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e-Learning in Africa: we still have a long way to go

by Ruth Aine - 16 June 2014

elearningELearning is being praised and hyped by so many people. It is great because it can happen just about anywhere. All that is needed is a computer and access to the Internet. The eLearning enthusiasts say that in the long run it is also very important, especially in the Internet, technology-driven world we live in. But I am skeptical to accept that we live in a technology world, especially in relation to Africa.

I own a computer that I bought about two years ago. The other one I used was bought for me by my parents. My father, despite acknowledging the importance of a computer, can still not operate one. He does not know where to go to check his emails. He is a teacher and has been one most of his life. My mother, a teacher turned administrator, is better than my father. She owns her own laptop and is very good at using it, though I find it extremely slow when I use it. She uses it more for her work than for anything else.

There are more well-to-do families on this continent and no, I am not using mine as a yardstick, but eLearning has more challenges than solutions for Africa. Education on the continent is not up to the standard. According to UNESCO, Sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia have the highest rates of early school leaving. Across these regions, more than one in every three students who started primary school in 2011 will not make it to the last grade. Progress has slowed mainly because the number of out-of-school children in sub-Saharan Africa has remained at about 30 million over the last five years. This means that more than 50% of the world’s out-of-school children live in sub-Saharan Africa. More than one in five (22%) primary school-age children in the region have either never attended school or left before completing primary school. The region is not able to keep up with the rising demand for education from its growing school-age population. In 2011, there were 32 million more children of primary school age compared to 2000.

These children are not leaving school at an early age because they want to. For most, poverty is the reason. Their parents are not able to come up with school fees in time and so they leave school. For others it is because school is not that interesting, they would rather be herding sheep and cattle all day than sitting in a classroom looking at a blackboard and listening to a teacher. Our education systems are theoretical more than they are practical. So how can we bring ICTs into this picture, unless we first address the fundamentals that are dragging our education system down? That, for me, is where we should be starting. Re-organize the education curriculum and system. Make education a priority in our governments and then we can start to hype eLearning.

There is no doubt that when you educate a child, you are investing in their lives and in generations to come. But we do not see that yet. Our governments are more concerned with winning the next election and for the most part that is what it is about.

In 1992 in Uganda, one of the outcomes of the Government White Paper of 1992 was the development of a new curriculum in primary schools, which was subsequently put into practice in two parts; once in 2000 and again in 2002. The main focus of this reform was to include vocational subjects in the curriculum, and also implement a new language policy, recommending the use of local languages in the lower primary grades. Years down the road we have a report by a special curriculum task force that notes that there are still issues. The overall performance of learners at primary level had not improved significantly over the time period under consideration. In rural areas and outside of the capital Kampala, literacy and language levels were unacceptably low, leading to poor performance across all subjects. That is the status quo.

From the few interactions that I have had, the universities do not have resources. They could be the champions of eLearning, but for those that are interested there are no resources to drive these initiatives.

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, after attaining power, promised laptops to school going children. We are yet to hear about the implementation of that project. Rwanda, at the moment, is the only country I know of that has access to ICT infrastructure in the majority of its schools. There is access to the Internet almost everywhere. The Rwandan example shows that policy drives most of these initiatives. If our governments do not push towards these changes, then they will not happen.

Most Sub-Saharan African countries will not get education right by 2015. That Millennium development goal will therefore not be achieved by many. UNESCO also says that aid to basic education is decreasing and that even the little that is available do not reach those that are in need. So before we get ahead of ourselves with enhancing education on the continent, we need to look at basics first. When we get that right for the future, then we would have answered the most important questions.

Photo credit : http://www.twentymillionreasons.com/


Ruth Aine Tindyebwa
Blogger/Online Communications

Read her personal blog; IN DEPTH which is at www.ruthaine.com

Read more about the author and her view on being a futurist.



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