Development and the use of technology including mobile phones has been rapidly on the rise across Tanzania. According to the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), out of 59.7 million people in Tanzania, the number of internet users in 2019 amounted to approximately 23.1 million. This has eased communication and information sharing amongst the public and institutions including the government and among others, has presented the opportunity to utilize Artificial Intelligence in the realization of quality education in Tanzania.
‘Ticha Kidevu’, Tanzania’s first virtual teacher created by Shule Direct, is a website application with real teachers in the back-end designed allow students to interact with the platform and respond to their questions and be provided with links in order to access reference materials through google searches like in a classroom but through e-learning. The idea of using technology in education is not to replace the teachers but to support them.
This was revealed at the Policy Forum Breakfast held on 31st January 2020 entitled “Digital Platforms for Social Impact: The Role of Technology in Addressing Education Challenges.” A presentation on how to bridge the educational gaps in Tanzania to convert quantity into quality was made by Faraja Nyalandu and Erick Kondela from Shule Direct.
Expounding on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its contributions towards the realization of the quality of education in Tanzania, the Executive Director of Shule Direct Faraja Nyalandu emphasized that although nothing can replace the experience of learning in a classroom with a qualified teacher, educational technology offers an effective and efficient solution to bridge the educational resources. She also assured that AI is one of the safest methods to use in child protection and safeguarding.
Erick Kondela further elaborated that Artificial Intelligence, simulation of human intelligence in machines that are programmed to think and act like humans, is capable of closing teachers' shortage gaps and addressing inadequate supply of learning materials in the education sector. This also caters for students with special needs as AI comes with different forms such as audio, visuals and signs.
“Artificial Intelligence opens up more opportunities that lead to the improvement of learning outcomes. It enables the distribution of needed learning materials,” Kondela said.
Dr. Gerald Kafuku, Principal Researcher from COSTECH highlighted that the government would continue to partner with innovators in Tanzania to gain the infrastructure and to develop their work to help solve social challenges including the education sector.
Reacting on the presentation, a member of the audience Boniface Kyaruzi posed a question on the concept of “Leaving No-one Behind” and whether students from Non-English Medium Schools would struggle communicate with Ticha Kidevu because Kiswahili remains the medium of instruction.
Another member of the audience , Rahma Mwita expressed her fear of leaving the Girl Child behind due to the ban imposed to students who become pregnant forcing them to end their studies abruptly. She further asked how AI will assist in making sure that the girl child is still onboard.
Nyalandu responded to the question posed by Ms. Mwita by emphasising the importance of rethinking the classroom as not necessarily a place with walls but a space where access to learning is provided and this can be virtual. Hence whilst the debate to return girls to school continues, the virtual platforms can be remotely accessible to girls who are banned by giving them an unlimited array of subjects to study and virtual teachers to help them prepare for their national examinations.
Moreover, it is a great achievement that we have more children in schools today. However, to keep up with the increasing population growth and improved enrolment and retention rates that are straining the quality of education delivered, the most suitable intervention is technology which will help the country leapfrog some of these education challenges we face, Nyalandu said. “Are we meeting the demands of the 21st century ? Should our children continue paying the price for infrastructure challenges in education?,” she posed.
Also with the educational needs of our society no longer limited to age, gender or physical appearance, in order to provide quality education there is a need for the government to incorporate and integrate the use of technology in the country’s education policy from a junior level to accommodate the needs of different students in the society.
As a final word, Nyalandu also stated there are many ways to improve teaching methods and infrastructure in schools and that it is necessary to take steps to ensure that students are empowered to translate school-based education into real life and produce positive results.