think is for the office or University students and not our adult learners and us teachers in such rural communities who are now learning how to read and write in our local languages. If you don't know English how do you use the computer? Technically, we have no idea of what the equipment is about ...it is such that the teacher cannot operate..." (NFED Focus group, 92-98)

The evidence suggests the emotional elements of anxiety that might be a result of their low educational qualifications and limited engagements with others in exchange of new knowledge and skills. and suggestion for decision-makers is to create opportunities for collaboration with others in exchange of new knowledge, new skills and attitudes as well as new ideas. It would be necessary to give these educators an increased use of and exposure to technologies to help improve their attitudes, increase their confidence and decrease their anxieties.

It was found that educators' beliefs and conceptions of teaching adults in rural settings are also among the motivating factors in their choice and use of certain technologies. It emerged that because of the low educational status of learners or specifically the illiteracy status of learners, educators' pedagogical perspectives and epistemological orientations often affected their choice and use of technologies.

A close look at these elements indicates most educators' preference for using participatory, social interaction and open discussions to facilitate their teaching and learning sessions in the study. They indicated that by using these approaches and technologies they were able to impact meaningfully on the lives of learners. The technologies create the flexible and responsive environment that educators believe allow adult learners to learn better. Thus, with the emerging trend of methodologies, it would be necessary to examine educators' beliefs and conceptions of teaching, to know what their intentions are when using technologies in NFE programmes.

"It is rumoured that it is a more sophisticated equipment than primers or other things. And it is believed that one needs a high knowledge before he can operate it so there is a high expectation for the use of it and we have not reached that stage yet. The learners are beginners and only need simple technologies to learn." (Akwasi, NF)

The evidence from educators' responses indicates that most of them lacked the capacity to use certain kinds of technologies. They indicated that they lacked technical and operational skills to use devices which were of importance to them.

"Capacity building to use the equipment. We need to build capacity in all aspects of the work - technical, for handling the equipment, and the people in contact with the villagers." (Ofotschu, GE)

"Operational and technical knowledge is another factor. Most times you'll find that a facilitator has no knowledge about equipment being used and when there is a slight problem a whole programme is disrupted or even abandoned. Otherwise he should make alternative arrangements." (PPAG focus group)

This evidence was from almost all educators who were eligible to use electronic devices such as videos and TVs, telejectors and projectors. Apart from the simple technologies that do not require a lot of skill to use, including audio cassette players, educators emphatically requested that they needed to be trained to up-date themselves with current knowledge and skills in all aspects of their work.

These sentiments suggested their feelings of incompetence and powerlessness to fulfil their roles effectively as change agents. They indicated how they had to depend on technicians most times to use such technologies because they lacked the knowledge and skill to operate or rectify problems. Hence, it would be necessary to make a wider variety of devices available and accessible to educators; and devices that are reasonably priced and easily usable could be recommended for them to use.

The lack of infrastructure such as access roads, efficient power supply and secured accommodation for certain devices worried some educators who had to use devices that required such facilities. For instance, educators saw the power fluctuations and having to constantly transport generators as a bother to them. They lamented having to compromise and work under inconvenient conditions.

"Some problems will be the distances [remoteness] and the bad roads that we have to travel on from village to village. Most villages don't have electricity so we have to use generators for the videos and the film shows.... In fact, during the rainy seasons, there are so many of the communities that you can't visit because of the state of the roads. Even walking on them is impossible - that is why I said we need the boots. They are not proper roads." (Poku, PP)

"One should consider the basic infrastructure for some ETs before deciding to use those ETs in the community, [also] the literacy level of the people, [and the] total cost of using such ET. Look at the benefits of using that ET and the maintenance and availability of the ET." (GEO Focus Group)

Educators again indicated that the hostility that some community leaders exhibited towards them because of peoples' beliefs and practices caused frustrations in using certain devices for teaching in some rural settings.

"The socio-cultural environment can pose a problem. For example, some areas have days where noise is not allowed. As such, a generator is not permitted in the area during that period. There are seasons/times of the year preceding some festivals - the 'Gas' don't allow PA system during their 'homowo' festival. Cultural beliefs are not drawbacks but one needs to explore [understand the people]. There are also religious groups such as the 'Deeper Life', Muslim fundamentalists and others, if they dominate a community and are in leadership positions, they can be very difficult. You cannot educate such groups with any kind of ET." (GEO Focus Group)

This finding suggests that it would be necessary to constantly assess the responsiveness of communities to technologies that are to be used in educational programmes. Such actions would help reduce tension between educators and community members.

