Research on technology integration in higher education in Africa seems to be gathering some momentum, although the primary focus is on exploring how particular technological tools are used to support certain course activities. To more significantly inform policy-making and planning, practice and sound theorisation, studies interrogating technology integration that transcends specific application contexts are warranted.
Toward that end, a special section (SS) titled ‘Technology Integration in Higher Education in Africa: Philosophical, theoretical, and policy-practice perspectives’ is published in the British Journal of Educational Technology (BJET).
Co-edited by Samuel Amponsah (the University of Ghana) and Teklu Abate Bekele (the American University in Cairo), the SS interrogates the philosophical, theoretical and policy-practice features and issues that characterise successful technology integration in teaching and learning in higher education (HE). The aspiration is to contribute to contextual (African) problematisation of the phenomenon, better inform policy and practice, and further research and theorisation on this significant topic.
The relevance and significance of the SS to the BJET, educational technology, and HE studies is generally justified from multiple perspectives, including the anticipated significant technology integration in the post-COVID-19 pandemic era, the limited theorisation of the phenomenon, and the quality and relevance of African HE.
These perspectives triggered and drove the development of the project which resulted in the publication of the SS. The justifications equally support the further conduct of programmatic research on this highly prioritised topic in HE in Africa.
Enhanced technology integration
Compared to the rest of the world, African HE does not yet methodically and meaningfully integrate digital technologies to support learning and teaching. However, there are several compelling factors and conditions that trigger and drive more significant technology integration in the years to come.
• The pandemic lesson: The COVID-19 pandemic taught HE institutions globally, especially those in Africa, that methodically integrating technology is vital, not only for augmenting teaching and learning, but also for ensuring institutional competitiveness and survival. Campus closures caused sudden and frantic shifts to some form of virtual instruction and distance education. Although the precise effects are yet to be studied across institutional and national contexts, the quality of instruction and student and faculty experiences were seriously challenged.
These experiences have created a greater demand for technology reliance in the post-pandemic era. The flexibility and affordances technologies could bring to the content, method, time and place of learning and teaching in Africa would be more clearly understood in the future. Research and theorisation are thus critical for successful technology integration besides infrastructure development and internet connectivity.
• Improving infrastructure and connectivity: There is more to the post-pandemic significant integration of technology in Africa than the pandemic lesson. Although Africa lags behind world averages, the ever-improving infrastructure and internet connectivity are promising. The International Telecommunications Union (2023) report indicates that estimated mobile network coverage reached 88.4% in 2020, with 50% 4G network and internet use increased from 24.8% in 2017 to 40% in 2022.
African countries are also partnering with international development organisations for the significant development of technological infrastructure and connectivity on the continent. These are great opportunities for more significantly integrating technology in teaching and learning.
• Supportive policy frameworks: There are also policy frameworks supporting a more intensified integration of technologies. The African Union (2020) developed a digital transformation strategy for Africa (2020-30) with a vision of seeing an integrated and inclusive digital society and economy. Most of its member states have also developed national technology policies (AU, 2020).
Moreover, analyses of the strategic plans of universities indicated that digitalisation (technology integration to support university functions) and digitisation (automation of business processes) as among the strategic pillars identified for institutional growth and competitiveness. However, the availability of supportive policy frameworks does not seem to be met with robust theorisation of the phenomenon.
Limited theorisation and studies
There have been significant efforts to problematise successful technology integration and, hence, there is bourgeoisie literature on the topic. Critical success factors identified primarily within the contexts of the Western world are linked to reconceptualisation of knowledge, teaching, learning, technology role, pedagogy, and assessment. It is, however, unclear how and to what extent these and possibly other conditions and factors affect technology integration in the diverse and mosaic landscape of African higher education. The available literature from Africa is limited to case reports of how certain technologies were used to support particular course activities.
Although they contribute to our understanding, these studies do not support rigorous problematisation and conceptualisation of technology integration that transcends specific application contexts. Even more concerning are challenges linked to the relevance of HE to pressing African needs.
