E-Learning Makes Higher Education Possible For More African Students

E-Learning Makes Higher Education Possible For More African Students

Thanks to e-learning, a growing number of African students are earning degrees from American, African and other universities around the world without ever leaving the continent, TheGuardian reports.

Professors thousands of miles away use programs and apps such as WhatsApp and Skype to communicate with students.

Sub-Saharan Africa had just 6 percent of secondary school graduates go on to higher education in 2008 – well below the world average of 26 percent. The region saw the lowest university attendance in the world, according to the U.N.’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).

Many African students want to attend university.

In partnership with Indiana University in the U.S., the African Virtual University, or AVU, has trained 43,000 students using virtual learning since it started in 1997.

In August AVU plans to open 29 new distance learning centers in 21 African countries at a cost of $200,000 each, according to UniversityWorldNews.

Africa’s politicians are waking up to the potential of virtual learning, TheGuardian reports. The African Union prioritized virtual learning in its long-term development strategy. So far, 19 African countries signed a charter establishing AVU as an intergovernmental organisation.

But with many parts of Africa still facing poor Internet access and irregular power supply, it will be a while before virtual learning is widely available across the continent, said Bakary Diallo, rector of the AVU, in an interview with TheGuardian.

Nevertheless, he’s encouraged by mounting political recognition of the role online learning can play in African development. “I’ve been working on (virtual learning) for the last 15 years and what I’m seeing today … I’ve never seen before,” he told TheGuardian. “Governments are really interested in (virtual) learning now.”

While Diallo says his aim is to drive the cost of learning down, the AVU doesn’t have any control over fees at its partner institutions. But that could change when the AVU becomes an accredited university and is able to offer its own classes and charge its own fees.

The AVU partners with dozens of African universities and foreign institutions to help students get degrees in ICT, math and science. Many of the classes offered are related to technology.

The university is considering making lectures accessible on mobile phones, which would tap into Africa’s estimated 112-million smartphones, TheGuardian reports.

Because of its flexible schedule, virtual learning appeals to students who want to land a job at a tech startup, said Josiah Mugambi, director of Nairobi’s iHub. The iHub is a place where East African tech entrepreneurs meet. “The AVU is definitely cheaper than the conventional approach, plus one can be doing something else (while enrolled).”

Starting in 2016, the virtual university will offer its own degrees, but for now it links students to local and regional universities. Some courses require class attendance. Other are taught completely online.

Diallo says he wants the cost of e-learning to go down, but the AVU has no control over fees at its partner institutions. That could change when the AVU becomes an accredited university and is able to offer its own classes and charge its own fees.

High dropout rates are a problem at virtual universities, said Mark West, a mobile learning expert at Unesco, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The best use of online learning is to pair it with some practical instruction and assessment, West told TheGuardian. “A lot of people start but they never finish – they don’t finish individual courses and they definitely don’t finish entire areas of study.”