Field Stories

From the African Continent

Africa never stops changing. Since the Namibia edition of eLearning Africa in May, we’ve been keeping our eyes peeled for fresh developments on the Continent. And what a few months it’s been: Africa seems more buoyant than ever, with new eLearning projects blossoming everywhere. International interest in Africa is also growing – the Obamas visited Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa at the end of June, with the first lady placing a special emphasis on education, and China and Brazil are becoming big players on the scene. Here’s a round-up of just a few things that have happened while the News Service has been on hiatus.

By Alasdair MacKinnon

Innovation and change

It is certainly an exciting time for eLearning in Africa: with the world’s fastest-growing mobile market, the Continent is reaping the rewards of connectivity, and looking to the future in establishing new projects and initiatives to expand education by technological means.

Kenya, at the forefront of the digital revolution in Africa, has always been a hotbed of innovative ideas in eLearning, recently setting up 18 computer hubs for primary schools – a small project so far, but a sigh of things to come.

Since April, the African Management Initiative has been developing what they claim is the first MOOCdesigned by Africans, for Africans. This development is an important one: for, as eLearning Africa 2013 keynote Donald Clark has pointed out, Africa needs to be both “a producer and a consumer of MOOCs”.

These are just some signs of the optimism that is swelling in many African countries. In Zimbabwe, the literature bureau has been re-opened, supporting indigenous languages and the creation of pan-African content. In South Africa, Gauteng province has unveiled a far-ranging ICT programme for its 2,200 schools, providing uncapped Wi-Fi and 88,000 tablets.

Infrastructure is still a key issue in education – and in more ways than before. It’s not just about providing connectivity for education access; it’s about opening borders for African trade and idea exchange, breaking down internal divisions. These will be big themes at eLearning Africa 2014. Large-scale projects such as the Mombasa-Kigali and Niger-Côte d’Ivoire railways can only have a beneficial effect.

Baboon Railways

Terror and uncertainty

Despite this evidence of huge progress in education, more troubling news has emerged over the last few months in the Sahel. This semi-arid agricultural band is under constant threat of drought and desertification, and has become in many places a stronghold of extremism – groups such as Al Shabab in Somalia, Ansar Dine in Mali, and Boko Haram.

Boko Haram, whose Hausa name translates as “Western education is sinful”, has perpetrated many brazen atrocities against schools and colleges over the course of its insurgency in northern Nigeria. In the most recent tragedy, at the end of September, up to 50 students were shot dead while they slept in a dormitory of the College of Agriculture, in Yobe state.

Long-term solutions proposed to the problem of terrorism in the Sahel have begun concentrating on addressing the pressure of poverty and chronic food shortages that drive some young people towards extremism.

This August, 187 students, predominantly Somalis, in the Dadaab refugee camps of Kenya began to study under the Borderless Higher Education for Refugees (BHER) programme, which aims to inspire young Somalis to create opportunities for themselves and others.

And across the Sahel, the problem of insecurity is being addressed at a more fundamental level: the “Great Green Wall”, a replanting project, seeks to plant acacias from Senegal to Djibouti. This vast project has been a dream since the 1980s, when Yacouba Sawadogo began to teach his reforestation techniques to fellow Burkinabè.


Criticism and challenges

Education in Africa still faces many challenges. In South Africa, a report published in August by the Council on Higher Education highlighted the worrying on-going effects of the apartheid era: white students’ higher education completion rates are 50% higher than those of black students’.

Education also came under fire from apartheid-era foreign minister Pik Botha, whose unsubstantiated claim that South African education is “the worst in Africa” caused a stir in September. While dismissed as an embittered political swipe, this remark has prompted a discussion of a system which, in reality, does need a lot of improvement – consistently scoring in literacy and access rates below such countries as Kenya and Swaziland, which spend a much lower proportion of their budgets on education.

A turbulent past can leave a mark that is hard to erase. Liberia’s ex-president Charles Taylor was sentenced to imprisonment for war crimes on 30th May this year; but the country itself is still recovering from the civil wars of the nineties.

This August, Liberia’s education minister was shocked by the news that every single student applying for admission at the University of Liberia had failed the entrance exam – a sign of the lingering effects of over a decade of disruption.

Meanwhile, in Tunisia, school dropout rates have increased by 30% since the revolution – a worrying trend that has been met by a swift government response.

Nevertheless, these are challenges and criticisms that Africans can overcome. In Mali, recently freed from civil war and extremist oppression, international support is helping to rebuild the country. Morocco has signed an agreement to train 500 of the country’s imams – in an attempt to counter the fundamentalism of the recently expelled invaders.

And in Libya, the government has gone against the wishes of many citizens by refusing to segregate education – a costly measure which would cause huge damage in the North African state, where most teachers are female, and money is lacking to convert educational institutions.


and in other news…

The people of Burundi typically say they would like to have four children. But a lack of education, taboos and misconceptions all contribute to the landlocked country having the seventh-highest birth-rate in the world. How to provide accessible, engaging family planning advice to all Burundians? A US group, the Segal Family Foundation, thinks it has the answer: it is taking to the airwaves to deliver a radio soap-opera full of passion, jealousy, betrayal – and accurate information about HIV/AIDS, contraception and childhood diseases.

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