The societal relevance and significance of HE have been an outstanding agenda both in policy and scientific circles. For this commentary, we prefer to briefly mention two conditions that could challenge successful technology integration: colonial legacy and dictating pedagogies.
African HE is primarily a Western (colonial) creation. The primary mission of universities upon their founding and decades after has been to generate and transmit ideology in service of colonial interests, wherein Western curricula were transposed onto African campuses with no critical consideration for local relevance. This transposition contributed to the disruption in the transmission of African knowledge systems, resulting in HE being stripped of contextual relevance. Therefore, there is a need for methodical technology integration to address this issue.
Power relations reflected
There is also a lack of critical scholarly engagement on African campuses and the master-slave faculty-student relationships reflect power dynamics at the national level. Although attribution is often made to colonialism, faulty characteristics and professionalism also contribute to the domineering faculty-student relationships and dictating pedagogies in Africa. Consequently, interrogating faculty philosophy of humanity and knowledge is vital for meaningful integration of technology.
For more contextual relevance and significance, educational reform generally and successful technology integration particularly need a reconceptualisation of curriculum and pedagogy against the backdrop of African knowledge systems, and emerging societal needs and challenges. These issues and challenges trigger, drive and justify the project that resulted in the publication of the BJET SS on successful technology integration in HE in Africa.
The co-editors and the BJET editorial office planned to include as many quality works employing varied methodologies as possible. Invited submissions and open calls were used to solicit manuscripts for the SS. Of the 16 submitted manuscripts, only five survived the journal’s rigorous peer-review process. Employing qualitative methodologies, policy analyses, and philosophical examinations, and drawing on interdisciplinary theoretical frameworks, the five studies interrogated core philosophical, policy and practice features of technology integration in HE in Africa.
All the studies investigated issues that transcend institutional and national boundaries. The most salient findings that appear transferable to varied African contexts are highlighted below.
African methods of knowing
The article of Delali Amuzu (University of Ghana in Accra) challenged dominant narratives surrounding the emergence of technologies and their adoption. The article argued that African ideas, science, technology, scholarship and worldviews have been disproportionately displaced and marginalised in relevant global dialogues. In academic circles, African methods of knowing have been questioned, undervalued, mocked, misconstrued, and disregarded, causing apprehension.
These negative attitudes are internalised via the educational system, stifling agency and conditioning African learners to rely on technology from outside sources, resulting in the exteriorisation of innovation and creativity. The study demonstrates how the interaction of two components of traditional African education – a sense of community and informal learning – could assist in the embrace, facilitation, and mainstreaming of marginalised African technologies.
In line with Amuzu’s contribution and drawing on African philosophical perspectives, Bekele Amponsah, and Ibrahim Karkouti (American University in Cairo) problematised the successful integration of technology in HE in Africa. The central argument of this article is that the domineering faculty-student relationships, and dictating pedagogies rampant in African campuses are among the most significant challenges to successful technology integration.
Faculty revision of their philosophy about humanity, pedagogy and knowledge are, thus, needed for success. To improve the local relevance and significance of education, the revisioning needs to be underpinned by the philosophical, theoretical, conceptual, and methodological thinking from within Africa.
The authors drew on the humanistic philosophies of asabiyya and ubuntu, respectively from Northern and Southern Africa, and Yoruba empiricist and Zara Yacob rationalist epistemological orientations (approaches to understanding knowledge and the acquisition of knowledge) from Western and Eastern Africa to propose African philosophical perspectives that could trigger and enable more humanely, engaging, empowering, and emancipatory pedagogies in technology-enhanced spaces in HE.
The epistemologies define the nature of student and faculty engagements and necessary strategies, whereas the humanistic philosophies offer values and principles that could guide ethical technology use and humane faculty-student relationships.
The information communication and technology policy in Ghana intended to transform the country into an information and technology-driven high-income economy through digital education. Michael Agyemang Adarkwah and Ronghuai Huang (Beijing Normal University, China) critically reviewed the policy, revealing three core factors that contributed to its lack of success in the 20 years since its inauguration: technology adoption, addiction and abduction.
