|Issue:||Africa and the Middle East II 2003|
|Topic:||e-Learning and Tele-Learning in Africa|
|Title:||CEO and Research Director|
|Organisation:||SAND – S.A.E.|
Education is of vital importance to the developing regions of the world. E-Learning is a promising way to provide world-class education, at reasonable cost, in remote regions of developing economies. Unfortunately, the telecommunications infrastructure is often inadequate, the technology -computers, Internet and such – is expensive and many courses are not available in local languages or meet local needs. Tele-learning, a voice-only, low cost, telephone based, alternative can often provide an adequate local substitute, or complement e-learning programs.
Africa’s developing countries are now emerging as one of the world’s important new regional markets. Recently, the continent has witnessed a huge upheaval and has moved ahead in the fields of telecommunication and information technology. These advances are due to the recent privatizations and liberalizations of the telecommunications markets of African countries. However, these advances are going ahead slowly due to Africa’s shaky infrastructure. The reasons for Africa’s poor infrastructure are legion; they include poverty, landmines, currency devaluation, economical and political disorder, social chaos, large-scale unemployment, corruption, crime and fraud, among many others. Furthermore, the continent’s high illiteracy rate widens the gap between Africa and the rest of the world. The economic needs of the countries in the region are driving the region’s governments to find alternative means of raising the level of education and deliver skills to their people. African countries search continually for more effective, efficient and cheaper ways to teach and train people than those traditionally used. e-Learning, for example, is seen as a very attractive option for the region since it can easily and inexpensively get through to large populations even in the difficult to reach rural areas. e-Learning can deliver the best quality, highest level, educational programs the world has to offer almost anywhere within the continent. Today, alternatives such as e-learning provide educational opportunities in regions where, not so long ago, this would have been impossible to imagine. e-Learning has been quickly adopted in developed countries because of their higher literacy rates and technical capacity. Many institutions, now, provide educational programs, training and examinations through the Internet. Although the use of e-learning has started to grow in Africa, the region’s many difficulties – illiteracy, low levels of technological competence and minimal computer penetration among others – hamper its growth. Initially, the cultural impact of e-learning, and the need to adapt the course materials to the local culture, was ignored. This degraded the learning experience and further slowed the use of e-learning. Each region, each culture needs materials adapted to its specific requirements; one course does not suit all. Many local solutions have been proposed, including learning through telephones. This doesn’t replace e-learning, but in some instances might provide a more easily accepted, widely accessible, way to deal with certain limited local needs. E-Learning makes use of a multi-media environment and has a greater variety of resources than tele-learning. This allows a wider range of subjects to be taught. Nevertheless, certain subjects do not need multi-media support, but can be adequately taught using mailed or faxed materials that can be discussed by phone with a tutor. There have been some attempts to facilitate and reduce the cost of e-learning by using big screens connected through the Internet via computers at community centers. Although this makes possible e -learning in groups, as in a traditional school room, these efforts often fail since they do not offer many key benefits of the e-learning experience including the possibility of learning, in privacy and at a rate determined by the student, whenever and wherever convenient. The relatively widespread access to telephones, compared to access to computers and the Internet, and their ease of use make tele-learning appealing in Africa. Telephony in Africa, both fixed and mobile, has grown spectacularly – compared to the past – in recent years. Tele-learning, moreover, does not require technical competence or even literacy. One need only know how to use a phone. In addition, the infrastructure for tele-learning is much more affordable than that for e-learning. A phone costs much less to own and maintain than a computer and an Internet connection. This encourages participants to take part in tele-learning programs and, also, to spend more hours using the system and learning. The model of tele-learning differs from that for e-learning. There are several different forms that tele-learning can take: live audio conferencing, recorded audio sessions or leave-a- message-for-later-response consulting. Live audio conferences allow tutors to converse directly with their students. Tutors can interact with their students on the phone or just simply lecture. The interactive model is suitable for individuals or small groups; the lecture model is more suitable for large groups. Conferencing works well with theoretical subjects such as religious topics, child raising / maternity training, philosophy, health care, history, agriculture awareness and many more. These subjects, typically, do not depend as much upon visual presentation as upon the information that can easily be presented in audio-only sessions. Live audio conferencing requires pre-scheduling so students can question their tutors directly and vice versa. In Africa, the voice quality of live audio conference tele-learning, generally speaking, is better than that for e-learning. The region’s poor data communications infrastructure, and the limited bandwidth available in most areas, often makes Internet audio conferencing impractical due to poor, hard to understand, voice quality. Recorded audio sessions allow students to access lectures whenever convenient and are more flexible than live audio conferences which have to be scheduled. Accordingly, students can listen to the lectures they want at whatever time that best suits them. This system makes studying easier for part time students, who can work the hours they must and study whenever they can. The system is also easier for teachers, who need only record each lecture once. In addition, this system allows groups of students in other countries to access a particular lecturer’s sessions, when the tapes are acquired locally, without having to make international calls. Furthermore, the tele-learning system is less costly than live audio conferencing; since it reduces the number of tutors, and the number of hours needed to lecture, it reduces the overall cost of instruction. Voice consulting services can add value to both of the above models. This system lets students dial into a phone center and record questions about a given subject or direct questions to a certain lecturer. After a pre-determined waiting period, the student can dial back to the center and retrieve the answer or explanation they were seeking. This complements both the live conference and the recorded models, by allowing students to listen to the lectures, think through what they have heard and then leave recorded questions to get answers regarding whatever doubts that later occur to them. . Many such voice consulting systems have already been implemented in the region. One good example of such a system is that of “Al Hatef al Islami” in Egypt. To use this system, people seeking answers about religious issues, “fatwa,” call in to leave their questions. They are given a unique identifying number for each inquiry. They dial back to the system on the following day, enter their identifying number, and listen to an answer to their question of the day before. As a final touch, tele-learning systems can administer multiple-choice quizzes over the phone and, using automated voice response systems, can provide students with immediate feedback regarding their performance. This interaction with the system provides feedback that is somewhat similar to that obtained from the quizzes and tests administered by e-learning systems. Such telephone systems are already in wide use in parts of Africa by contest sponsors that charge callers a premium to call in and compete for a prize based on the answers they give to the quizzes. E-Learning is growing at a rapid rate in developed countries; it is raising the level of education and, in some instances, totally replacing traditional educational methods. However, even in this, a gap between developed countries and the developing ones still exists. This is because neither the economic conditions, the available infrastructure, the existing content nor the cultural conditions in developing regions such as Africa, are conducive to the full and efficient use of e-learning technology and techniques. Conclusion “Conclusion Therefore governments of the countries in developing regions need to look for alternative solutions to supplement e -learning and raise the level of education in their respective regions. These solutions should bring the benefits of distance learning. Tele-learning has proven itself to be quite helpful, because the infrastructure available in most of Africa, lends itself more readily to this approach than to e-learning. Then too, the low cost of tele-learning, a powerful tool to motivate students in developing regions, makes it an option more in line with local reality than e-learning. Integrating the tele-learning model into existing e-learning systems might prove to be useful, and expand the base of potential users, where legacy infrastructures inhibits the growth of modern, low cost systems.”