Online Education & Sustainability in Africa

By Sofia Rasmussen – In Africa, under-funded school systems have produced generations of adults with little  or no formal education. The world’s poorest continent has struggled to produce sustainable ideas and developments that do not rely on the support of foreign donors. The 2012 eLearning Africa conference aims to address both of these concerns by promoting online education, a relatively new form of technology in African schools that is also highly sustainable. Not only can online education open up opportunities for primary grade students, the internet also makes it possible for Africans to pursue Master’s and Doctoral degrees online, without leaving their home countries. And these highly educated individuals with world class educations, but still grounded in their home nations, will be the leaders who ultimately solve many of Africa’s most pressing problems.

Though education spending on the continent has increased by 48% since 2000, the majority of children on the continent remain uneducated. According to a 2011 report by The Guardian, 32 million primary school-aged children in Sub-Saharan Africa do not attend school; 18 million of them are girls. As a result, roughly 40% of all Africans over the age of 15 are illiterate. For children who do attend class, they must share a teacher with, on average, 40 to 50 other pupils. In addition, regional experts predict that the population between the ages of 5 and 14 will grow by 34% in the next 20 years and Africa will be forced to meet the demands of roughly 77 million students. In response to these figures, African leaders are hailing e-learning as a sustainable and economical solution for the continent’s educational crisis.

Launched six years ago, the eLearning Africa conference annually hosts delegates from more than 90 different countries. Held May 23-25 in Conotou, Benin, the 2012 conference will explore the role of ICT-based education on the continent; not just in public schools and universities, but also the public labor sector, private enterprises and sustainable development projects. Conducted in English and French, the conference will feature 12 workshops, 60 sessions and more than 300 keynote speakers. Guest speakers scheduled to address the delegates include representatives from several online education companies, such as OPENWORLD LTD, SMART Technologies, ICT For Development and Inveneo. His Excellency Dr. Thomas Boni Yayi, The President of the Republic of Benin, will also address the delegation.

In addition to the sessions and workshops, other 2012 conference activities include:

  • An exhibition of products and services by Africa’s leading e-learning manufacturers, suppliers and service providers.
  • Informal networking sessions designed to facilitate information exchange and project development between delegates.
  • A survey focus group discussion that allows delegates to share opinions, predictions and perspectives related to online education.
  • A participant’s reception and dinner that allows delegates to socialize, network, and enjoy Beninese cuisine and culture.
  • The eLearning Africa Fall Faire, an opportunity for delegates to share stories of failed online education projects and appraise these results within a group setting.
  • The eLearning Africa Debate, which addresses various political, social and cultural issues affecting the African education system and individuals enrolled in it.

Every year, the eLearning Africa conference confirms that online education is an area of great interest to African educators, researchers and policy-makers. By providing an outlet for these global leaders to discuss educational technologies, and various ways to sustainably implement them on a large scale, the conference is playing a major role in the improvement of Africa’s historically troubled education system.

Online learning in Africa also stands to benefit from the solutions found to the initial problems seen in other places around the world. In both America and Europe, quality issues and inadequate equipment have all been hiccups plaguing online students. However technology has been rapidly progressing that should alleviate those problems to some degree. One can only hope innovators in other countries will continually use eLearning Africa to publicize said technologies. And, in time, African citizens may have access to high quality education on a macro scale, helping eliminate the systemic poverty that has been crippling the continent.