One of the most significant challenges facing education in West Africa is the region’s young, dynamic and fast growing population: Almost 70 percent of the estimated 230 million people in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are under the age of 35. The region is also saddled with a large proportion of disadvantaged or marginalised people in remote and/or deprived communities, including housewives, early school leavers and street children. Education is affected by a dilapidated, overstretched, overused and inadequate infrastructure. ECOWAS is addressing these issues through a pilot eLearning initiative and by sponsoring African participation at eLearning Africa in Tanzania.
Schools, institutions, universities and other educational facilities in West Africa tend to be located in a limited number of urban areas, and the capital cities suffer from inadequate or obsolete Information and Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructures.
In 2004, ECOWAS Ministers of Education ordered the ECOWAS Commission to establish an online distance education programme for the region using ICT in a bid to address these challenges.
In 2006 the President of the Commission set up the ECOWAS eLearning taskforce, which has produced a policy statement that now guides the Commission’s pilot eLearning initiative. The goal is to revolutionise education in West Africa as part of the institution’s all-round integration programme.
[callout title=ECOWAS in brief]“The Economic Community of West African States is a regional group of fifteen countries founded in 1975.
Its mission is to promote economic integration in “all fields of economic activity, particularly industry, transport, telecommunications, energy, agriculture, natural resources, commerce, monetary, financial, social and cultural matters.”[/callout]
The Commission has in fact made some progress in establishing eLearning and eServices centres in the region to provide eProducts and equip young people and other sections of the population with the requisite skills and tools.
The principal objective of the public-private ECOWAS eLearning initiative is to make education both more accessible and affordable to young people and the larger society, thereby creating flourishing ICT enterprises and making young people more employable, engaged and capable of realising their full potential.
The importance of education, eLearning and training as a means of providing skills, tackling ignorance and encouraging participation in the information society cannot be over-emphasized in terms of the aim of ECOWAS to encourage regional integration.
The eLearning initiative is only one element of ECOWAS’s strategy to put ICT at the top of its agenda and develop a technology-driven education system in the region.
ECOWAS also sponsors African participation at the eLearning Africa conference in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.