M-learning, online education, e-learning courses and other aspects of edtech have the potential to enhance education provision in Africa in numerous ways.
From raising literacy levels in poor rural areas where education infrastructure is lacking, to complementing the existing courses at Africa’s top universities, remote learning using educational technology is flexible and versatile.
Affordable internet access is improving in Africa, and the time is right for Africans to seize this opportunity to improve education across the continent.
Internet access in Africa varies from country to country, with the percentage of internet users in a given country’s population in some areas of sub-Sahara Africa falling well below half.
In South Sudan, for example, statistics show that by the end of June 2016 there were just under 2,180,000 internet users for a population that exceeded 12,500,000 people. That means that only around a fifth of the South Sudanese population uses the internet.
In more advanced, urbanised South Africa, however, we can see that in the same period, out of a population of just over 54,300,000 people, close to two thirds (28,580,000 rounded down) have internet access.
Even from these two examples it is clear that internet access levels in Africa vary widely from country to country, and thus that edtech solutions and online courses ought to be tailored in a way that reflects that.
One thing, however, is pretty much consistent throughout the continent, and that is the fact that affordable internet access is improving.
Recent Groupe Spéciale Mobile Association (GSMA) statistics show that the mobile industry alone will account for 8.6 percent of Africa’s GDP by 2020, which bodes very well for the emergence and uptake of new m-learning technologies and online education in general.
Though in 2011 just 6 percent of the world’s internet users were African, according to the World Bank, that percentage may well reach double figures by the end of the decade.
Opportunities and challenges for mobile learning
One of the key reasons why internet access is so low in sub-Saharan Africa is the fact that electricity infrastructure is very underdeveloped.
The UK government’s Department for International Development (DfID) recently reported that only around a third of people in sub-Saharan Africa have access to grid electricity.
Thus, it is clear that in sub-Saharan Africa in particular, substantial developments need to be completed to ensure that the basic infrastructure is in place so that mobile and online educational opportunities can reach the entirety of the population.
The Department for International Development reports that, when it comes to Africa, excluding sub-Saharan Africa, access to affordable and modern energy for all is a goal that can be realised by 2030.
However, sub-Saharan Africa is projected to lag 50 years behind the north of the continent and to receive such infrastructure only by 2080.
Simultaneously, however, it is also the case that young Africans are some of the world’s most innovative and aware smartphone users. This is especially the case in urban areas of countries such as Ghana, where excellent telecommunications networks are matched with an entrepreneurial spirit.
A model for implementing online education in Africa
A recent paper by Marfo and Okine (2010) shows that 98.35 percent of people at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana agreed that e-learning would improve their university experience.
Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology is a great case study in this particular context because it illustrates how e-learning technology can be implemented in a variety of ways.
The online platform Moodle was used, for instance, to collect together resources for class and to allow staff to send students group emails and announcements.
Plans are being made to develop courses that can be delivered remotely, thus enabling students (including poor students who are let down by inadequate or expensive transport infrastructure and differently-abled students who are not always well catered for in the classroom) to all access education equally.
Another example of mobile learning and online education in Africa is the explosion of language diplomas that are being offered in Nigeria. The Africa’s most populous nation, students can, via mobile learning, study, be tested, and receive their diplomas entirely online.
There is an increasing amount of local and regional companies which provide products and materials for online courses and exam preparations, the classical fields of m-learning.
Mobile learning, online courses and other edtech and e-learning technologies can be used in varying ways in Africa.
Many commentators see it as a viable solution to low literacy levels in rural neighbourhoods, for example, where poor transport and the lack of primary and secondary education infrastructure makes it hard for people to get to school.
However, e-learning materials can only be accessed in these communities if both grid electricity provision and mobile phone network coverage are improved.
Another way that e-learning, including m-learning, can be implemented in Africa is by integrating it with existing tertiary education structures.
As the Ghanaian case study shows, staff and students alike find that e-learning platforms such as Moodle have definitely enhanced their teaching and learning experience.
This online education model can easily be extended to incorporate more m-learning too. In short, it can be said that online courses delivered by mobile learning have a bright future in Africa.
By Jens Ischebeck, www.apps-for-learning.com
Your e-learning and online courses specialist.
For more information about this important and exciting educational market, visit Jens Ischebeck’s apps-for-learning.com site. Alternatively, if you wish, contact him directly via Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter or Google+.
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