The Ebola crisis in West Africa exposed the overwhelming need for trained healthcare professionals. But as many educational institutions are already stretched to their capacities, more and more eLearning modules are being developed to train much-needed nurses, midwives and other health workers outside the classroom.
by Mark Calder
As these solutions are proving successful, various new programmes – such as the ChildFund International distance education model for nurses – are emerging throughout the Continent. Established around a year ago, the project, named the Zambia Nurse and Life Skills Training Program, is expected to train 6,000 young people as nurses and midwives over the next five years through eLearning; doubling the number of nurses currently coming out of the country’s nursing schools.
Projects such as this are created with the aim to be replicated throughout other areas. Therefore, it’s important for health providers and educators to have the opportunity to share knowledge and best practices. EAST, the eLearning Africa Supporting Transformation trust, is doing just that through its ‘Health Ambassador Programme’.
The trust sponsors ‘low-income ICT changemakers’ to attend the annual eLearning Africa Conference, which will this year be held in Ethiopia from May 20 – 22, to give them the opportunity to take part in a training and mentorship programme and work with other health professionals from throughout Africa to develop eLearning action plans for their specific regions.
One beneficiary of EAST 2014 was Lambert Mugabo, who at the time was a Global Health Corps fellow helping to develop distance learning modules for Rwanda’s ‘Partners In Health’ research methods course.
Mugabo says taking part in the programme gave him the opportunity to exchange ideas and allowed him to expand his knowledge on the “numerous Open Educational Resources that can be used to provide distance education and training, thus overcoming resource-related constraints.”
In addition, he attended conference sessions that highlighted “the need to promote local languages within eLearning in order to reach wider audience, and the “substantial role African women are playing in eLearning activities.”
Mugabo, in turn, was able to share his experiences of using eLearning for Rwanda’s ‘Partners in Health’ with the conference.
“We were trying to address the challenge of course drop-outs,” he explains. “Participants to the course are clinical staff who have other clinical responsibilities. Given their workload sometimes they could not make it to the class. This often led to them quitting the course entirely.”
His solution was to create distance modules, which allowed for flexibility. “If a participant missed a class meeting there was an alternative option for them to keep moving: they would go to the Internet to read articles, watch videos and take quizzes.” He says that this greatly reduced the number of drop-outs.
However, Mugabo acknowledges there are challenges to this approach. For example, distance learning takes away the interactive aspect of the classroom. “When you are in front of the computer,” he points out, “you miss those conversations with not only your teacher but also your classmates.”
The media featured in his course also requires students to have a reasonably fast Internet connection, without which, the module cannot be completed on time. This, he notes, “is not easily available.” Additionally, his course requires computer skills that some prospective students may not possess.
It is these kinds of challenges that participants of the ‘Health Ambassador Programme’ will be able to discuss, and share solutions to help enhance eLearning offerings in their field.
Visit the EAST website to learn more about the ‘Health Ambassador Programme’. The success of the programme relies on the assistance of likeminded foundations, companies and individuals to allow more people to take part in the unique networking and knowledge-sharing opportunities provided by EAST. Here you can find out more about EAST programmes and how you or your organisation can show your support.
Image by Amref Health Africa @Amref_UG