14 February 2013

Zambia: Did Social Media Affect G9 Results? II

IT has been a heavy week for the nation, loaded with the weight of grief and solemn ambiance after the Post Bus tragedy in Chibombo - an adversity that left most of us so weak and powerless.

We can only wish our departed brothers and sisters to rest in eternal peace and God's guidance and comfort to be upon the bereaved families during this trying time.

Getting back to our column, last week's topic on social media affecting Grade Nine results was received with mixed reactions by the readers, with some saying social media has brought nothing but positives when it comes to learning.

Musangu Muzaza, a reader based in Malaysia, backed the use of social media in schools by saying that research has shown that social media offers a platform to learn from others around you.

He said his hosting country plans that by 2020, public schools will be offering blended learning in which part of it will be done via Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), a system that works more like social media.

Mr Muzaza further argued that one who can communicate on social media stands a chance to access advanced material on the Internet

The article on social media, which can still be accessed on the times.co.zm website, did not necessarily allude to social media being a bad thing. The writer clearly stated that social media can and does have positive sides, but it is the abuse, or rather the misuse of it that might have had a negative effect on last year's Grade Nine examination results.

Like with most developing countries, Zambia is yet to reach a stage where inventions like social media can be used for imparting positive approaches in terms of education like VLE, as Mr Muzaza pointed out.

Countries like the Netherlands have since seen some training institutions introducing courses in Mastering Social Media because innocent as these social networks appear, if not handled correctly, they can act as a recipe for more negatives than positives.

Of course the freedom and easy access that comes with social networks such as Facebook and Twitter in particular, give someone the freedom to be captains of their ship.

However, where this captain steers their ship matters a lot because like the expanse of water, social media (or Internet at large) is one big sea containing both good and bad.

Hellen Libanga, a reader and follower of the column wrote that "these days, parents think that buying a child an advanced cell phone (or even just a simple one), ninshi mwa endelela (being advanced socially), when actually not."

Ms Libanga added: "I always don't find a good reason for me to buy my dependent a phone when I have one myself because I believe that whoever wants to talk to my dependent should always do that through me."

Apart from being time-consuming and costly, social media can sometimes lead to other worse scenarios because the people we chat with online usually pretend to be who they are not.

A good example is what happened to a young Nigerian model and entrepreneur last year when she fell prey to some online predators that lured the young woman to her own death.

According to a BBC article, Cynthia Osokogu travelled to Lagos from the country's capital Abuja, supposedly to meet with retailers whom she thought might be able to offer her better prices on clothes and accessories for her fashion boutique. After landing, she called her mother to tell her that she had arrived safely.

But Cynthia never made it to the meeting because there wasn't any. She was found strangled in her hotel room the next morning.

The trip was organised by an Echezona Nwabufor - a man she met through the BlackBerry messenger service and Facebook.

This kind of fate should be an eye-opener to young social media users. It should never be taken for granted that we know what we are doing online as there are always other people using the same medium for wrong intentions.

With this background, the column suggests that since social media is something that we have already embraced with both hands, it would not be a bad idea to include it in the school curriculum.

However, if that is not possible, pupils should still incorporate it in their personal study time-tables so that they restrict themselves to a certain time frame and to what they need to do online.

It would also be wise for parents or guardians to monitor what and who their children make friends with on social media. It may sound impossible or easier said than done as others would put it, but since most of our parents do not even know what Facebook is, it is worth a try.

If we wish to see concentration from pupils on studies which will result in better examination results, teachers should never at any given moment allow pupils to have mobile phones in class. Pupils should be taught discipline of switching off their mobile phones until after school hours.

Restricting the time we spend on the Internet will allow us to be focused, use the Internet for the right reasons and come up with ideas that would make us derive more positives than negatives from social media.

Amber Naslund, a social media advocate and author advises social media users to "Quit counting fans, followers and blog subscribers like bottle caps but to instead think about what you're hoping to achieve with and through the community that actually cares about what you're doing online."

In the same vein, young people in Zambia who have access to Facebook or Twitter should think of positive ways they can use social media by not just concentrating on the fun side they can get from it.

Remember, there are people who are also using this medium for ill intentions. Play it smart and safe, don't take things for granted.

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