Dr Bakary Diallo, 45, was born and raised in Senegal. Between 1987 and 1997, he worked as a teacher in Senegal before moving to Canada to pursue higher education at the University of Ottawa, Canada. His PhD thesis on Educational Management focused on integrating ICTs in higher education institutions. He joined the AVU in August 2005 but prior to that he served as an ICT consultant at the University of Ottawa.
African Virtual University www.avu.org
eLA: What is the African Virtual University and why was it established?
Bakary Diallo: The African Virtual University (AVU) is a pan-African intergovernmental organisation whose vision is to become the leading pan-African open distance and eLearning network. The AVU was created in 1997 by the World Bank. It was later transferred to the continent and its headquarters were established here in Nairobi in 2002. The AVU regional office is located in Dakar, Senegal, in West Africa and was opened in 2005. Our mission is to facilitate the use of effective Open Distance and eLearning (ODeL) methodologies in African tertiary education and training institutions.
eLA: Which countries do you cover?
Bakary Diallo: We have the largest open distance and eLearning network in Africa and operate in 27 countries across the continent. We have five countries that have signed the AVU Charter, including Kenya, Senegal, Mali, Mauritania and Cote d’Ivoire. We are very grateful to those governments. We have a diplomatic status here in Kenya and in Senegal. The AVU is now present in more than 50 universities.
eLA: What is your strength?
Bakary Diallo: It’s our ability to efficiently use the virtual facility to operate across borders and language groups in Africa. We are not only participating to increasing access to higher education, but also to foster regional integration.
eLA: What are the main activities of the AVU?
Bakary Diallo: The AVU has quite a number of activities. We have academic programmes, digital library, scholarships, digital education, capacity enhancement and gender mainstreaming programmes. We are also active in open educational resources as well as workshops and consulting services.
eLA: Could you highlight the main benefits of ICT to Africa’s institutions of higher education?
Bakary Diallo: I am very passionate to talk about this. If you compare the rate of enrolment for higher education, even primary and secondary school education in Africa to that of the United States, Europe or even India, Africa has the lowest rate of university graduates. If you carry out a survey, or if you look around you’ll find that one of the factors limiting access to higher education is the limited space in universities. Currently there are more students seeking university admissions than universities themselves are able to accommodate. ICT is therefore offering an alternative to delivering courses and this is a great opportunity for Africa and Africans to increase access to higher education. The advantage with the online courses is that students do not need to be in the classroom – it’s flexible and the content is readily available on the Internet. That way, students can visit the site at their own convenient time. It’s also affordable.
We wish to assure students that we offer quality programmes and that the certificates, diplomas and degrees are of the same value as those obtained through physical classrooms. ICT, if it is mainstreamed in institutions of higher learning, will help Africa to bridge the digital divide and catch up with the rest of the world. It will also help the continent to attain the UN Millennium Goals of providing free primary and secondary education for all.
eLA: What are the challenges facing African universities and other institutions of higher learning?
Bakary Diallo: That’s a good question. We have a few challenges, the first being infrastructure. Broadly speaking, if you compare the African continent to the others, you’ll realise that we have very poor infrastructure which is affecting access to the Internet, reliable power and other telecommunication services. In addition, most Africa universities have poor ICT and telecommunication policies, which make accessing higher education through Internet and other meansdifficult. We also face a problem of access to computers and other ICT materials. You know in Africa, most of our universities have limited budgets while the cost of computers and other equipment is expensive. Lack of human resources is another major limitation. We need skilled manpower within the university to develop and manage eLearning programmes, to put them online and do the follow up. These are just a few of the problems the AVU is experiencing – and which is actually hindering access to higher education in Africa.
eLA: How is your institution dealing with these challenges?
Bakary Diallo: The AVU has capacity enhancement programmes, and for example, last month (February) we organised two workshops in Dakar, Senegal. We had a total of 135 university staff coming from 24 universities across Anglophone, Francophone and Lusophone Africa in 17 countries. This programme falls within a broader project funded by the African Development Bank (AfDB) and UNDP Somalia. The project is being implemented in 10 countries and the components are capacity-enhancement and digital education programmes, and deployment of open distance and eLearning centres. We also have a gender mainstream component. All those components fall under the AfDB/UNDP multinational project. The 10 countries covered include Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Senegal, Madagascar, Mozambique, Somalia and Zambia. The Dakar event was the first launch ever of the AVU Capacity Enhancement Programme (ACEP) that provided high-quality training in the following fields of Open Distance and eLearning (ODeL): Material Development, Delivery and Technology and Governance, Management and Funding.
eLA: Could you please explain to us more about the Dakar workshops and expected outcomes?
Bakary Diallo: The aim of the workshops is to train those participants (six from each university) from various universities to have the skills in these three different areas (mentioned above). These first workshops provided the 135 participants with a detailed introduction to the ACEP programme, its delivery methodology and gave guidance towards designing participants’ institutional projects and case studies. The AVU provides all the necessary tools to facilitate participants’ work throughout the programme.
The workshops will be followed by a series of online training through the community of practice. This is the first training of its kind in Africa. Not only will there be learning…but there will be learning through sharing. Then at the end, after 12 months of online training, there will be the final workshop to evaluate the progress of the training. At present, each of the participants will be working on an institutional project during the 12 months’ duration. At the end of this, the AVU and its partner institutions will make sure that these institutional projects will be mainstreamed in the educational programmes.
And among these 17 countries, there are 10 that are participating in the Teacher Education Programme of the AVU Multinational Support Project. So, there is a link between the ACEP programme and the Teacher Education Programmes and the deployment of distance learning units in these universities. The AVU is providing what we call ODeL centres. The centres include computers, servers, the furniture, generators (power), VSAT to support connectivity and Internet connections for about two years. The AVU will support this for two years then the project will have to sustain itself. So the six participants that are trained at the ACEP workshops will be able to work within their universities because they will have the facilities. Moreover, we have the Teacher Education Programme within which we are developing different contents – about 73 online modules for the Bachelor of Education in Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Biology. This means there is a link between ACEP and those other programmes.
eLA: You mentioned working in war-torn Somalia?
Bakary Diallo: We are very active in Somalia. We work with seven universities there. We are making a difference in the lives of the Somalis in partnership with the UNDP. As I told you, the African Development Bank (ADB) is funding the AVU multinational project on the capacity-enhancement programme and gender mainstreaming as well as the deployment of the ODeL centres, and UNDP Somalia is funding part of that programme as well.
eLA: Who are some of your key partners?
Bakary Diallo: We have different types of partners. We have what we would call the funding partners, the World Bank who created the AVU in 1997, the African Development Bank (ADB), UNDP Somalia, Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Department for International Development (DfID), Australian Agency for International Development (AusAid) and the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa.
eLA: What do you make of the eLearning Africa conference?
Bakary Diallo: We are working in a very close partnership with eLearning Africa. Both the organisers of eLearning Africa and the AVU signed a Memorandum of Understanding in January 2008. Through the eLearning Africa strategic partnerships, we are working not just to organise events, but also on how to make a high impact on the continent. The (ICT) conference takes place for just three days, and the follow-up (of outcomes) is crucial for success. We are planning to attend the forthcoming ICT conference in Ghana in May. The AVU will make several presentations and conduct workshops.
eLA: What is your message to African governments, students and other institutions?
Bakary Diallo: I appeal to the African governments to sign the AVU Charter and to provide support to our activities. We are willing to work with the African governments and other pan-African organisations to help improve the lives of our citizens. The AVU is offering an expanded space for students to learn in a flexible way and they should appreciate and grab this opportunity!
eLA: Dr Diallo, many thanks for your time.