With education being seen as a key foundation for Africa’s development, eLearning has the potential to play a pivotal role in the transformation of the delivery of quality education across the continent. To achieve the level of scale required in the delivery of quality education, Africa needs to leap forward and maximize on the potential of eLearning in creating innovative learning solutions. The education delivery approach in Africa has to shift from one that is highly dependent on physical infrastructure such as schools and colleges, physical learning materials, and in class education delivery to one that makes extensive use of interactive education technology.
Progress has been made over the past decade and according to a report by Ambient Insight, Africa has the highest growth rates in eLearning in the world for four out of the five self paced eLearning products and services, including packaged content, custom content development services, cloud-based authoring tools, learning platform services, installed authoring tools, and installed learning platforms.
Despite the progress that has been made, there are three central challenges that continue to exist which hinder effective implementation of eLearning in Africa.
- Internet Access / Connectivity
Without access to the internet many eLearning projects in African countries are throttled before they even begin. U.N. Broadband Commission reported that 8 of the 10 countries with the lowest levels of internet availability in the world are in sub-Saharan Africa. The 8 countries are Ethiopia, Niger, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Somalia, Burundi, Eritrea, and South Sudan. Internet penetration in all 8 countries is less than 2 percent of the population. Providing all the students with internet access is a very expensive proposition for most African governments and this is more so in the case of rural centers and remote areas, where internet connections are bound to be erratic, if available at all. The countries that lead in eLearning on the continent and that have had the largest levels of foreign and local investments in this sector have the advantage of better than average Internet access and connectivity. South Africa’s peak connection speed was measured at 16.8 Mbps in the first quarter of 2015, giving it a world ranking of 112th. Kenya currently leads in Africa with regards to internet connectivity with the highest bandwidth per person on the continent, the fastest speeds, and some of the lowest Internet costs. International companies such as Google, IBM, and Microsoft have set up offices in Kenya and made concerted investments in education in the nation as a result. In Kenya –home to IBM’s Africa Research lab and a state-of-the-art innovation center– IBM is partnering with the Kenya Education Network (KENET) to deliver advanced hands-on certification courses to faculty and students of 50 Kenyan universities over KENET’s broadband network. Microsoft has also partnered with Intel East Africa and the Kenya Private Schools Alliance, to launch the 4Afrika Youth Device Program, which provides a bundle of affordable devices, educational applications, online services, data plans, and smart financing to Kenyan learning institutions.
2. Availability Of Locally Developed Content And Curriculum Online
Content development is a critical area that is too often overlooked. Academic institutions in Africa have not made the level of investment needed in developing local content that is aligned with national curriculums and that can be utilized for eLearning. The majority of tertiary institutions still use textbooks from the United Kingdom and the USA and there has not been a consistent drive to develop local content. Given the unique facets of Africa, the diversity of languages and culture and the continent’s specialized needs, there is a great opportunity for African countries to develop targeted plans for content development. A large proportion of the educational software produced in the world market is in English. For African countries, such as Swaziland, where English language proficiency is not very high, especially outside urban areas, this represents a serious barrier to eLearning. There are significant challenges in terms of language patterns and local language usage (especially in serving the youngest populations), and as such there is a need for locally developed content.
3. Training And Professional Development
Teachers on the continent have been brought up in education systems with limited technology and they find it difficult to utilize technology to engage and support learning. There is a great emphasis that needs to be made for teachers to understand that technology is not replacing them, but rather it is an enabler that will enhance their work. A huge challenge is to develop and implement training and professional development for teachers so they may embrace teaching with technology and understand the benefits of teaching with technology as a way to advance the academic outcomes of students. Partnerships with private entities play a key role in building the skills of teachers in ICT. In South Africa, Microsoft has trained over 31,000 teachers and school leaders on ICT integration with the aim of enhancing teaching and learning and having an impact on nearly 4 million learners. Over 800 trainers from the South African Department of Education have been trained to roll out, scale and sustain the Microsoft Partners In Learning program.
The goal of delivering a high quality education to every child in Africa remains unfulfilled, but technology presents an opportunity for this to be a reality. eLearning has overwhelming potential to improve education systems in African countries and if implemented well with strategies that focus on overcoming these key challenges, radical transformation of the education system is possible.