[Column] Jens Ischebeck: Demographic Development versus Educational needs in Africa
Not a fun fact: There are 128 million school-aged children in sub-Sahara Africa; of these, 17 million children will never see a school.
Here’s another: 37 million African children do go to school, but what they learn will never hold them in good stead. So it’s as well that they don’t go to school at all.
Crippled by poverty, overpopulation, linguistic hurdles and lackadaisical governments, sub-Sahara Africa students find it hard to obtain the level of education they want. If you are a student, teacher or educational professional in Africa – you should know that online courses - mobile learning (m-learning) and e-learning is the way to pave Africa’s future. There are many reasons to promote EdTech.
Access to Education in Africa
Steady access to education in Africa depends on several factors, as follows:
• Location of the school – this depends on various factors. Some areas of Africa are densely populated, while others are not. There is an effort to start more schools in densely populated areas, but these are little more than sheds. Then again, in lesser developed and lesser populated areas, schools are few in between.
• Aspects such as how many schools are available per region, and what distance must children travel to get to school must be considered. Children are forced to travel long distances to get to school, and the resulting transport and safety issues are many.
• There’s also the cost of schooling. How many parents can afford to send their children to school, paying hard-earned cash for supplies and so on?
• Parent’s attitude towards schooling – not all parents are cognisant of the need for schooling for their children, or its importance. This socio-cultural issue stands at the root of children being pulled out of school.
More than 40 percent of children in seven sub-Sahara Africa countries – including Nigeria, Zambia and Ethiopia – don’t have the basic learning skills expected of a grade 5 student. Dropping out of school at secondary and even primary level is rampant. Half of the children in sub-Sahara Africa will grow up without knowing how to read, write, or count.
How Effective is the Present Educational System in Africa?
Even in regions comprising more educational institutions than usual, the enrolment and progress statistics are not encouraging. Owing to the lack of quality teaching and consistency of teaching resources, there’s a great deal of grade repetition. As a result, the number of children who successfully complete primary grades are few, which means primary schools are fuller than secondary schools.
Speaking of teaching staff, senior staff is paid more than inexperienced ones, as it should be. However, this means that in schools where most of the staff is older, the salary figures are high. This causes schools to hire younger staff and retire the older ones sooner than necessary. All of these factors affect the quality of education provided in these schools. Given all these factors, the present educational system in Africa is not very effective, in terms of helping young people to develop and progress into careers.
How Affordable is Education in Africa?
Even though some government-sponsored schools are free, students in many African countries have to pay for school supplies and uniforms. An average high-school education costs about $500 a year in most African countries. Only those Africans who are employed in top industries (mining, agriculture and oil & gas) are able to afford schooling for their children.
That’s the gap where e-learning providers can enter the market and bring affordable access to education to many more of the unschooled children.
Linguistic Hurdles in the Path of Education
The medium of instruction is another reason for mass school dropouts. Children have to travel considerable distances to get to school; given sub-Sahara Africa’s cultural diversity, there’s always a dialect or language mismatch. It’s difficult for children to study in a language other than their own.
This can be a high fence for classical education tools based on printouts and face-to-face lessons. For edtech based lessons with software the linguistic hurdled can be decreased with the help of translation programs, already installed in the elearning products.
Is E-Learning the Solution Africa Needs Today?
M-learning bridges several gaps – cultural, geographical, demographical, and economical. Anyone can join online courses, no matter what their age. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) are free online courses for those with access to the Internet. These courses do not offer academic credit, though they are the same as university courses. The African Virtual University (AVU) connects students with universities in developed countries to provide MOOC edtech. There are many other organisations offering excellent MOOC edtech programs.
There are online courses even for those African students who’ve only cleared primary or secondary level schooling. Schools and universities use special MOOC software to teach, and keep in touch with their students via video tools such as Skype and WhatsApp.
How Do People Access the Internet in Africa?
Many parts of Africa have regular power interruptions and poor Internet access. Even though mobile learning is catching up, it’ll take some time for m-learning programs to spread over the continent. The good news is, even with poor online connectivity, the web has penetrated into every African country. People transfer money via the Internet, connect with friends over social media, and even do shopping. More Africans access the Internet via their PCs and laptops rather than their smartphones. With mobile learning MOOC edtech, people can study as they go about their work. Motivating people to sign up for mobile learning, or m-learning, will help online courses reach more people.
There is a rising amount of local and regional companies which provide products and materials for online courses and exam preparations, the classical fields of m-learning. This African providers guide illustrates a list of edtech startups in several countries.
How are African Governments Responding to E-Learning?
African politicians are quick to realise and leverage the advantages presented by MOOC edtech. 19 sub-Saharan African countries have signed up with AVU to establish e-learning as their long-term strategy for educational development.
In addition to governmental initiatives, there are commercial companies filling up the gap. Initiatives like the African Leadership University (ALU) program aim to establish a network of universities to teach leadership skills to as many African students as possible.
The Future of E-Learning in Africa
African governments are working with various developed countries and NGOs to establish school networks through the Internet all over sub-Saharan Africa. The new technology-driven policies we’re seeing in African countries are behind this venture.
However, along with the policies, Africa needs a streamlined process to ensure proper technical maintenance of m-learning networks. Also, content development and instructional processes for mobile learning edtech need to be consistent. Africa has to put in a lot of effort to make m-learning accessible to all, while sustaining and maintaining indigenous capacities.
For more information about this important and exciting educational market, visit my apps-for-learning.com. Alternatively, if you wish, contact me directly today. Whether you are a student or teaching professional, we specialize in mobile education within Africa and will be pleased to help you with your enquiry.
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