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E-learning: An effective means to improve access to education in Africa

03.07.2019
Article from AFRIC Editorial
There’s an obvious role played by the internet over the years as far as knowledge acquisition is concerned. In Africa, those involved in the educational sector have long understood the growing influence of technology and are gradually capitalizing on it. With education being the pillar to Africa’s development, the approach is shifting from being dependent on physical infrastructure and learning resources to encompass the use of education technology. This is as a result of the fact that e-learning has the potential to play a vital role in the delivery of quality education across the continent. But in order to reap from the several advantages it provides, Africa needs to find ways to maximize the potential of e-learning.

The world today is being dominated by information and communication technology and the coming of products such as the internet, smart-phones, and tablets are taking the center stage in the life of every individual. With this new element, the way knowledge is acquired, stored and shared has greatly revolutionized.

Technology is not only developing rapidly but also improving several sectors including the educational sector while creating opportunities specifically in rural areas which did not previously exist. Thus e-learning, is fast becoming an asset to the school system in the continent. Many people have attested to the fact that the internet improves their access to information as well as their ability to acquire knowledge. According to findings from the Impact of the Internet in Africa, it was noted that technology is instrumental in supporting education in developing countries and some ICT innovations have been driving increased access to education.

It has been revealed that ancient ways of learning are proving not to be very effective as expected which has led to the need to introduce new ways of approaching education, hence, authorities are now ensuring that people become ICT literates. A report by Ambient Insight notified that Africa has the highest growth rates in e-learning in the world.

Since the introduction of technology in learning, progress has been made in the sector and actions are being taken to help the continent properly benefit from this innovation. For instance, Binu and World Reader partnered to provide Africans with access to close to 1,000 books on their smartphones.

Equally, IBM is partnering with the Kenya Education Network (KENET) to deliver courses to students in 50 universities in Kenya through KENET’s broadband network. In the same light, Microsoft partnered with Intel East Africa and the Kenya Private Schools Alliance, for the 4Afrika Youth Device Program, which makes available affordable devices such as, educational applications, online services, and data plans to Kenyan learning institutions. All these are strides which go a long way to enhance and support e-learning.

Furthermore, processes and services rendered by universities have been made very easy, and less cumbersome. The Kenya National Examination Council, for example, has online portals where students can easily register for examinations, check their results, and track their school selection process. This is the same case scenario with the University of Buea in Cameroon.

The road seems to be very promising especially as technology giants such as Google, IBM and Microsoft are now setting up labs and programs in some countries in the continent such as Kenya to ensure that better internet access is available to more people.

E-learning comes with visible impacts in the continent

According to recent information, the most significant impact of e-learning in developing regions is in the domain of education. The ease with which people can now access materials of learning, as well as the modern system of delivery, has made it possible for different groups of people to acquire knowledge.

Statistics revealed that about 4.5 million students are taking at least one course online, with a possibility of the number exceeding 18 million. The Dakar University, for instance, has a physical capacity of just 16,000 students, but can now educate close to 75,000 students thanks to an online course partnership with African Virtual University.

Reports have it that the average annual growth rate of e-learning in some African and Asian countries like Nepal, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Senegal, and Uganda is projected to surpass 10% with ease from 2016 to 2021.

This new dimension is changing education with the use of e-learning and technology. Digital textbooks are now being introduced to replace conventional books. Furthermore, e-learning is enhancing education in Africa by providing both teachers and students with digital materials in addition to traditional lectures, and people can now equally attend video lectures. Education has also been extended beyond the classroom with the help of mobile devices and personal computers. This new form of learning has increased access to education for millions of students in Africa. For example, about 1.5 million students can now access computer classrooms through upgraded computer technology in South Africa. Now there is significant effort being put in place to ensure that more and more people are trained in ICT especially in the educational sector. Microsoft is now training teachers in Malawi and assisting them to open their own computer labs through the Malawi Learning Partnership network which is aimed at providing students and teachers with access to e-learning resources that will enhance their learning and teaching capabilities.

Africa needs adequate infrastructure to reap the benefits of e-learning

In spite of the developments in e-learning, Africa is still feet dragging in the implementation due to several constraints. The lack of electricity outside of major cities still remains a major factor which is holding Africa back, with almost 620 million Africans still lacking access to power. According to the International Energy Agency, almost 60 percent of Africa’s population was un-electrified in 2009. Thus it will become impossible for e-learning to improve education in Africa if access to electricity is only getting worse.

This problem is even worsened by the low level of internet penetration in the continent. A report by Broadband Commission noted that 8 of the 10 countries with the lowest levels of internet availability in the world are in sub-Saharan Africa. The Internet penetration in these countries which includes Ethiopia, Niger, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Somalia, Burundi, Eritrea, and South Sudan is less than 2 percent of the population.  Nevertheless, in Africa, Kenya is leading with regards to internet connectivity with the highest bandwidth per person on the continent, the fastest speeds, and some of the lowest Internet costs. While South Africa’s highest connection speed measured up to 16.8 Mbps in the first quarter of 2015.

Again, there’s also the urgent need to integrate e-learning techniques while training teachers. Many of them were brought up in systems with limited or no use of these technologies and some of them are now finding it difficult to adapt to the new system of learning. Microsoft has succeeded in training close to 31,000 teachers on ICT integration in South Africa. These efforts are being made as a result of the fact that there is the need for teachers to have an understanding of technology which can greatly enhance their work.

All in all, there is no doubt in attesting to the fact that e-learning presents an opportunity to improve educational systems in African countries as it has transformed and facilitated access to education across the continent. Despite some challenges which are hampering its growth and expansion, the growth of e-learning in Africa has been steady.

 

Article from AFRIC Editorial

Photo Credit  : google image/illustration

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