As the eLearning Africa conference gets underway in Addis Ababa, there is a growing recognition that online courses can boost further education access
By Mark Anderson
Zuhur Yasin has never been to the US, but she holds a bachelor’s degree from an American university. Part of Yasin’s studies in Somaliland, a self-declared independent country in Somalia, were spent in a special classroom, lined with rows of computers equipped with webcams and microphones.
The 29-year-old watched videos and took part in live virtual classes at Indiana University as part of her journalism programme at the University of Hargeisa. “We had discussions and shared any challenges or questions,” she says.
The African Virtual University (AVU), an intergovernmental organisation, connected Yasin with Indiana University. The AVU says it has used virtual learning to train 43,000 students since its creation in 1997. Last year, it announced 29 new distance learning centres like the one Yasmin used to take part in seminars nearly 8,000 miles away.
Professors use programmes and apps including Skype and WhatsApp to communicate with students, but classes are taught using special software. The AVU is considering plans to make lectures accessible on mobile phones, which would tap into Africa’s estimated 112m smartphones.
Like Yasin, many students in sub-Saharan Africa are looking for opportunities to attend university. In 2008, the region had the lowest university attendance in the world, with just 6% of secondary school-leavers advancing to higher education – well below the world average of 26%, according to the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).
On Wednesday, the African Union (AU) opened the eLearning Africa conference on ICT for development, education and training at its headquarters in Addis Ababa with the aim of closing that gap and nurturing the human resources necessary for economic development. About 1,200 government ministers and business representatives are expected to attend.
Rebecca Stromeyer, founder of eLearning Africa, says: “Now is the time when technology can really help to entrench the progress many African countries have made in education. If the right decisions are taken now, they will help to sustain long-term economic growth.”
[ Full article available at The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/may/20/elearning-africa-conference-addis-ababa-further-education ]