AFRICA: Technology for education and development

Africa must work to apply technology to education and training and must use it to boost social and economic development across the continent, Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade told the fourth eLearning Africa conference held in the capital Dakar last week. More than 1,300 people from 85 countries attended the gathering.

Technological innovation offers African students access to the world's best educational institutions, the President said: "At a time when Europe closes its doors, eLearning is the answer for African students." In higher education, Wade argued, standards could be improved by African universities obtaining internationally recognised accreditation.

e-Learning Africa conferences - billed as the most comprehensive in the field on the continent - were launched in 2006, an initiative of Berlin-based ICWE GmbH. The first was held in Addis Ababa in Tanzania, followed by Nairobi in Kenya and Accra, Ghana.

The fourth eLearning Africa conference on ICT for Development, Education and Training was held from 27 to 29 May in Dakar and brought together people engaged in education and implementing learning technologies in schools, universities and companies. Africans comprised 80% of delegates.

There were 19 pre-conference events, while the conference itself featured 336 speakers and chairs from around 50 countries, four plenary sessions, 60 parallel sessions and 20 best practice demonstrations.

In a message to the conference, President Abdoulaye Wade said that Africa could not meet the challenges of under-development and poverty with money alone - the continent needed well-trained and open-minded managers able to grasp opportunities for mutual exchange, learning, consolidation of knowledge and sharing of experiences.

"Today more than ever, real-time access to and control of information and knowledge are needed to underpin the expertise and managerial capacities of leaders and decision-makers worldwide," the President said in a message to the conference.

During the third millennium's information and communication age, people's future and shared destiny would largely be formed in the Information Society, which is changing how people acquire information, communicate, produce and consume, and think - "and this opens up unprecedented opportunities for our young people," said Wade.

"The various technologies now available allow professionals the world over to share their knowledge and experience, overcoming the constraints of time and space, and significantly reducing the North-South gap in terms of knowledge and information."

Describing education and training as "keys to development" and improving living standards, Wade said that Senegal had decided to allocate 40% of its budget to the sector, and had made ICT a central plank in development. Numerous trials and initiatives were underway.

"As a complement to this budgetary decision, distance learning through eLearning constitutes a genuine option for meeting an ever-growing demand for education and ensuring that it becomes as widespread as possible," said the President.

"Senegal will embrace with determination, willingness and enthusiasm the opportunities opened up by distance learning in all its forms, and particularly by eLearning."

The conference concluded with the 'eLearning Africa Debate', conducted in English and French, co-chaired by former British parliamentarian Dr Harold Elletson, a member of the advisory board of eLearning Africa, and Senegalese television presenter Khalil Gueye. Delegates debated whether technology alone can strengthen African education.

"Some people think that technology is a powerful goal in its own right and that simply introducing technological innovation will have a beneficial effect on education across the African continent," Elletson explained before the debate. "Others think that technology can only be part of a wider solution and a concentration on technological change can lead to a failure to develop other more basic infrastructure."