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Back to Benin: A look back at eLearning Africa 2012

With preparations for eLearning Africa 2013 in Windhoek, Namibia underway, we are taking a brief pause to look back at the conference held in May of this year. Each year, the conference relocates to a different African country, reflecting the desire to engage the whole continent in debate and discussion about how to support and improve the education process through technologies – this year was no exception. Hosted by the Government of Benin in their capital city, Cotonou, the conference was attended by nearly 1500 participants from 69 countries. The overall theme “eLearning and Sustainability” kept the focus primarily on how best to introduce ICTs to enhance education, and in addition to this, how to ensure long-term and sustained educational benefits for the whole continent.

By Christopher Bland

The eLearning Africa 2012 Report, a compilation of data collected from more than 500 survey respondents and opinion pieces produced by notable commentators and experts, was launched in the official opening of the conference. The Report highlighted the need for sustainability in the region and directly addressed the major limiting factors that constrain progress and human development in Africa, such as poor bandwidth, lack of human resource capacity and limited electricity supply. Though important, these were not the only dialogues that took place at the conference. A hot topic was the influence of externally developed technologies on learning in Africa. An agreement was reached that if eLearning in Africa is to grow, a great deal of importance has to be placed on initiatives from within; relying on external innovation and support is not sustainable. In addition to this, the importance of making technologies more effective and appropriate through the integration of local content and indigenous African languages was underlined.

Another matter of great concern was the need to address the growing electronic waste, partly influenced by the surge in technology consumption in Africa, but most of all due to the disposal of outdated equipment from technology producing countries such as the US, Europe, China and India. It was noted that the education sector is among the highest producers of e-waste in some African countries. This concern is reinforced by the absence of strategies to re-use and recycle used equipment and dispose of electronic waste in responsible ways. Part of this concern relates to second hand electronic goods produced elsewhere which are exported to Africa without clear strategies for their re-use and disposal. How to address this concern was debated at a special focus session on responsible e-waste management. Here the good practice case presented by the Kenyan government’s approach to responsible e-waste management featured prominently.

Joining the attendees of eLearning Africa were high-ranking figures from around Africa, including the Ministers of Education and ICT from Benin, Cameroon, Kenya, Namibia, Niger and Uganda, as well as representatives of Ministers of Education from Burkina Faso and Tanzania and representatives of Ivory Coast’s Ministry of Post and Telecommunications. They came together with leading experts in the eLearning field at a Ministerial Round Table (MRT) to talk about Education and Sustainable Financing, noting that enrolment in education has expanded exponentially in Africa over the last part of the 20th Century and the beginning of the 21st. At the same time, there has been a drop in average public expenditure on higher education. Many solutions for resolving this problem were put forward: dual-track tuition policies, the importance of shifting away from dependency on international donations, charging fees for professional programmes at public universities, utilising the resources of the African diaspora, using ICT (in particular mobile technology) to increase affordable access to educational resources and not taxing the import of educational ICT products. As a result of the MRT, many practical ideas were brought back and have hopefully been implemented in the ministers’ respective countries.

Shortly after eLearning Africa 2012, the main campus of the National University of Benin, the University of Abomey-Calavi, was equipped with broadband WiFi. The Honorable Max Ahouèkè, the Minister of Communication and Information and Communication Technologies for Benin, who also opened eLearning Africa 2012, officially launched the wireless network at the campus. Access to 20Mbps broadband Internet means students, faculty staff and researchers will not only have access to a much broader range of resources, but will also be able to communicate, exchange and disseminate ideas more easily than ever before. This new WiFi Internet coverage is part of a push to boost the universities’ infrastructure and allow students and staff to move forward within a sustainable framework, through which they can improve their future prospects.

eLearning Africa 2012 examined what sustainability means to the future of African education; if you want to explore any of the highlights of the conference, finding information about eLearning Africa 2012 couldn’t be easier: our Media Library is a trove of publicly available resources. You can look through the gallery of photos, watch the highlights video, or read through the publications around the conference, including The eLearning Africa 2012 Report, the book of abstracts, a survey of eLearning in Africa; additionally you can browse the post-conference report, which contains all the vital conference information, including: statistics on attendees, feedback and reports on the sessions.

The aim of eLearning Africa is to develop ongoing dialogue to find appropriate solutions to diverse educational challenges in Africa. You can participate in the discussion through a variety of online platforms: you can join our Facebook group with almost 3000 members or like our Facebook page, you can follow us on Twitter (@eLAconference), staying in the loop with the hashtag #eLA13, and you can join our LinkedIn group. All of these platforms have been set up with the goal of supporting and furthering debate and discussion about eLearning in Africa. We hope to hear from you soon!

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