Learn like an Egyptian

Ahmed El-Sobky

“eLearning culture is facing a paradigm shift,” says Ahmed El-Sobky, the Director of the Technical Office of Egypt’s Information Technology Industry Development Agency (ITIDA).  He spoke to Prue Goredema of the eLearning Africa News Service about how far eLearning has come and how Egypt is well-placed to share its ICT expertise.

It’s been two years since you were last at eLearning Africa and four years since you first presented your work at ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN.  How has eLearning culture developed over the past few years?

eLearning culture is facing a paradigm shift. This shift is not only in lifelong learning, but also in formal education and corporate training. In 1998, when I participated in the first ever project in our [region] with Middlesex University to produce the first eLearning Master’s degree, we faced a lot of barriers. The most significant one was the students themselves who didn’t want to join a programme in which they couldn’t communicate with their tutors face-to-face. Another barrier was the professors’ resistance to put any content online.

Now things are totally different. You see a lot of students readily enrolling in eLearning programmes for formal education or corporate training. In Egypt, we have since established the Egyptian e-Learning University (EELU) which offers a wide assortment of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes.  A total of 1360 students have enrolled at the university since 2009.  As for the content and curricula, we now have an Open Educational Resources pool used by a number of educational and training institutions. In addition, social media play an important role in both formal and informal education. Web 2.0 and in the very near future Web 3.0 will impact the way we learn, as will cloud learning. There is no question that we are dealing with a great paradigm shift, something I also noticed during my interactions with other researchers and practitioners at ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN 2011.

What role do you see mobile learning playing in the coming years?

mLearning will soon play a pivotal role in educational practices.  Mobile devices are already useful platforms for knowledge transfer and for achieving behaviour change in Africa. The accelerating rate of mobile phone penetration is a fundamental factor in this development. The emerging technology of smart phones and tablet PCs will lead to a drop in their cost, and the widespread use of wireless broadband will also increase dependency on the mobile as a platform for many applications. This will bring about greater use of mLearning as a mechanism for learning, education and training especially in rural and marginalised areas.

Your eLearning Africa 2012 presentation is entitled “eLearning the Way for Future Education.” What inspired this theme?

This theme seemed apt because networking and the Internet in particular will be the main if not the only media of the future. Educational and training institutions increasingly need to acquire expertise and input from different sources around the world, and this will force them to direct their attention and resources towards eLearning.

Can you give us a little bit of enticing information on your presentation? What will you talk about?

I will look at a number of issues pertaining to Egypt’s ICT sector and eLearning culture, including the country’s eLearning milestones and some of the remarkable eLearning programmes that we have established.  I will also share some of the challenges we’re facing and will discuss some ideas for collaboration with partners across Africa.

eLearning Africa is the Continent’s largest gathering of high-level policymakers, decision makers and practitioners from education, business and government, so you have come to the right place! What are the prospects for greater pan-African cooperation in the field of ICT-enhanced education and training?

ITIDA Village

Since Egypt was one of the African countries that adopted eLearning early on, there is a great opportunity to transfer the knowledge accumulated since 1998 for the benefit of all African countries. Egyptian experts participated in the formulation of the eLearning strategies in two regional blocs: the Nile Basin countries and COMESA countries. There is a golden opportunity to create virtual educational and training hubs around the Continent to provide different types of [courses]. It’s a chance for EELU to find partners in other African countries to collaborate on its accredited undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. Likewise, EELU can provide different tailored programmes upon request. In fact, many other Egyptian institutions (public and private) can get involved in providing many services related to ICT-based education, learning and training.

Is it a pipedream or a plan you are ready to put in motion?

eLearning Africa 2012 is an excellent opportunity for African delegations to discuss in person possible cooperation models with their counterparts from the Egyptian institutions who will be available in the Egyptian pavilion during the conference and exhibition.

The Egyptian contribution indeed promises to be noteworthy since ITIDA represents a large number IT companies which are making waves in Egypt and beyond.  Which are the main eLearning innovations shaping the new Egypt? 

There is a paradigm shift there too, and the main eLearning innovations shaping the new Egypt are tablet computing, cloud computing and social media.  ITIDA’s database consists of 1601 companies, a number which is increasing yearly. Egypt’s ICT sector is booming, and it is one the few sectors which has experienced a positive growth rate during the last year.  Most of the companies registered with ITIDA are software and service-providers with only 306 companies (about 19%) focused on providing hardware.

Ahmed el-Sobky will present his paper “eLearning the Way for Future Education” at eLearning Africa Session 42SII Technologies used for the Implementation of eLearning in Higher Education Institutions on Friday, May 25th, 2012 at 14.30.

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