New partnership boosts e-learning in higher education

The African Virtual University (AVU) and the International Council for Open and Distance Education, or ICDE – a global body for the open and distance education community – have launched an e-learning partnership aimed at providing cost-effective and efficient tools to promote access to higher education in Africa.

The initiative was announced on 23 April, according to an ICDE press release.

“The partnership between the AVU and the ICDE will help in promoting e-learning, online learning and mobile learning as an ideal tool for expanding university access in Africa, as in other parts of the world,” Gard Titlestad, secretary general of the Norway-based ICDE, told University World News.

According to Internet World Stats, a website for internet usage statistics, by June 2012 the internet penetration rate in Africa was 15.6% – dramatically up from just 3% in 2006 but still lagging behind the world average of 34%. More than 167 million people now have access to the internet in Africa and the continent’s growth rate in internet penetration is among the highest in the world.

AVU Rector Bakary Diallo told University World News that institutions in Africa had been unable to increase their physical infrastructure to meet rapidly growing demand for higher education.

Despite escalating admissions, Sub-Saharan Africa still had only around 6% of the population aged 25-34 in tertiary education, while in the United Kingdom and United States, 60% and 70% of eligible candidates respectively had access to higher education.

For example, Diallo said, between 2002 and 2007, the highest point of admission in Nigerian universities was just 15% of the total number of applicants – and far less among the entire school-leaving cohort.

“This shows that the current mode of delivery is unable to meet either current or projected demand. Thus, under traditional classroom teaching, tertiary education for most school-leaving children will remain unattainable.”

Diallo pointed out that using information and communication technologies, or ICTs, in education saved institutions costs on items like physical classroom infrastructure, textbooks and numbers of teachers, while contributing to quality education.

The AVU-ICDE partnership would promote the importance of open, distance, flexible and online education, increase access to quality higher education, enhance quality in e-learning while supporting the development of new methodologies and technologies, and facilitate cooperation and networking.

These targets would be achieved through various projects, including the establishment of a network for knowledge exchange.

Diallo said the network would enhance cooperation between the AVU and institutions and experts, set up initiatives with external funding, and organise an international meeting on issues of North-South collaboration.

The partnership would help to increase enrolments at higher education institutions and enable African governments to reach their educational goals as spelled out in the Millennium Development Goals and UNESCO’s Education for All initiative.

He added that e-learning offered flexible education by accommodating students’ needs, including the needs of those already employed who wanted to upgrade skills. He said it would encourage them to become lifelong learners.

Asked about expanding e-learning with still-low internet penetration, Diallo said: “Our AVU e-learning model recognises the challenges Africa faces with internet connectivity. Our study materials are available online, on CDs and in print, so students have access to the material even if they are not connected to the internet.”

He said the AVU was committed to strengthening the capacity of African universities to offer e-learning programmes.

“With funding from the African Development Bank, the AVU is working to strengthen the capacity of 27 institutions in 21 African countries to develop, deliver and manage quality ICT-integrated programmes. This project builds on the successes of phase one of the project, which was implemented in 10 African countries.”

In March, at the first West Africa e-Learning Conference and Exhibition, WAeLCE , held in Lagos, Nigeria, African experts called on African governments to prepare policies and promote massive investment in ICTs as a solution to the problem of limited places in campus-based learning institutions.