Is Distance Learning a Smarter Alternative to Develop Africa’s Education System?

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In Africa, there was a time when obtaining quality education was considered to be a challenge owing to a lot of reasons. Poor infrastructure, weak economy and ongoing political disturbances were three major reasons that deprived a lot of students from attaining their career goals. Things changed over time and plenty of technological developments gradually started bringing modifications in the education system.

ODel – A promise to Africa

The introduction of ODeL (Open, distance and e-learning) in Africa is one of those incredible innovations that has eliminated the chances of not only unemployment but also gross inequalities in Africa. Moreover, the emerging trends of higher education from the global viewpoint have actually stood responsible for realising the importance of initiating ODeL in Africa. The Massive Open Online Courses were another noteworthy contribution on behalf of the digital education providers that brought a new meaning to online learners living in remote corners.

The year was 2008 when MOOCs attained global recognition and even questioned the traditional procedures of obtaining education. Although the process of delivering courses through web was first initiated a couple of decades back, the consequences were actually realised and had a global impact in the 21st century only.

African post-secondary education standards in question

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Despite the increasing popularity of studying courses online, many questions were raised:

–         Will schools, colleges and universities in Africa will be able to afford the cost of introducing new learning technologies?

–         Will post-secondary institutions be able to cope with the prevalent challenges?

–         Are higher education institutions in the developed nations differ a lot in comparison to those located in the developing nations?

Well, experts say that it is not easy for institutions in the developing countries to cope with institutions in the developed ones. In Africa, for instance, what is important is the crucial need to enhance access to diverse opportunities, especially for students pursuing postsecondary education.

More developments are still to be made

Although African countries like Nigeria has made massive developments in digital education by bringing over 4 million internet users over a short time span, the rest of the nations need to gear up. However, it’s true that there have been recent developments in post-secondary education that has eliminated a lot of misconceptions in regard to distance learning and electronic learning.

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Despite, this is not all that speaks about distance learning. Since Africa has been promised to enjoy the benefits of ODeL, some serious issues still need to be rectified as soon as possible. For instance:

  • Assuring the quality of study materials
  • Ensuring accreditation for online learners
  • Checking credit transfers
  • Making employers recognise the importance of awards
  • Dealing issues in regard to cross-border provision

Well, reality says that distance learning has a lot of advantages. However, it’s also true that in order to realise the advantages associated with distance learning, necessary modifications must be made. Although a huge number of new age learners are now keen to learn online in Africa, they must also be promised considerable academic support by their respective online learning institutions. So, a quality check is extremely crucial which will only be able to solve societal crises and at the same time fulfil career objectives of individuals living in remote corners.

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Shortage of Science & Technology Professionals harming Africa’s Growth

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As an educator, I always believe that with a little help and right direction, developing nations, like countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, will be able to achieve great heights. The first sector that needs a nudge is education. The educational infrastructure of African countries is affected by political upheaval and is not of the global standard. Also, many of the students are not economically sound and therefore can’t afford higher education. These are the reasons why developing nations are lagging behind and with a little assistance, there is no doubt that the problem can’t be solved.

Recent revelations

Recently, I was surfing the internet, reading fascinating articles on educational imbalance in developing countries when a rather interesting article caught my eye. Sub-Saharan Africa is developing rapidly but it has been noticed that to reach only one ‘Millennium Development Goal’ which is of improved sanitation and access to potable, safe drinking water, the continent will require a huge number of health professionals, engineers, scientists, technicians, etc. However, there is a severe shortage of science and technology professionals in all the 48 Sub-Saharan African countries.

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This concerned me a lot as thought how much developing nations have to fight to lead healthy lives and to have access to clean drinking water. Thankfully, this issue has caught the attention of the Government as well and to address the issue, one of Africa’s biggest higher education partners, the World Bank and the Government of Rwanda, a campaigner of science and technology, have hosted a forum on Higher Education in Technology, Science and Innovation this week in Kigali.

To focus & capitalise

As I read on I came across absolute truths and facts I completely believed in. African economies have been on the rise because of the demand for raw produce and merchandise, to a certain degree, and it is the right time for the continent to focus on technology, science and innovation. If the countries produce more graduates in subjects like technology and applied sciences, then the economies could do much better by adding value to raw merchandise and produce. This way, African countries could actually compete at a global level for brilliant services and products.

If the countries focus on training their graduates in science and technology well, then the countries will be able to do much better by finding cost-efficient, effective and local solutions to problems related to poverty, development, food security, health, climate change and urbanisation.

Upgrading the higher education system across Africa

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The forum was themed Accelerating Africa’s Aspirations and brought together senior representatives from academia, governments, the private sector and development partners. In the forum, held on March 13, they discussed solutions to upgrade higher education in Africa, talked about priorities and also discussed how they are relevant to the growth of the economies.

“What we are gathered here to do has profound implications for young people in Africa. Essentially, young people can take advantage of economic opportunities only if they have the right knowledge and skills.” – Tawhid Nawaz, World Bank Director, Human Development, Africa.

If nations in Africa don’t strike now or focus on immediate needs, they will lose out on a lot and won’t be able to address impending problems.

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A Programme to empower the Youth of Africa on Educational Grounds

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Education has always been a matter of concern in developing nations, but with technology, I can see the inadequacy being addressed. In no way do I believe that education is backward in these countries but resources are definitely lacking. So, with just a little help from technological giants, developing nations can surely meet the necessities for developing nations. As an educator myself, I keep looking in the news for new innovations that can really help the youth receive good quality education. The other day, I came across a piece of news that really made me happy.

The initiative and its aim

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In association with the Kenya Private Schools Alliance and Intel Corporation East Africa, Microsoft has declared that they will launch the Youth Device Program will also make available educational applications, reasonably priced devices, reasonable data plans, online services, smart financing, etc. to learning institutions in Kenya.

This is reportedly part of the Youth Initiative by Microsoft 4Afrika. This initiative was started earlier this year which aimed to provide fellowships, scholarships and internships to the youth of Africa. Also, this Youth Device Program will help other countries in Africa like, Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt soon after it has been initiated in Kenya. The programme aspires to reach out to the youth of Africa with advanced skills and also help educators and students of African countries understand and apply digital advancements.

What is the new programme all about?

As a part of the programme, a variety of Intel and Microsoft services and devices will be made available in various form factors. Each of these will be loaded with applications pertaining to education like the complete Office 365 suite, Explore & Learn from Intel and Skype. The devices which will be based on architecture by Intel will be constructed for education purposes. These devices will be rugged and student-friendly, dust and water resistant, and will encourage learning anywhere, anytime.

More about these devices

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These education devices will be distributed on a local basis by Mitsumi Distribution and will be made available from various manufacturers. Intel and Microsoft will also aim to provide training for the teachers, via Microsoft’s Teach with Technology course and the Intel Teach curriculum, on the ICT integration. They aim not only to provide reasonable devices that are equipped with online services and educational applications but also to provide experiences that are loved by educators and students, and support and training that is required for the education ecosystem.

Various customised finance option will also be made available to ease out the purchases made. Tailor-made and convenient data plans will also be offered to help the youth and educators avail these services and devices with ease.

Some of the applications that will be on offer are:

  • Educational games
  • Khan Academy suite
  • Digital books
  • Intel Explore & Learn
  • Office 365 including PowerPoint, Word, Explore
  • Skype in the classroom

On reading this piece of news I was very glad that disadvantaged students are being addressed on the digital platform to improve the education system. As an educator, I couldn’t be happier on these advancements.

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