For schools still advertising a few desktop computers located in one room as their unique selling proposition, it’s time to sit up. This is because the rest of the world has moved well beyond that in children’s education. In fact, a desktop computer would now look ugly in a classroom for elementary school pupilss in many parts of the world. The “in” thing now is the tablet.
Computer-aided approach to education has progressed very quickly through various devices. In quick succession we had desktops, laptops, notebooks and netbooks. Now we have tablets (or “capsule” in that Princess-Saka Etisalat advert).
A tablet computer, or simply tablet, is a one-piece mobile computer. These devices typically have a touchscreen, with finger or stylus gestures replacing the conventional computer mouse. It is often supplemented by physical buttons or input from sensors such as accelerometers. An on-screen, hideable virtual keyboard is usually used for typing.
Tablets differentiate themselves by being larger than smart phones or personal digital assistants. They are light, have greater battery life, switch on instantly and are intended to support teacher pedagogy. They come in various forms and include the iPad, Android and Windows 8 devices and other specialist slates for education of which the “Opon Imo” (tablet of knowledge) recently launched by the Osun State Government is one. They provide a variety of content – graphics, animation, streaming audio, and video – which can be optimized.
Tablets were said to have been conceptualised as far back as the mid 20th century. They were prototyped and developed in the last two decades of that century but only became affordable and popular in 2010. The tablet computer as we have it today and the associated special operating software is actually an example of pen computing technology their development is said to have deep historical roots.
A very significant trait of tablet computers not based on the traditional PC architecture is that most mobile apps including third party ones are supplied through online distribution, rather than more traditional methods of boxed software or direct sales from software vendors. These sources, known as “app stores”, provide centralized catalogues of software from the OS supplier or device manufacturer and from outside parties, and allow simple “one click” on-device software purchasing, installation, and updates. The app store is often shared with smartphones that use the same operating system.
A tablet, like a computer has hardware and software features. The typical hardware features are:
– High-definition display with anti-glare technology
– Wireless internet connectivity (usually with Wi-Fi standard and optional mobile broadband)
– GPS satellite navigation
– Stills and video camera functions, photo and video viewing and editing
– Weigh less and have more battery life than a comparable laptop
– Bluetooth for connecting peripherals and communicating with local devices in place of a wired USB connection.
– Docking station: An optional docking station that has a full size qwerty keyboard and USB port.
On the other hand, its software features are as follows:
– A pre-installed mobile web browser
– E-book reading and the ability to subscribe to and read periodicals
– Downloadable apps such as games, education and utilities
– Portable media player function including HD video playback (both streaming and locally stored)
– E-mail and social media apps
– Potential cell phone functions (Messaging, speakerphone or headset cellphone uses)
– Video-teleconferencing (Skype, FaceTime, etc.)
In terms of acceptance and use, the tablet has received wide acclaim. According to one report, over 31% of U.S. internet users were said to have a tablet as of March 2012. They were used mainly for viewing published content such as video and news. Apple’s iPad, released on April 13, 2010, is said to have sold over 100 million units as at mid-October 2012. Several millions of android-based tablets have been sold across the world, thus indicating their wide acceptability.
Education and healthcare are two sectors touted to gain from an increase in tablet penetration. Already, there are several initiatives underway globally in the education space. For instance, Apple says more than 4.5million iPads have been sold to US educational institutions. Sudha Nagaraj Bharadwaj, a journalist based in India says that shipments for the Indian tablet PC market are estimated to have closed at three million units in 2012. The government of Thailand announced that it would issue 1.7 million tablets to local students and teachers in 2013, and another 7 million in 2014, as it continues efforts in the country’s “One Tablet Per Child” scheme. Clearly, the educational tablets revolution has caught on.
In an article titled “Lessons From Tablet Education in India”, Sudha Nagaraj Bharadwaj asserts that “. . . the tablet has already become the tech-aid mantra for new-age schools, government–run academic institutions, and other educational agencies in the country. At present there are over 90 models of Android tablets available in the (Indian) market today, priced in the USD $50 to USD $500 price range.” On the benefits of tablet education, she says that “the benefits of tablet education can also mitigate problems like shortage of teachers and lack of school infrastructure.”
Beyond their physical attributes, tablets are said to facilitate detailed understanding of concepts, revision, doubt clarification, and self assessment, and broaden the students’ understanding of real-world application of theory and concepts. And the truth is that we are in the digital age. Tablets are the way to go!
The question then is what Nigeria is doing about this. I am not aware of a tablet-for-education policy yet by the Federal Government and I think those in the Federal Ministry of Education as well as those in the Communications and Science and Technology should begin work immediately so the country and its teeming student-population is not left behind. I encourage decision-makers in these ministries to read this article by Michael Rice – Twelve Steps Towards Good Practice: Introducing Digitization Into schools and FET Colleges (http://michaelrice.weebly.com/tablets-in-education.html).
Thankfully, Osun state, a state in south-western Nigeria, has seized the initiative and put Nigeria on the global tablet-education map with its recent launch of “Opon Imo”, the tablet of knowledge.
According to a statement credited to the state government, “The State Government of Osun, under the leadership of Governor Rauf Aregbesola, in its resolve to champion inspiring innovations from Africa, has undertaken a groundbreaking step to utilize the ICTs to concisely tackle the learning problem through the Opon Imo Initiative. The State, through its Opon Imo Technology Enhanced Learning System, (OTELS) has developed a learning tool that could revolutionize learning in developing states around the world. This tool is called the Opon Imo, ‘Tablet of Knowledge’.”
The Opon Imo, “Tablet of Knowledge”, is said to be a Standalone e-learning tablet that provides the senior secondary students with the contents required to prepare for school leaving examinations. It provides 3 major content categories; Text Books, Tutorials and Practice Questions. Specifically, it is said to contain 54 e-textbooks covering 17 subjects; 54 tutorials covering 17 subjects; over 40,000 practice questions and answers; and 6 extra-curricular books. 150,000 of these tablets are to be distributed to all senior secondary students across state schools in a move that is expected to radically democratize ‘access’ to learning, regardless of means, location or status.
And yes, there will be a business or employment-generation side to this. Of the 150,000 tablets to be distributed to students, the state government says that 100,000 will be produced in a factory to be built in the State, in conjunction with Opon Imo foreign technical partners. “With this development, it is believed that, many industries and businesses will easily find the State of Osun adaptive for their projects and business.” This is one way to create employment in a nation with so many jobless youths. This is where it would make sense to learn from the Indian experience as India has several local tablet manufacturers located in different cities from New Delhi to Mumbai and includes such names as Micromax, Wishtel, Aakash Educational Services and HCL Learning. Among them, these companies are educating Indians and creating jobs.
A further look at Opon Imo indicates that it has internet facilities deactivated. The explanation for this is that it will “prevent the distraction this may cause to students at this level of education.” While this makes some sense, it also means it robs the student of the dynamism that internet-enabled learning offers because every day, new findings are made available. The brains behind the Opon Imo must therefore have a mechanism for periodic update in place.
Well, the first step has been taken and there may be no looking back. Soon, it is hoped that tablet-facilitated education will extent to those in junior secondary, basic and pre-schools just as is happening in other parts of the world.