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IT Trends eLearning – Can we bridge the digital divide?

Yet another conference this week in Cairo – eLearning Africa – raised some salient issues for our continent and youth. Some relevant quotes from experts at this conference – “We’re all aware that Africa is a young continent and that soon the majority of our population will be under the age of 24. We can’t afford to leave the future of 200 million young Africans to chance”. Or how about – “The more uneducated children Africa has, the more prisons we’ll have to build.” Experts rightly questioned the AU strategy statement of a “Transformed Continent” by 2063. They feel that young people need to feel the benefits, which the combination of technology and education can bring, within the next ten years. Failing to do so restricts the future employment options of our current youth to basic and menial tasks.

Following on from my article last week on the digital revolution, the urgency of adopting skills building in new technology cannot be ignored. So, what is eLearning and how can it help?

eLearning is learning utilising electronic technologies to access educational curriculum outside of a traditional classroom. It normally refers to a course, program or degree delivered completely online, rather than the classroom. It can cover everything from school curriculum, to business training and profession qualifications. It is NOT learning via a video, TV or DVD – although there are places for that. It can be pre-recorded, however there is always a teacher or professor interacting or communicating with you to guide and grade your participation, your assignments and your tests. The benefits of this are obvious – the ability to take the course from anywhere reduces time and costs in travel. It allows you to learn at your own pace – including evenings and weekends. The content delivery is consistent and can be easily repeated if needed to gain a better understanding.

In Malawi – one of the poorest countries in the world – UNICEF estimates that only 26% of boys and 16% of girls complete primary school. In secondary school, just 15% of boys and 7% of girls will complete all four years. Poverty and distances, prevent many children from attending classes, and even where schooling is available there is a severe shortage of eligible teachers and resources such as learning materials, adequate sanitation, and shelter. This is beyond sad, when one thinks of youngsters growing into adulthood and trying to better their lives.

The challenges in introducing eLearning are many. Infrastructure, such as power, restricts access to the majority of the rural people. High entry costs of computers and devices (although this is improving with cheaper smartphones available in the market), and the high cost of mobile and internet services – said to be one of the highest in the continent- also stifles this initiative. What is interesting as well, is that teachers and trainers in Africa are reluctant to use Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in schools and prefer to stick to the traditional ‘board and chalk method’ of tuition. 74% of those surveyed also said they were not provided with enough support to improve their digital literacy, while only 33% of primary school teachers said they had been properly taught digital skills.

Lack of space allows me to take this idea forward. Thinking out of the box with regard to our education budget needs to be the norm. More funding of essential services and the internet, mobile equipment and faculty skills building – and perhaps less funding on buildings may be the first step forward? We have all seen pictures of children being taught under trees for lack of facilities, and many of us will remember some years back, the sad deaths of school children when a tree they were being taught under fell on them. Well now – perhaps (with safety as a concern) – children learning under a tree, with mobile devices – may be a positive step forward?

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