6 May 2010: In parts of Africa where traditional classroom education is inaccessible, people have taken education into their own hands by utilizing mobile phones and laptops. This innovative way of garnering information, known as eLearning, provides great potential to expand education.
“Interest in technology-supported learning is constantly increasing in Africa,” said Rebecca Stromeyer, managing director of International Conferences, Workshops and Exhibitions (ICWE). “eLearning supports lifelong learning, providing access to a global knowledge base and facilitating cooperation and information-sharing.”
ICWE is involved with eLearning Africa (ELA), which will hold its fifth annual conference in the Zambian city of Lusaka. The conference discusses technology-enhanced learning across the continent with a range of informative and innovative sessions held between 26 to 28 May.
Utilizing mobile phones for informal learning will be the focus of a seminar at ELA titled African Digital Diaries lead by Adam Salkeld and Stephen Haggard. Salkeld and Haggard’s session spotlights success stories through informal and incidental eLearning.
“Mobile phones offer great potential for learning,” said Salkeld, a documentary filmmaker. “The main reasons for this are [mobile phones] ubiquity and the acceptability and accessibility of them as technology platforms for the widest range of Africans.”
“Laptops are, sadly, still way out of the reach of most Africans,” explained Salkeld. He expressed that mobile phones offer the optimum way to disseminate information of any kind over distances great and small in Africa. “The extraordinary explosion in mobile use has had the most impact on ordinary African people and the potential they have to learn.”
Salkeld described two examples of people using phone technology for learning. The first story he tells involves a former colleague in Zimbabwe who uses SMS/text messaging to pass on vital information to rural farmers to improve their agriculture. The second story is about a young man from Zanzibar whose passion for Liverpool Football Club motivated him to learn computer skills.
The young Zanzibari “will beg or borrow computer time and online access to find about his club and connect with other fans worldwide,” said Salkeld. “His bank of knowledge, his ICT (information and communication technologies) skills, his mastery of English and his ability to interact globally have all been developed using this informal mode of eLearning.”
People such as the young man from Zanzibar are what Salkeld deems Africa’s online heroes. Salkeld’s ELA session follows many more of Africa’s digital citizens. “I am inspired by the ingenuity with which Africans access technology, the way they adapt to less-than-perfect circumstances, the passion for learning and the hope for improvement.” Salkeld added, “I hope that focusing on a few of Africa’s online heroes will encourage the many more I know are out there, quietly working away, overcoming barriers and building a better future.”
Nations across Africa are trying to make it possible for everyone to be an online hero. “Many countries in Africa are expanding national and regional ICT infrastructure, in order to improve access to education and training for large sections of the population,” said Stromeyer. “Most governments have concentrated on expanding access to ICT, strengthening the capacity of the population to use new media and harnessing the potential for modern technology for teacher training.”
Stromeyer is a strong believer in the lifelong-learning process and the valuable role ICTs can play in education. However, she is “deeply convinced that nothing can replace a fantastic teacher in a face-to-face learning environment.”
Training more teachers can be done through eLearning. “In Africa, capacities for higher qualification are very limited; eLearning, which includes online and blended learning possibilities, is thus an indispensable measure to widen the scope of training possibilities,” said Stromeyer. “Professional education is a crucial development issue too.”
As eLearning continues to spread education through mobile phones, and online communities provide valuable sources for learning, it is crucial to get eLearners more information. Salkeld has some advice, “Now the learning content providers need to catch up and produce suitable materials to use on mobile phones. It is happening, but not fast enough.”
First published by MediaGlobal a United Nations based news service 2010