[Column] Jens Ischebeck: The Medical Education system in Africa- change not continuity
Africa is a continent which is filled with many young men and women, some of which have the aspirations and potential to pursue a career in the medical field. But there are some clear barriers preventing many young Africans from doing so, stemming back to the setup of medical education in Africa.
Africa is rife with major diseases and illnesses and is in desperate need of a vast amount of medical professionals and physicians to tackle the problem head on. This, however, is simply just not achievable, with many of the flaws and barriers to the educational system preventing the medical educative system from producing home-grown professionals.
But there is perhaps a potential solution.
With the advancement of technology in the modern age, has come the ability to deliver an online education to impoverished continents such as Africa, a process which could supplement the medical education setup in Africa.
The advent of e-learning, m-learning and distance education, in which an interactive course can be provided to young Africans via the Internet from universities and institutions around the world, may be the answer to Africa's medical woes.
The existing Medical education system:
The medical education system varies from nation to nation, dependent inevitably on their economic capabilities.
South Africa, as the wealthiest country in sub-Sahara Africa has approximately eight medical schools, which have around 8,5000 students per annum and 1,300 graduates per year.
The South African medical schools are all institutions which are government funded and each school receives a subsidy from the government, on top of its student tuition fees. This is a system based on a British model and is reasonably successful, as is perhaps to be expected of the wealthiest nation in sub-Sahara Africa.
Kenya's medical education system is less prosperous. Kenya has just two medical schools, with the majority of the county's doctors and medical professionals being produced from the University of Nairobi.
Both schools are government funded but Kenya finds itself struggling to financially provide the sufficient means to produce medical professionals, so much so that there was the introduction of self-sponsored medical students.
Nigeria, being the most populated nation of Black Africans, started the process of medical education in 1948, with the establishment of the University college hospital, which was a branch of the University of London.
From then on in, four generations of medical institutions have developed, but with the curriculum remaining largely the same. When the curriculum for medical courses adapted around the world, Nigeria's stood still and did not and any later attempts to improve the syllabus and teacher training methods failed. As a result, Nigeria's medical education system is in dire straits and in desperate need of updating and modernising.
Thus, the medical education system in African nations is varied but there are clear limits to how many medical professionals they can produce and to what quality. It is clear that there are changes that need to put in place.
E-learning- the solution?
The whole concept of e-learning and m-learning is to bring a distance education and online courses, via the internet, to places that would not otherwise have access to such opportunities.
Dr Yaw Adu-Sarkodie, a professor in clinical microbiology has heralded the use of e-learning to supplement the medical education system in Africa, suggesting: "what I see of the e-learning platform is that it is a limitless thing".
Many African medical specialists have suggested that the implementation of edtech and online courses will enable class sizes to increase dramatically in a short space of time. Crucially, medical professionals have suggested that e-learning initiatives will change the styles and approaches that African students take in the medical sphere and beyond. This could be potentially significant in mobilising a medical workforce that as of now is outdated and cannot produce results.
There has already been some evidence of distance education and edtech assisting the medical education system in Africa. Through the Medical Education Partnership, the US has sought to provide help to Sub-Saharan Africa, utilising edtech and e-learning initiatives.
Such online courses include the use of video lectures, in line with the interactive e-learning initiative, particularly geared around exam preparation and practical skills that are absolutely essential to becoming a medical professional.
Selected medical institutions were given access to online medical courses and e-learning, in order to supplement and support the medical education curriculum in these various medical schools. The experts suggest, however, that edtech can only work, provided that there is the right fit with institutions that have the required technological capacity.
E-learning then, could be the solution to African's chronic medical education problem.
MCAT and USMLE:
In line with the US initiative to assist African nations in the training and developing of their medical professionals, US tests such as MCAT and USMLE have been introduced to assist with the medical exam preparation process.
The MCAT is a medical/science related aptitude test, designed to equip medical students to apply information quickly and precisely and generally examines the practical ability of the student to become the professional.
The USMLE is a test which requires more prior knowledge and preparation and is very much content driven. Both of these initiatives are employed in and work in medical institutions across the US and have been extended to such African nations as Ghana, Kenya, Uganda and South Africa.
Mhealth is the process in which smartphones are used to help educate and inform students in the medical field. The rise in mobile phone use across Africa has meant that many young men and women have instant access to a learning platform, literally at their very fingertips.
The use of text messages and SMS is a very useful tool, which enables those in remote areas to access information that will be beneficial for the learning process and ultimately help in enabling many more people to gain sufficient medical qualifications.
This method of teaching, alongside e-learning in the traditional ways as mentioned before, could help to revolutionise the way in which students learn and are taught. If applied correctly and overcoming some infrastructural barriers, e-learning could help to salvage the medical education system across Africa.
It is clear the medical education setup in Africa is in desperate need of reform, with widespread disease and poverty but an inability, both structurally and financially, to mobilise a sufficient health/ medical workforce.
Could e-learning be the solution to updating and modernising a currently failing and outdated medical education system in sub-Saharan Africa and beyond?
Visit apps-for-learning.com to find out more about the role of edtech in Africa.