African Art Students and Digital Learning

African Art Students and Digital Learning

Paula Uimonen (Stockholm University, Sweden)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-206-2.ch013
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Imagine 120 students sharing 5 computers, yet feeling that they are part of an interconnected world. This is the social context framing digital learning for African art students, the material limitations and cultural imaginations of which this chapter is concerned with. Based on extensive ethnographic engagements at TaSUBa, a national institute for arts and culture in Tanzania, this chapter investigates the development of digital media skills. Using the concept of digital learning to cover the acquisition of ICT skills as well as the use of ICT as a learning tool, the analysis spans from early expectations of connectivity to current forms of media engagement. Focusing on the social and cultural aspects of digital learning, the concept hybrid media engagement is introduced to capture the creative ways in which African art students overcome limitations in infrastructure, while exploring new forms of cultural production.
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Background: Digital Learning, Access, And Cultural Transformation

In this analysis, I am using the concept of digital learning to capture the acquisition of ICT skills as well as the use of ICT as a learning tool, focusing on computers and Internet. While a growing body of research is investigating new media skills among youth, this work is mainly focused on high-tech societies, mostly in Europe and the United States. A growing number of projects and initiatives on ICT in education notwithstanding, very little empirical research has been carried out in African contexts.2 Nonetheless, theoretical debates and empirical insights from digitally more advanced societies can be used to shed further light on digital learning among African youth, not least as a point of comparison on questions relating to social context (Livingstone 2006), genres of participation (Ito et al 2008), and variations in user patterns (Facer and Furlong 2001, Selwyn 2009).

In order to appreciate digital learning in the context of African “mediascapes” (Appadurai 1996), it is important to recognize the limitations in Internet access. In Tanzania, one of the poorest countries in Africa, the Internet is only used by 1,22% of the population, compared with 87,84% in Sweden and 74% in the United States, or 8,67% in neighbouring Kenya and 7,90% in Uganda.3 This low level of Internet penetration is particularly evident in the education sector, with most primary and secondary schools having no Internet access (MOEVT 2007). While many institutes of higher education have Internet access, they do not have broadband, the subscription rate for which is a mere 0,02% in Tanzania. In the case of TaSUBa, Internet access is through a dedicated line at the speed of 128kbs, with a monthly data allocation of 40Gb. Questions of digital inclusion and exclusion are thus rather pertinent in this low-access context (Castells 2004, Ferguson 2006).

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