Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Connecting with Africa.

I am often asked to explain my relationship with Africa:
  • How is it that I live in the UK yet I am well informed about details of rural life in Nigeria?
  • How is it that my connections are personal and are direct to the grass roots (and not through some government initiative or large NGO)?
  • What do I mean when I say I am “Active on the Internet and at various locations in Africa”?
  • How is it that I am involved in practical field work?
  • What about money?
  • What is my relationship with Fantsuam Foundation (in rural Nigeria)?
  • How did I come to develop the Teachers Talking programme in collaboration with Fantsuam Foundation?
  • How did I come to deliver it in Kenya as well?
  • How is it that I am in frequent online contact with local community development activists in various parts of Africa?
  • Can other people have a similar relationship with these projects?
Background information

Rather than answer those specific question I will give some background information related to them, which should allow the answers to emerge.

My connections with Africa are unusual for someone based in the UK. They are very practical and yet also theoretical.

Practical side

The practical side comes from my relationships with people rather than projects. My connections with community development projects in Africa are specific and personal. They have come from many years of working (in my own time) with people who I know. These are people in Africa (or from Africa) who are doing things in their local communities, and have asked me to collaborate with them in some way. Sometimes I have collaborated by going to Africa on “working holidays'. Sometimes I have collaborated by doing various tasks on their behalf in the UK. Sometimes my work has been done on the Internet.

Helping friends

How I came to have so many friends and associates in Africa who are grass-roots activists is a long story, too long to tell here now. Suffice to say that it all began when a friend married a Nigerian, back in the 1990s. Once I got involved with helping him my networks and knowledge began to grow, and kept on growing. What started as “just some help with admin, Internet things, and helping to cross cultural barriers” developed into my present roles as an independent ICT for Education and Development practitioner and as co-director, with John Dada, of Dadamac.

Background in education and ICT

The focus of the practical work has been driven by the grass-roots development work of my friends and associates, while the theoretical side comes from my background in education and ICT. I am a qualified and experienced teacher. I am interested in cognitive development; intrigued by how people think, learn, make decisions, and deal with information. I first came across computers in the 1970s as an undergraduate with the Open University. As someone connected with learning and teaching I became interested in how computers (and, now, ICT) might usefully alter our learning/teaching systems.

Combining theory and practice

I like to combine theory and practice. When “micro-computers” came on the scene I learned how to programme them and did innovative work in my infant classroom. From that I got involved in research, development, writing, and training. All these work experiences have contributed to my present work in ICT for Education and Development (ICT4Ed&D). My work in Africa (face-to-face and “on the Internet”) enables me to do research and development about ICT and its role in formal/informal educational/training systems. I respond to local needs related to education/training and development. I am involved in practical projects and problem solving. I use ICT. I do field work. I teach and learn at a distance. Initially these interests competed with my day jobs, but gradually there is increasing overlap between the work I do for its own sake and the work I am paid for.

Enabling cross-cultural collaboration

I am now uniquely well-placed to enable effective communication between two very different cultures. On one hand I speak from my own cultural background here in the UK. On the other hand I can speak to people in my culture on behalf of my friends and associates in Africa. This is particularly true regarding speaking for John Dada and what he is doing at Fantsuam. In fact that is why we came up with the name “Dadamac” - when I speak as “Pamela McLean from Dadamac” I can speak authoritatively for John Dada as well as for myself. I can talk about his ongoing work and my own, but even more importantly I can talk for both of us about future plans and possible collaborations. In collaboration with John I can set up Dadamac projects in Nigeria, where everyone wins through collaboration and the free exchange of information. I can also set up more traditional collaborations where Dadamac Ltd – Knowledge Brokers provides paid consultancy services, and enables field testing and other research and development opportunities.

Testbed, showcase, dissemination of ideas

Part of our vision is to provide opportunities for people to trial innovations, relevant to rural Nigeria and similar locations. We offer a site which is both a living testbed and a showcase. The showcase aspect is connected to our training programmes and existing work at Fanstuam Foundation Knowledge Resource Centre. We want to aid the dissemination of good ideas, products and services. We are committed to sharing good practice. We will share information with people who travel to visit our site, and with people further afield. Our interests in ICT and education/training means that we are involved with distance learning as well as face-to-face education and training. As we develop on-site training at Attachab we will also be looking at ways to share information effectively with people who are far away.

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