First, technology integration has failed because the mode of adoption lacks the critical consideration of the variability in courses, user ability, need, and interest. Secondly, the addiction of students to technology has led to a superfluous use of digital technologies for online gaming and entertainment and less for studies. Finally, the concept of ‘abduction’ has to do with denying or censoring learners’ technological tools appropriate for teaching and learning in an information era.
These concepts of technology adoption, addiction, and abduction reveal how factors at user (student) and institutional and national levels compromise optimal or successful technology integration. To overcome challenges linked to technology adoption, Amuzu’s and Bekele’s and his co-authors’ articles investigated relevant strategies that are deeply rooted in African knowledge systems.
The remaining two articles of the SS are the results of empirical studies that employed varied methodologies. The contribution by Alex Kumi-Yeboah, YangHyun Kim, and Yaa Essah Armah (University at Albany-SUNY, New York in the United States), drew on qualitative empirical data collected from private and public universities in Ghana. The study explores the strategies that were adopted by HE institutions in Ghana to overcome the digital divide faced during the pandemic.
The study revealed that universities made plans to provide affordable internet connectivity for students, faculty, and staff; used digital technologies and resources for hybrid and remote courses; created technology platforms for students, faculty, and administrators; and provided professional development workshops/training on digital skills and knowledge to ensure a seamless transition to online learning. Such efforts provided relief for both faculty and students, enabling them to continue their education during tough times, and they are worth emulating in the post-COVID-19 era.
These findings are discussed with the three-level model of the digital divide framework (school, classroom, and student) and the development history of digital infrastructure in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Understanding existing practices
Finally, Lone Dirckinck-Holmfeld and Ann Bygholm (Aalborg University, Denmark), and Geoffrey Olok Tabo (Gulu University, Uganda) contributed to the discourse on how technology can be effectively employed to transform education in Uganda. This exploratory qualitative study interrogated the insights of students from varied disciplines into how they employed technology in their study practices as well as the challenges they faced in doing so. The study classified success factors into three categories: tools and spaces; tasks and collaboration; and aims and motives.
The authors concluded that transforming education transcends developing strategies and implementing new tools. The authors noted that the particular importance of success is the need to create insights into existing practices and give a voice to all stakeholders, especially students.
Overall, the articles included in this SS are critical contributions to our understanding of successful technology integration in higher education in Africa. Firstly, successful technology integration concerns the quality and extent of the infusion in curricula of African (local) knowledge systems; curricula and instruction that embody societal needs and challenges; adoption of locally relevant, engaging, and empowering pedagogies; quality learning and teaching experiences; student learning outcomes that promote capabilities, skills, and deeper understanding; and spirit of lifelong learning.
Consequently, successful technology integration requires strategic revision of university education in its entirety. The proposed revision, which is grounded in African knowledge systems, is consistent with pan-Africanism, the African Renaissance, decolonial movements, the African Union 2063 Agenda, and the 2030 UN sustainable development goals.
Secondly, technologies are viewed as communication tools (teaching and learning through technology), knowledge banks (teaching and learning from technology), and cognitive tools to think through (teaching and learning with technology). The varied roles technologies could play in teaching and learning vary across disciplinary and institutional settings. These and other seminal issues and features are deeply interrogated in the SS.
Further empirical and theoretical studies that employ multimethod approaches are needed to deepen and extend our understanding of the phenomenon across disciplinary, institutional, and national boundaries and socio-economic contexts.
Note: This commentary draws from the Editorial Introduction of the Special Section and the individual articles included therein.
Dr Teklu Abate Bekele is an associate professor of international and comparative education at the department of educational studies in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the American University in Cairo, Egypt. Bekele studies technology integration in higher education, and emerging university-society engagements in Africa.
Dr Samuel Amponsah (DED) is an associate professor and head of the distance education department at the University of Ghana. Amponsah’s research interests include open distance learning, adult learning, and inclusive education. He was a recipient of the GCRF/LJMU Digital Fellowship, a programme that combines the Global Challenges Research Fund and Liverpool John Moores University expertise in digital research and innovation, and recently, a postdoctoral fellow at the American University in Cairo.