Every year, eLearning Africa scholarships assist a selection of underprivileged students and practitioners to attend the Continent’s leading conference on ICT, education and training. This investment in African education is dwindling due to the present economic environment, but each donation makes a difference! The eLearning Africa News Service spoke to four scholarship winners and learnt about how they have used their eLearning Africa experiences to enrich others.
“Innovation. Opportunities. Partnerships.” This is how Aftar Morou Toure of Togo describes the eLearning Africa experience. He should know, for in 2009 when he was still studying towards his Master’s Degree in Economics and Information Technology at the University of Lomé in Togo, he won a scholarship to attend eLearning Africa 2009 which took place in Dakar, Senegal, and there has been no looking back since.
Taking part in eLearning Africa is an eye-opening experience: The conference is the continent’s largest annual gathering of top-level policy makers, decision makers and ICT practitioners from government, education and business. The conference also draws practitioners and students with a passion for incorporating ICT into education and training practices. Every year, a few outstanding individuals who are otherwise unable to meet the cost of travel to the host country are awarded scholarships by eLearning Africa. Extending this privilege to even more people this year will depend on how much money is raised.
“Had I not won the scholarship to attend eLearning Africa, I would have missed out on the opportunity to learn how to use ICTs to empower and transform society,” says Toure. “I am currently undertaking an internship at the Centre d’analyse stratégique in Paris, whilst simultaneously trying to launch three projects in Lomé: a virtual university, a professional eLearning centre, and if I can just get some government support, I wish to bring eLearning Africa to Togo!” Toure is not discouraged by his struggle to get support for these projects and feels that the contacts he made at eLearning Africa are indispensible as he plots the implementation phase. “My experience at eLearning Africa changed the course of my life, and I would unreservedly encourage organisations and individuals to support the scholarship fund.”
Toure’s is but one of a host of heart-warming success stories associated with the winners of the annual scholarships. Another scholarship beneficiary who has gone on to blaze new ICT trails is Hago Dafalla of Sudan. When the eLearning Africa News Service contacted him for a catch up conversation, Dafalla was in faraway San José, Costa Rica, attending the ICANN meeting and having a say in the ongoing Internet protocol address discussions. Set in a country newly emerging from decades of conflict, Dafalla’s journey has not been easy. Winning a scholarship to attend eLearning Africa in Dar es Salaam last year was a thrilling experience since he was thirsty for knowledge and ideas on how to implement eLearning practices in his lecturing post at the Open University of Sudan. “My participation in eLearning Africa gave me the self-confidence to break through the barriers that exist in the Sudanese mindset and to find ways to allay the fear and distrust that people have for these modern educational practices.”
Dafalla feels strongly that more people should contribute to the scholarship fund because eLearning is one of the answers to the continent’s educational problems. “Across Africa, you have governments unwilling or unable to provide teachers and classrooms for all, and thus eLearning is one way to educate the continent at a fraction of the cost. Education is a right that is being denied to many, yet we ought to have learning for all.” In his own line of work, Dafalla has found the lack of financial resources challenging, but participating in online conferences, forums and discussion groups keeps him up-to-date on developments in his fields of expertise: engineering and IT. But one needs the knowledge and wisdom to use online teaching resources effectively, and this is where the information he garnered at eLearning Africa 2011 comes in.
As much as eLearning Africa is about knowledge exchange, one must not overlook the networking opportunities that many thousands have taken advantage of over the years. Lagos-based Doris Anusi who won eLearning Africa scholarships in 2007, 2008 and 2011 has made the most of the contacts she secured at the conference. Anusi now works for the Society for Promotion of Education and Development (SPED), an NGO which provides ICT tools to underprivileged school children. When she made her eLearning Africa début back in 2007, Anusi was an unsalaried Programme Officer at the Women Education and Monitoring Resources Centre (WEMOREC). She says, “My participation in eLearning Africa gave me the opportunity to meet with experts and donors such as Gerald Ingersoll of New Brunswick Community College in Canada. We continued our discussion long after the conference and developed a partnership whereby they supply us with laptops for the youths in one of our leadership programmes. That all emanated from my first participation in eLearning Africa.”
The information on ICT-enhanced education and training that is shared at eLearning Africa is vital to the Continent’s development, explains Anusi. “I would encourage organisations and individuals to chip in and support the scholarship fund because many people in Sub-Saharan Africa are so poverty-stricken that they do not have the means to attend the conference, even if they have the will. Looking back to where I started, it is hard to believe the transformation. With the knowledge and skills I took away from my eLearning Africa experiences, I have initiated a series of training courses for teachers working in early childcare centres.” The ICT @ AN EARLY AGE project which was launched in 2009 is training 160 teachers who will ultimately pass on much-needed ICT skills to at least 2400 pre-schoolers. “It’s the tip of the iceberg,” says Anusi, considering that there are more than twenty million pre-school aged children in Nigeria. But she has been determined to make her mark ever since she reaped the rewards of her eLearning Africa scholarships, and the knowledge she gained is knowledge to be shared.
The drive to go on to tackle major eLearning projects seems to be common to the eLearning scholarship winners. While eLearning Africa is without a doubt an enjoyable experience with many light-hearted moments, the winners we spoke to show an eagerness to learn which indicated that the knowledge, information and skills on offer at eLearning Africa are a major draw card for those who have education on their agenda. Gerard Rwagasana of Rwanda has attended all six eLearning Africa conferences and proudly explains that apart from his satisfaction at his own personal growth, he is happy to have accumulated enough know-how to train academic staff at the National University of Rwanda where he served as Director of the Centre for Instructional Technology in charge of introducing eLearning and blended learning. He was also the Director of the African Virtual University’s Learning Centre, a role which enabled him to share his passion for Open Educational Resources and Wiki-Education and their role in eLearning activities.
“There is no question that Africa’s eLearning practitioners need to present their research findings to the Continent’s eLearning community. However, some organisations are unable to shoulder the costs of travel and accommodation or they simply do not understand the importance of incorporating eLearning practices into education and training for their country’s development. So the scholarship programme does a great service for those who are determined to learn whilst establishing useful contacts.”
Rwagasana now works as an independent researcher and ICT consultant in education. His current project looks at the impact of OERs and eLearning on access and quality in higher learning institutions in Africa. “I have launched the ICTEDU Learning Centre which affords tertiary education and further professional development to the disabled, those in isolated rural areas and others who are unable to attend traditional universities for various social and economic reasons.”
Managing the centre is not without its difficulties since high equipment costs, poor Internet connectivity and inadequate infrastructure are daily challenges. However, Rwagasana is dedicated to the project and says that staying informed and remaining involved in the national, African and international eLearning dialogue is mandatory in surmounting the challenges of using ICT for development.
As we count down to the next conference in Cotonou, it’s important to take stock of the immeasurable value that the eLearning Africa scholarships have already added to education and training practices across the Continent. Donating to the fund will allow even more gifted practitioners to benefit from the rich discourse that defines eLearning Africa. It is a helping hand to capable people who will deliver results. It is a pledge for progress.