eLA11: Africa demonstrates a strong commitment to ICT-supported education

African countries are increasingly engaging in the development of ICT-based solutions for education and training, according to Dr Mohammed Gharib Bilal, Vice President of the United Republic of Tanzania.

Opening Africa’s leading conference on ICT-supported education, eLearning Africa, in Dar es Salaam on May 25, Dr Bilal said, “We are now witnessing increasing investments in ICT on our Continent, the enthusiasm of the youth in adapting new technologies and bridging the geographical barriers brought by fast changing converging technologies. These initiatives attest to the fact that Africa is now moving from being a spectator to a participatory role in the development of technologies.”

This was demonstrated on Wednesday at the eLearning Africa conference in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. 25 ministers and deputy ministers and more than 50 high-level government officials from from 21 countries* throughout Africa convened at the eLearning Africa Ministerial Round Table to discuss the future role of ICTs in African education. During the conference, 322 speakers from 57 countries have been discussing and demonstrating best practices in 65 parallel sessions, presenting new ways of learning on the Continent and in other parts of the world. An accompanying exhibition shows a wide range of innovative technologies for learning. The conference has attracted more than 1,700 participants from all over the world.

In line with the central conference theme, “Youth, Skills and Employability”, Vice President Dr Bilal pointed out that young people in Africa make up 37 per cent of the working age population and 60 per cent of the unemployed. But whilst remarkable achievements have been noted in terms of access and expansion of infrastructure for schools, colleges, vocational training institutions and polytechnics, the rapid increase of student enrolment has posed a number of challenges, such as a shortage of qualified teachers and limited access to library and Internet facilities. Dr Bilal said that to address these challenges, it was imperative for African governments to invest in ICT in schools, colleges and job-related training programmes.

Dr Shukuru Kawambwa, Tanzania’s Minister of Education and Vocational Training, highlighted his Government’s drive to improve standards. He pointed out that the country’s newest university, in the capital Dodoma, only started four years ago and is now accommodating 20,000 students. He said, “My hope and vision is to see Dodoma University spearheading ICT in education.”

Michael Trucano, Senior ICT and Education Policy Specialist at the World Bank, embarked on a tour of innovative uses of ICTs around the world, from novels published on mobile phones in Japan to Uruguay, which is the first country in the world to provide every single student with a computer. Mr Trucano said that the effectiveness of ICT-supported learning could not always be measured but he was optimistic that soon “all the world?s content will fit in the palm”.

The Tanzanian publisher and political commentator Jenerali Ulimwengu made a case for modern pedagogy, including a more ‘democratic’ teacher-student interaction. He stressed the importance of local content and local languages: Education and training, especially in complex fields such as science and IT, can be made more effective if students are enabled to learn in their mother tongue. ICT can provide easier access to knowledge: “All learning requires technology, all technology requires learning”, he added.

In another first for eLearning Africa, the conference was addressed by a senior NATO Lieutenant General, Karlheinz Viereck, who is responsible for Joint Force Training at the world’s largest military alliance. At a special session on improving cooperation and crisis response, he spoke about the need for “global training” for emergencies and said that NATO was keen to develop joint initiatives with the African Union.

The conference conclude on May 27 with the eLearning Africa Debate about the potential of Open Educational Resources.