Our burgeoning research cluster (https://www.digitaleducationafrica.org/) 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 more funding to continue our work exploring digital education in sub-Saharan Africa, thanks to the GCRF Theme Development Fund. 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 (several funding applications are in as we speak).
Our ongoing 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 organisations wanting to capitalise 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 are interrogating the effects of global edtech regimes on key disadvantaged groups: refugees, internally displaced persons, nomadic groups and women. 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). 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 existing community networks, 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. Lots to do so making arrangements for our next meeting in Nigeria likely in May.