Field Stories

Shaping an approach to eLearning

Rusinga_Island-1There’s a secondary school in Mauta Village – a small town on Mfangano Island in Lake Victoria, Kenya. When the school first opened, it had no electricity or running water. It was far removed from any developed cities, and most of the children there grew up to become local fishermen. It was a poverty maintenance cycle. Over the years, there were pleas from the villagers to break this cycle. They didn’t want their children to continue living in poverty, working in the local fishing industry. They wanted them to be educated, employable and to contribute to the local community to help break them out of the cycle.

Mark East, General Manager of Global Sales and Operations, Microsoft

This is a familiar tale in many African villages, towns and countries today. People are becoming conscious of globalisation and they want to be adequately prepared to compete on the world stage. In the 21st Century, this means becoming digitally literate.

The work place is becoming increasingly digital, and knowing how to use technology to find, organise, understand, analyse and create information is a critical skill. As more information is created and shared, Cloud Computing is becoming ever more important. According to IDC, by 2015 seven million new Cloud-related jobs will be created. These jobs will grow 24% year-on-year, making Cloud Computing the fastest growing segment within IT. However, there are currently very few candidates to fill these roles. But this can change, and it can change through eLearning.

eLearning is a growing education trend in Africa. When the concept was first introduced, it wasn’t always approached in the right way. Governments and education institutions thought it was enough to just provide access to technology. But computers and software, on their own, are not a remedy to the lack of education and the provision of employability skills. Knowing how to effectively and efficiently use them is what helps students develop, sustain and enhance the skills they need.

Africa is now, however, in an exciting place where we have realised that combining access with training is key to the success of eLearning. Governments and companies understand this and, together, are forming multiple public-private partnerships that are creating more of an enabling environment for ICT in education. There are programs improving access by providing new devices, recycling old devices and even using virtualisation technology – which allows students to work off older technology, but still enjoy the benefits of the latest software and services. There are then programs improving training, through online learning platforms. Countries such as Rwanda and Kenya are leading the way here. To make their students eligible for the global job market, the President of Rwanda is employing digital means to strengthen his students’ English language skills. Several Rwandan schools are now working with Languagenut, an online language-learning platform based in the UK. The benefit of Languagenut is that, because it is tech-based and there is a shortage of teachers in the region, self-learning can take place.

There are also more online teacher training courses being developed, to guide teachers on how best to use and integrate ICT in the classroom and prepare their students for the global workforce. Of course, online programmes like these are only effective if students and teachers have permanent access to electricity and broadband. According to a UNESCO study, only 7% of households in Africa are connected to the internet, as opposed to 77% in Europe. However, through various innovations, including 4Afrika’s solar-powered TV white spaces, we’re on track to bringing this broadband access to local communities.

eLearning has come a long way in Africa. During last year’s eLearning conference, ICT use in education was, in fact, ranked as the top technology priority. In only one year’s time, 25% of the world’s workforce will be in Africa. We have a responsibility to prepare our youth. eLearning is essential, because the benefits are two-fold. Firstly, through technology, students have more access to learning opportunities. Secondly, whilst accessing these opportunities, they are mastering the technology and becoming digitally literate.

There are still many challenges, frameworks and policies hindering a full adoption of eLearning. However, it’s important for us to always remember that human capital is our biggest asset. Education is the biggest investment we can make in tackling youth unemployment and developing a knowledge economy. Since the Mauta Village school opened, organisations have collaborated to bring science labs, electricity, medical care and financial assistance to the school. And for the first time, one of the students gained admission to university and is studying to be a teacher, not a fisherman. It is stories like these that will take eLearning in Africa to where it needs to be.

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