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KENYA: Mainstreamed e-learning expanding access
Leading universities and middle-level colleges in Kenya are increasingly using technology-enhanced learning to remove geographical and financial barriers to higher education. And the government has said it intends increasing support for the implementation of e-learning.

Compared to their counterparts in other East African countries, Kenyan universities have set the pace in using e-learning and other technology-driven learning tools.

Analysts say Kenyatta University and the United States International University have been at the forefront of mainstreaming broadbased e-learning programmes that have benefited increased numbers in Kenyan society. And other universities in the largest East African economy are also embracing this method of delivering course work.

Faculty members in both public and private universities concur that e-learning has not only expanded opportunities but also improved the quality of education.

Greater uptake of technology-enhanced learning in Kenyan universities has been realised against a backdrop of poor infrastructure, as well as restrictive policy and legal conditions.

Information and Communication Minister Samuel Poghisio says the government is exploring innovative ways of harnessing information and communication technology, or ICT, to promote e-learning in all educational institutions.

Speaking recently in Nairobi at an international conference on emerging and future ICT, he said: "Access to ICT infrastructure and digital villages will support the implementation of e-learning for schools even in remote areas."

The minister said currently most universities are using broadband connections due to a government subsidy and that the majority of the institutions encouraged e-learning.

Poghisio challenged institutions of higher learning to initiate collaborative programmes through online platforms in order to upgrade their courses.

The Kenyan official signalled his government's intention of lowering the cost of internet to enable cash-strapped institutions to expand their e-learning programmes.

"A small team in my ministry is working on the directive by the President to lower the cost of internet. Reduced cost of internet is a boon to universities and colleges keen on utilising modern ICT tools to expand learning," he said.

In Kenya, many higher education institutions are using e-learning to realise their long-term goals of reaching a critical mass of the populace yearning for diplomas and degrees. A number of secondary schools have also invested in e-learning.

Experts acknowledge a surge in demand for higher education, which can only be met through technology-enhanced learning.

Paul Asunda, a senior lecturer at the US-based Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, hailed the role of online and multimedia-based teaching in developing countries that are grappling with huge youthful populations with an appetite for higher education.

Asunda said: "e-Learning has created a niche for universities and colleges intending to reach out to populations that were previously denied higher education due to financial or geographical hindrances."

According to Asunda, e-learning guarantees flexibility to students while cutting down on travel expenses. "It is ideal for part-time students in employment," he said.

A huge percentage of students in Kenyan universities have embraced e-learning and other modern technology-enhanced learning platforms.

And Joan Murumba, a librarian at Kenya Methodist University (KeMU), says e-learning has gained traction among both students and faculty as a tool for transforming teaching practices to reflect the changing dynamics of contemporary society.

The uptake of e-learning among young adults in Kenya is high, though not adequate in terms of global benchmarks, Murumba said.

According to officials, some universities, including Kenyatta and KeMU, have invested in fibre-optic cables to enhance e-learning.

Another leading Kenyan university, Strathmore, is making use of e-learning through video conferencing for visiting professors.

Murumba says most universities in Kenya have e-learning portals and encourage the use of social networking tools to promote interaction and exchange of information among students and their lecturers.

But critics say Kenyan institutions face a myriad of policy and infrastructural hurdles that undermine implementation of e-learning programmes. Some say current policies on e-learning do not entrench the practice while poor revenue bases inhibit universities from investing in ICT tools that support distance learning.

Young Kenyans agree that e-learning is crucial to building a technologically literate workforce to meet the changing demands of the information age.

Benson Amira, an undergraduate computer science student at Strathmore University, remarked: "e-Learning has broken physical and financial barriers to higher education while improving efficiency and quality of course work in various disciplines."
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