When it comes to keeping up with your neighbours, ICT development is often where many African nations lag behind. And as the digital gap widens, more economic opportunities are likely to slip through the gaps. Surrounded by South Africa, one of the continent’s most advanced digital landscapes, educator’s in Lesotho are taking it upon themselves to try to keep pace.
By Annika Burgess
“If the digital gap is big between two neighbouring countries, then both countries suffer. Their economical language, which nowadays is often based on technology, will not be on the same level,” says Dr Lehlohonolo Mohasi, a lecturer in Instructional Technology at the National University of Lesotho (NUL).
South Africa is the third-highest ranked African country on the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) ICT Development Index (IDI), whereas Lesotho is at number 13. The small landlocked country has, however, been making ICT progress: the government’s National Strategic Development Plan for 2013 – 2017 aims to improve the Internet ecosystem and backbone infrastructure, reach universal access and widen ICT literacy. Internet usage is set to further increase with the introduction of LTE services in October 2014.
But, Dr Mohasi says, support is lacking at educational level where this progress is yet to be been. As a result, Lesotho is losing its tops students to other countries.
“Most youth, as it is currently happening in my country, go study in South Africa and end up working there, thus developing the ‘host’ country instead of contributing to the development on their mother country […] Students who begin their studying in Lesotho also struggle when they go to institutions of higher learning in South Africa.”
Determined to advance the use of technology in education, NUL, the country’s only public university, recently launched a Learning Management System (LMS) and, with help from the University’s Science and Technology department, created a Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL).
“We want to ensure that all academic staff and students are not only computer and digitally literate, but that they can also use technological tools appropriately to enrich their teaching and learning respectively,” Dr Mohasi says.
Once fully developed, the Centre will enable staff to participate in webcasts, workshops and online courses, and keep abreast of new technologies.
Dr Mohasi says initial interest and response has been slow from both parties but this has started to change; there has been more understanding of the need, relevance and efficiency of the system to enhance teaching and learning. With better technology and a faster Internet connection “staff and students will be more appreciative of the technology and training will be easier.”
The Centre currently only has three staff and still lacks sufficient resources, but they are sending out technical proposals to potential donors to solicit funding. It is also building partnerships with higher education institutions from other countries to share best practices.
The NUL is doing what it can to overcome barriers to embrace ICT in higher education but has a long way to go. When just 520 kilmoetres away in South Africa 80% of schools have the required infrastructure for eLearning, it puts into perspective how far the continent overall needs to come to ensure digital equality.
You can hear more on the issue from Dr Lehlohonolo Mohasi at the eLearning Africa conference, taking place on May 20 – 22 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Image: NUL Facebook