About 30 or so years ago when I was a student in primary school in Malawi, some of our lessons included instruction in things which at the time I didn’t know were not very useful.
For example there was the science lesson in which we were taught, and asked to loudly recite the various parts of a grasshopper: head, thorax, abdomen…! Yup, true story.
There was also that rather dour lesson where we learned the different parts of a flower: Anther, Style, filament, Stigma, … and petals! Yah! How very useful.
Now, I don’t know about you, but in my entire life thus far, I don’t ever recall a time when I have ever needed to draw from such pieces of irrelevant information; maybe to explain to a 4 year old for example what a thorax is (and why it matters); to enthuse to an 8 year old the virtues of the Anthers, the Styles and stigmata…
In 40 fat and chunky years, not once has such information been of any use to my conscious mind, or indeed to anyone else I’ve met. And I’ve met a lot of people, both physically and virtually.
Don’t get me wrong. Of course there’s no way of knowing in advance which parts of your education will be useful in your life or your career decades down the line. Of course hindsight is a great thing, but they were teaching barely 10 year old African kids, millions of them, parts of a grasshopper?!? Millions of African kids about different parts of a flower!
Even if some of us were going to need such specific information at some point in our lives, maybe as geneticists, or in other plant/insect-related profession, not all of us needed to learn about it at that age. Definitely not all of us.
They probably should have been teaching us something else, like…. how to form healthy relationships? What consent means, how to make a budget, facts about managing money, the virtues of being an honest citizen and avoiding corruption and how that relates to economic development, facts about slavery… ?
Why didn’t they teach us technical knowledge, like parts of a computer and how it works…? Or different parts of a motorcycle engine, and how it works. Or how to find faults in, and fix a broken TV set.
At least such knowledge would have helped lay a foundation for those of us who were mechanically/ technically minded; those of us who would have ended up as engineers, technicians, researchers or in other technical fields.
Or maybe they should have taught us things that are more artistic. Art, Literature or a new language. Edmonia Lewis, Robert S. Duncanson, Edward Mitchell Banister, Henry Ossawa Tanner, as well as Chinua Achebe….and other prominent and black artists and intellectuals.
Otherwise, if that wasn’t sufficient, we could have learned about the Picassos, the Rembrandts, and the Mozarts; they could have taught us Swahili, Portuguese, Spanish, French, German and Mandarin!
Why not in this connected globalised world where if you know how to communicate in several languages, it can give you an advantage…and help break down barriers to trade and commerce with people who speak those foreign languages.
Our primary schools could have taught us things which many of us would most likely need or encounter later on in life. But they didn’t. Instead our education system was such that our brains were laden with gigabytes of useless information we would never need.
I would have understood that we needed to learn that stuff if it was some encoded key to unlocking some hidden talents, or a secret capable space in our minds, which it wasn’t. I would have sympathised with the teachers if the reason behind such lessons were communicated.
Instead very few of us, if any, were told why we needed to learn such knowledge; what benefit we would get from it. From where I stand, it was little more than an unnecessary time-wasting indulgence we didn’t need. And I suspect that some of it was inherited from western-dictated or colonial educational systems.
Which brings me to the troublesome issue of the metaverse.
I am yet to find one convincing explanation of what actual (not imagined) benefits the metaverse will deliver for Africa? Just one.
I understand Virtual Reality, and some of the applications in medicine and education, but from where I’m standing, this smells like Tech companies (1) Continuing to steal away our valuable time, and (2) Using our data, likes/dislikes to sell unnecessary stuff to us, & our children.
Of course immersive experiences have a time and place. And yes, some people will probably need them more than others, but on a certain level, maybe not everything is what it seems. I mean the cost alone for these things will be prohibitive for most Africans. Let’s just say the video below by Eddy Burback probably explains what I’m trying to say more blatantly:
And for those who say the metaverse will be useful to Africa in terms of simulating educational experiences and providing a more realistic remote learning environment. Okay maybe that’s true. But if you are some kid listening to a Harvard Professor from a dusty part of a small city like Nsanje, the last thing you care about is whether your experience is as immersive as it could be or whether you can see the other students around you in this virtual classroom.
Instead, besides grasping all the words of the professor (which will probably be delivered in an unfamiliar American accent), you’ll probably be more concerned about how good your internet connection is (and in a country like Malawi which has poor technological infrastructure as well as very high data costs), how long you can sustain it before you run out of data, because of streaming the lesson. You’ll be looking to reduce (not increase) the data you stream, and will be less bothered about the extent by which the classroom experience simulates real life learning.
So these learners will be asking why it’s not possible to just have a live feed without a Virtual Reality headset? A simple camera erected in the lecture theatre and pointed at the professor (and the projector screen behind him), feeding a live stream via Wi-Fi, which at the other end can be picked up by students across the world using only basic smartphones.
While I get the whole idea of simulating a classroom environment, the question is at what cost? These VR headsets are not cheap! And most kids in Africa currently cannot afford these things. They simply don’t have the means.
So, can we honestly say that at the current stage at which most of our economies in Africa are (poor road infrastructure, hospitals without drugs, regular conflict, widespread corruption, poverty, famine, fuel shortages, power cuts, water cuts, poor telecommunications infrastructure, etc.), and given everything important our countries still need – that VR experiences are a priority? Something we can afford to indulge in right now?
The answer is a resolute NO.
Or maybe the metaverse will have relevance in terms of providing unique entertainment experiences …Fine. I’ll give you that. All those relatively wealthy people across the continent who want to attend a nightclub or entertainment event taking place somewhere in Europe, or in the US (or indeed anywhere else) – yes Virtual Reality will be useful in such circumstances.
But that’s a private thing. Presumably funded by private money.
And if you watch what Meta has been putting out as the essence of the Metaverse, it still falls within the category of Tech companies trying to get unsuspecting people to spend lots of money on consumerist junk we don’t really need.