Where educators were working in multilingual local communities with learners of low educational backgrounds and illiteracy, they considered that the use of certain technologies in rural education programmes was problematic. Educators considered this a challenge because the circumstances limited the use of devices or required special resources and interventions such as interpreters anytime such technologies were to be used for teaching. They indicated that teaching and learning materials that could reinforce learning could not be used because of such limitations.

Every now and then also wrong interpretations by learners are given to learning materials such as posters and stand-alone pictures. Learners misread text on posters and charts and give wrong meanings to what learning materials are intended to mean. These setbacks are problematic for educators, causing them to feel uncomfortable about using those technologies in such communities. This calls for the development of special teaching materials and resources to be used in such communities.

Educators drew attention to issues concerning the cultural sensitivity of using certain technologies to teach in some communities. The study found that some educators get frustrated with using devices such as anatomical models of the male and female reproductive organs, videos and a public address system (this is seasonal) in some communities. This is because they tend to face resistance and hostility from leaders of certain social groups for the reason that these devices conflict with their beliefs, values and practices.

"The cultural norms and beliefs of a place must be respected. If for example, a facilitator is bound to use the 'wooden penis' to demonstrate the use of condoms to a community at a sex education [programme], he [/she] must seek permission from the elders or community leaders before such an open demonstration [can be done]. Otherwise, by the time he realises they've banned him from continuing with his education in that community." (PPAG Focus group)

It emerged that when certain religious fundamentalists dominate a community, where the moral/cultural values are strictly upheld, educators find it difficult to use certain technologies to teach. These traditional societies seek to preserve their traditional culture and festivals, which are seasonal and any attempt to disregard the beliefs surrounding these festivals is fiercely resisted. Therefore, educators often become limited in using technologies for teaching among such groups of people. This implies that dialogue and sensitivity assessment should be carried out in communities, particularly with elders, before certain technologies are introduced into that setting.

Conclusion

These views have implications for adopting new technologies into educators' practices. With educators' conflicting priorities and pedagogical orientations, which influence their use of technologies, caution should be taken when introducing new devices into their practice. The idea might not only be to train them to use new devices but to ensure that the technologies are used for whatever purpose they were meant for. It is argued that some teachers teach in the manner in which they were taught and are likely to continue to do so until significant changes are effected (Robert & Stevens, 2004). This suggests that until the system known to such teachers changes, they are likely to continue in their established way of doing things and passively resist any change.

This study has highlighted a number of factors that affect educators' attitudes either positively or negatively towards the use of technologies in their teaching and learning processes in rural community programmes. The conclusion is that educators' conceptions of teaching

adults in rural areas, their beliefs, epistemological perspectives and pedagogical orientations, personal difficulties and situational issues, need to be critically considered when using technologies in rural education programmes. For these reasons, it is necessary for policy-makers to consider adopting technologies that best serve the interests and capabilities of educators rather than to give in to pressures of novelty and new technologies, which might be incompatible with educators' settings.

They should holistically consider the success and sustainability of technologies in rural education from the perspectives of technologies' appropriateness, availability, relevance and acceptability, and the capabilities of the end-users and beneficiaries. In other words, a context-based sensitivity and assessment could be helpful in guiding policy frameworks during the adoption of technologies in rural NFE programmes. More importantly, the guideline should make provision for users of these technologies to express their views. Policy-makers should not assume that educators will automatically accept and use technologies when introduced into their practice.

 

Notes

1 Non-formal education (NFE) is any organised educational activity outside the formal system that intends to provide learning needs for any identifiable group of any age - adults, children and youth. This working definition of the term has been adopted from the initial definition by Coombs (1968).

2 Educational technologies (ETs) refer to all methods/techniques of organising and using both hardware and software as part of an integrated teaching and learning process. This includes the old and new; traditional and modern techniques/approaches that could assist an educational process to achieve the desired learning objectives of an activity.

 

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