‘Scaling up’ has been a recurrent theme in discussions surrounding education and technology in recent years. The rise of the internet – and its attendant connectivity – is seen by many as representing a golden opportunity for the scaling up of educational projects in Africa. With its rapidly growing young population increasingly representing an ever greater demand for education, upscaling has indeed moved from being desirable to necessary.
By George Bodie
But what factors lead to a successful upscaling? Which programmes are suitable for it and which are not? And how can we upscale without losing quality? These were the key questions asked at the ‘Scaling Up Business Education’ session held at eLearning Africa 2015, hosted by the Global Business School Network. The session focused on the discipline of business – one of Africa’s most popular fields of education.
The session saw three leaders in this field tackle these questions. Jonathan Cook, the chairman of the African Management Initiative (AMI) and a faculty member of the University of Pretoria; Peter Bamkole, the Director for the Enterprise Development Centre at the Pan-Atlantic University; and Vyv Pettler of the Open University, whose research interests include international student learning, strategy implementation and change management. Guy Pfeffermann, founder and CEO of the Global Business School Network and former Chief Economist of the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation chaired.
Pfefferman, who has published numerous academic studies, set out the historical context in his introduction. According to him, the history of humankind since the Stone Age has seen all but two or three radical changes in the way in which knowledge is spread. The first was the invention of print, the second was radio and television, and the third, which we are experiencing now, is the invention of the internet and mobile phones. Pfeffermann says the latter, and in particular mobile phones have revolutionised everyday life in Africa more than any other.
Despite the required material and technological basis existing, Pfeffermann noted that the vast majority of Africans still remain without access to a good education. Access to entrepreneurship and business education could be extremely useful for Africans, many of whom are self-employed, and could create desperately needed jobs. But how can the upscaling required for this happen? For Peter Bamkole, this was also the key question. Over the past 10 years, Bamkole’s Enterprise Development Center at the Pan-Atlantic University in Nigeria has trained 2,500 entrepreneurs. This is an impressive feat, but, according to Bamkole, it is not enough in the context of a nation of 170 million people with more than 17 million small enterprises.
Bamkole highlighted that the traditional way can no longer serve Africa’s needs. There are today more learners than ever before, and furthermore the learners themselves have changed. Learners today want immediate results and are becoming the ones who define the tools. Solutions lie with them, not teachers, and thus upscaling requires teachers to assume the role of a conductor who manages talent toward achieving particular goals. According to Bamkole, successful upscaling can use social media to network on an incremental basis – the key is to begin where people are comfortable, in small groups of 10-15, followed by ‘meta’ networking of up to 500 people at a time. The Enterprise Development Centre has begun to implement small clusters across Nigeria along these lines.
Vyv Pettler echoed Bamkole’s thoughts on the changing role of the teacher, claiming that this role is being shifted by new technologies – as students bring their own devices to the classroom, teachers are no longer the providers of resources and knowledge but rather the managers of technology and networked learners. Pettler is based at the Open University, an institution that has been pioneer of open, blended learning, and one which provides access to all as a core social mission. As such, Open University projects must all be delivered at a large scale. She explained how it has engaged in numerous development projects in Africa, such as the TESSA project, a research and development initiative creating open educational resources (OERs) and course design guidance for teachers and teacher educators working in Sub-Saharan African countries. According to Pettler, the co-creation of resources is key for projects such as this, which means choosing the right local partners.
For Jonathan Cook, the key to upscaling is the facilitation of learning. The African Management Initiative (AMI), which he chairs, follows many of the principles Bamkole outlined. Using peer support, learning communities and tool driven content, the AMI is also focussing on automated learning and processes. Automation, which remains interactive and responsive to learners needs, is a vital component of upscaling, enabling content to be delivered to increasingly greater numbers of students.
Cook, however, ended with a word of warning. If learning is only useful – “if it leads to behavioural change” – it may be time to stop thinking about education in terms of an educational/learning framework and start thinking about it from a more behavioural point of view. Changing views in this way can be hard, because it is difficult for those inside a discipline to bring it to a shift in paradigms. Often, ideas that cause qualitative shifts in framing and conceptualising any given discipline have to come from an outside voice. “The last one to see the sea is the fish, because he is in it,” Cook concluded.