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[Column] Jens Ischebeck: East Africa edtech success stories

Today, new technologies including information communication technology (ICT) and e-learning have become the driving force in the education sector in Kenya. E-learning is very important in helping people to access education easily. It allows learners to carry out their daily activities and learn at the same time.
In the modern world, lifelong learning is becoming an important concept. In this context, people have to advance their skills to fit in the dynamic work places.
E-learning allows one to advance their skills without taking long work leaves. As the African society continually embrace modern technology, traditional forms of pedagogy in higher learning institutions are failing to meet the societal needs.

The Situation of e-Learning in East Africa

The rise of mobile technology in East Africa has become one of the most revolutionary steps in the recent technological growth.  Many people are now using smartphones and iPhones. Major communication companies like Safaricom and Telkom Kenya are providing a stable connection to the internet. The Kenyan government has also made a major step in installing fibre optic connections to major cities across the nation. Thus, fast and stable internet connection has motivated many people to embrace e-learning as a new method of learning.

E-learning policies in the Kenyan universities are at its infant-stage. Majority of these institutions lack senate approved e-learning policies to guide the needed structured implementation, thus, only 32% of the lecturers and 35% of students use e-learning in Kenya. Besides, the number of courses offered online is approximately 10% of all the courses. The nature of the material used in this form of learning is not interactive as it entails uploaded lecture notes. For instance, 87% of the materials used in online lectures are simply lecturing notes. In this regard, it becomes apparent that most of the universities in Kenya and East Africa at large lack a requisite ICT infrastructure and skills. However, a number of private and public universities have made tremendous steps towards implementing e-learning technology. Fewer institutions that have used e-learning have proved it to be a successful mode and that the benefits outweigh the challenges.

In Tanzania, the case is similar to Kenya. The implementation of e-learning is still low despite various opportunities provided by the open source technology and supportive environment facilitated by the government. However, some institutions like Dar Es Salaam University have managed to implement e-learning platforms as WEBCT and Blackboard. These platforms are e-learning proprietary software. Other universities such as the Open University of Tanzania (OUT) and Mzumbe University have good ICT structures, but the implementation of e-learning is still minimal.

Successful Cases of e-Learning

Can e-learning be a successful learning method in East Africa? The answer to this question is yes. There are some Africans who have gathered enough courage to use e-learning and achieved their higher degrees successfully. These examples are a proof that e-learning can be an effective method of learning in East Africa.

Dr. Henry Barasa is a good example of a physics student who used e-learning to complete his Master's degree. Being a full-time lecturer in Masinde Muliro University in Kakamega town, Barasa did not have enough time to pursue his Master's Degree. He enrolled for a Master's in Atomic Physics in Dar Es Salaam University in Tanzania. Through WEBCT, Barasa could access all the required learning materials; communicate with lecturers and other students. He also accessed all exams through the online platform. A thought-provoking aspect is that he never took an education leave, but managed to balance the two. For the case of experiments, he carried them out from Kenya and sent results online. The case of Barasa shows the effectiveness of e-learning, and thus, Kenyans can embrace this new method of learning and acquire their degrees as they continue with their work. Even for the case of higher degrees, it is possible to attain them through e-learning.

Kelvin Omondi is another example of an effective e-learning. Having been brought up in the Mathare slums, his parents did not have the ability to take him to a good high school. Through a Nairobi-based organization, he got a chance to attend a national high school and pass well in his studies. However, he lacked the financial capacity to complete his degree in Bachelor of Commerce at Kenyatta University. However, the University had established an online learning program, which was cheaper. Kelvin opted for this option. The university provided him with an iPhone, which he used to access his learning material. The study program provided him with an option to work and learn. He managed to raise his university fee and graduated with a second upper-class degree. From this example, other Africans can learn that e-learning is an effective method of learning that the poor can use to access quality education. Most of the Africans have poor backgrounds; hence, lack the ability to access higher education. However, e-learning is an effective method since it is cheaper as it only entails tuition-fee. Learners can raise the fee through part-time and full-time jobs.

Rashid Muhamud is another example of a learner who completed his diploma through an e-learning program. Rashid comes from Mwanza town in Tanzania. Just like Kelvin, he had inadequate resources to access higher education. He managed to raise some money from odd jobs, which he used to purchase a smart phone. He later enrolled in an e-learning diploma program with Dar Es Salaam University. Despite the fact that he was a hawker, he managed to raise money for his tuition fee. Who could think that a hawker can finance his university education? It seems an impossible case, but e-learning has made it possible for Rashid. Currently, he owns a private company that employs over fifteen youths. This example shows that e-learning is the most effective method that can promote access to effective learning even to the poor. Precisely, it is a cheap way of learning that Africans can embrace to transform their lives. In this regard, it is evident that this new form of learning has helped some Africans to overcome learning challenges. 
M-learning is one of the relatively new applications which use the new internet and mobile phone based technologies to improve the access to some basic needs or skills, such as medical education, app based language learning or cheap online money transfers.

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 table of African e-learning providers illustrates a list of edtech startups in several countries.

Jens Ischebeck is an e-learning and online courses specialist.




Also by Jens Ischebeck:


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