First educational TV channel expands higher education access

Open and distance learning and higher education access in Sudan have been given a boost by the launch of the country’s first educational television channel.

The Open University of Sudan Learning Channel, or OUSLC, was officially inaugurated on Satellite Badr 5 (ARABST) by President Omar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir on 19 February, on the university’s 10th anniversary.

OUSLC, which was preceded by educational radio, joins a number of existing African educational TV channels. These include GEOGTV, the Egypt-based Nile TV channels of higher education, and al-Manara, the Egyptian satellite channel that broadcasts scientific content. South Africa also has educational TV channels, although aimed primarily at schools.

“The launch of the channel is part of the state’s continued efforts to boost higher education,” Faisal Abdullah Al Haj, the university's vice-chancellor, was quoted as saying by independent daily newspaper Sudan Vision.

“The channel will support the Education for All project and will provide greater opportunities for learning for all society sections…it will solve [the problem of] about six million school drop-outs in Sudan.”

Established in 2002, the Open University of Sudan is providing education for 27,000 students throughout Sudan via 160 centres and is expanding its activities to Arab and African regions.

Key to increasing educational access in Sudan is also the Sudan Open Learning Organisation, or SOLO, which provides distance education to thousands of East African refugees in Sudan and displaced Sudanese nationals alike.

Phyllis Olmstead, an international educator and consultant in the fields of distance education and technology, who was a visitor to SOLO, welcomed the launch of Sudan’s educational TV channel, contrasting the new technology with the situation she experienced in the past.

“Distance education television is a phenomenal leap from the state of distance education in Sudan when I visited the refugee camps. Pictures taken of the educational facilities do not do justice to the harshness of the conditions.

“The picture I took of the nearly empty cupboard of the library of one school in Khartoum was very startling, but was just a glimpse into the situation. Correspondence courses and a few meagre battery-operated cassette tape players were the only methods that could be implement areas with no electricity and no access to technology,” Olmstead said.

Magdi Tawfik Abdelhamid, a researcher at Cairo's National Research Centre, welcomed the new development.

“OUSLC is a promising and effective tool for expanding higher educational opportunities and enhancing access to higher education as well as promoting training delivery,” Abdelhamid told University World News.

According to a 2011 report titled Promoting Open and Distance Learning in Africa: A critical reflection on rhetoric, real and ideal, the tertiary gross enrolment ratio for Sub-Saharan Africa is only about 5.6%, compared to 26% for East Asia and the Pacific, and 71% for North America and Western Europe.

“To date, no African country has achieved the UNESCO-defined level of 25% participation in higher education, and on average, African universities have a shortfall of 60% of what could be termed excellent researchers and teachers,” according to the report.

In the interests of serving higher education, and especially supporting faculties with limited places yet a surplus of students, Abdelhamid called for setting up an online guide for higher education TV channels and video collections such as TVTube, FreeVideoLectures (“Bringing free education to all”), Video Lectures (“Exchange ideas & share knowledge”), and Bio-solutions (a large collection of biology videos and animations).

“Regional universities, including the African Virtual University and the Arab Open University must promote the establishment of free access online TV channels as a cheap and affordable solution for enhancing public awareness of the importance of higher education and scientific research, and as a tool for broadcasting local and international seminars, conferences, workshops and lectures,” Abdelhamid concluded.