by Sheila Jagannathan, Lead Learning Specialist, World Bank
Rwanda’s progress from the devastating civil war two decades ago to one of the most rapidly developing African countries is a remarkable narrative on development. Twenty-four years ago, the country was torn apart by civil war and one of the worst genocides human history has known; one in which more than a million people were killed in only three months. Now, with years of sustained economic growth (predicted to be around 6.5 per cent this year), the country is well on the way to achieving many of the ambitious development goals set out in the Rwandan Government’s ‘Vision 2020.’ This vision seeks to move the economy away from a low-income, agriculture base to building a service-oriented, knowledge-based economy with middle-income status in the near term
I had the privilege of getting a snapshot view of Rwanda’s success during the few days I spent in the country last week attending the eLearning Africa 2018 conference held in the magnificent new Kigali Convention Centre. eLearning Africa (is the continent’s largest conference on technology-assisted learning and training and is very relevant to the Rwandan narrative because education and skills development has been at the heart of the country’s development strategy. The choice of Kigali as the location for this year’s eLearning Africa, therefore recognized both the determination with which Rwandans have set about transforming their country through human capital formation, as an example to the rest of Africa (President, Paul Kagame holds the Chairmanship of the African Union this year).
The theme of this year’s eLearning Africa was ‘Uniting Africa’, and much of the discussions during the Conference centered around how to overcome barriers and improve cooperation to support African countries meet the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs). Africa is projected to double its youth population between 2017 and 2050 to close to a billion persons, while the rest of the world experiences declines. The question of how to cost-effectively build the youths’ skills to access jobs during the ongoing fourth industrial revolution therefore remains a primary policy challenge. This is key to achieve the African Union’s vision of a “transformed continent,” as outlined in its 2063 Agenda, into a reality. The Conference themes focused on the role digital education could play in addressing these unique African development challenges, aimed to accelerate growth and reduce poverty. Currently many of the core skills required to access jobs in the modern industrial and services sectors are missing in many African countries already witnessing massive investments in resource extraction, infrastructure development and other lucrative businesses. While the educational system in the countries are in a position to improve the quality of instruction through digital access, tomorrow’s digital entrepreneurs could be nurtured by various high quality e-learning products available through both open access, virtual platforms like the Edx, Coursera, FutureLearn, WB’s Open Learning Campus with accreditation to top universities of the world.
On the positive side is the expected availability of the mobile internet in practically all parts of the continent within a few years’ time. The McKinsey Global Institute projects that by 2025, Internet penetration will rise to 50 percent (600 million users) and smartphones will increase six-fold. This will transform the way all Africans can access quality education, skills building and training. The Conference was therefore a timely opportunity to take stock of today’s situation and plan ahead to see how can ICT and education help to ensure that the Africa of tomorrow is truly inclusive, so that every citizen has a stake in the future of the world’s most exciting continent.
Margot Brown, WB’s Director of Knowledge Management, shared several of the important initiatives, which the WBG has undertaken and supported in the knowledge and learning space relevant to Africa. I also spoke on our experiences developing Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs), which have attracted considerable participation from African youths seeking to enter the job market. Based on the feedback we received there was a lot of interest and goodwill among participants to collaborate with the World Bank Group to promote eLearning as an important vehicle to ‘Uniting Africa’.
Speaking for myself, since the first e-Learning Africa Conference, I have seen how the spread of new forms of technology assisted learning along with innovative pedagogies are making a real difference in the lives of many ordinary Africans. In the agriculture sector, for example, where women comprise over 70 per cent of the workforce, mobile phones have made an enormous contribution to the spread of training and information about better forms of crop management and animal husbandry, resulting in significantly improved yields in many parts of Africa. Other traditional forms of communication, such as radio, have also been very successful. Farm Radio International, for example, works with 650 radio partners in 40 sub-Saharan countries to provide high quality radio programs, which are heard by millions of small-scale African farmers and the knowledge gained is applied to improve farming practices. The recently launched ‘Her Farm Radio,’ which provides support for local radio programs, targets women with the support they need to improve farm productivity and boost incomes.
Nelson Mandela famously said that education is “the key to everything.” Among Conference participants there was not only full agreement with Madiba’s view, but also a serious exploration of how through digital learning Africa’s transformational efforts at eradicating poverty and sharing prosperity can be accelerated.