A conference to discuss technology-enhanced learning across Africa with a range of informative and innovative sessions takes place in Lusaka, Zambia, May 26-28, 2010. KEVIN JAMES MOORE reports.
In parts of Africa where traditional classroom education is inaccessible, people have taken education into their own hands by utilising 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,” Rebecca Stromeyer, managing director of International Conferences, Workshops and Exhibitions (ICWE), says. “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, to be held May 26-28, 2010, discusses technology-enhanced learning across the continent with a range of informative and innovative sessions.
Utilising mobile phones for informal learning will be the focus of a seminar at ELA titled African Digital Diaries and led 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,” Salkeld, a documentary filmmaker, says.”The main reasons for this are the ubiquity and the acceptability and accessibility of mobile phones as technology platforms for the widest range of Africans.”
“Laptops are, sadly, still way out of the reach of most Africans,” explains Salkeld. He adds that mobile phones offer the optimum way to disseminate information of any kind over distances in Africa. “The extraordinary explosion in mobile use has had the most impact on ordinary Africans and the potential they have to learn.”
Salkeld describes 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,” says Salkeld. “His bank of knowledge, his ICT 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. 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,” he says.
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,” says 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,” says 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.”