|Issue:||Africa and the Middle East 2005|
|Topic:||The African Virtual University (AVU)|
|Author:||Kuzvinetsa Peter Dzvimbo|
|Organisation:||African Virtual University|
Kuzvinetsa Peter Dzvimbo, a Zimbabwean national, is the Rector of the African Virtual University. Before joining the African Virtual University, he worked for the World Bank in Washington DC as a Senior Education Specialist, as the first Vice Chancellor of the Zimbabwe Open University and as the Pro Vice Chancellor at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) where he was also responsible for the University College of Distance Education. During Mr Dzvimbo’s long career in education, he has taught at the Rand Afrikaans University, Johannesburg South Africa, at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and was Dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of Zimbabwe, among others. Mr Dzvimbo has long been involved in distance education, not only at the school where he has taught, but at the School of Basic Studies at Ahmadu Bello University, in Nigeria, as the head of a unit that produced distance teaching and open learning materials for primary school teachers in Zimbabwe – the famous ZINTEC project. Mr Dzvimbo has worked as a consultant for organisations such as UNICEF, UNESCO, USAID, AED, SIDA and the Netherlands Government in Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Namibia, Kenya and Zimbabwe. He has also published extensively about educational reform, teacher education, distance education, educational management and higher education. He earned his BA and a Diploma in Education at the University of Sierra Leone, Fourah Bay College (FBC), and obtained an MEd in Administration and Planning from Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria. He has a PhD in Educational Policy Studies with distributed minors in Curriculum Studies and Educational Administration from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, US.
The African Virtual University, a pan-African educational network, has 42 learning centres in 18 countries. The AVU supports African higher education using open, distance and e-learning (ODeL). AVU’s Internet based model is cost effective, flexible, scalable, affordable and sustainable and works in both low and high technology environments. African educational facilities use a VSAT network for cost effective Internet access to the system. The AVU’s Web-based digital library gives Africans free access to the world’s virtual collections of scholarly information.
The African Virtual University is a pan-African educational network established in 1997 as a World Bank project to serve the countries of sub-Saharan Africa. Since 2002 the AVU has become an Intergovernmental Organisation based in Nairobi, Kenya. It is an innovative educational organisation established to serve the higher educational needs of African countries. The AVU currently has a presence in 42 established learning centres in 18 countries in Africa. The AVU envisions an African higher education landscape that amplifies Open, Distance and e-Learning (ODeL) by the innovative use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and blended modes of delivery to significantly increase equitable access to relevant, affordable, cost effective and flexible tertiary education and training. Our broad vision is that of an Africa that draws on the talent of its entire people to build world-class institutions that underpin a vibrant democratic well-governed and prosperous society. First: the future must provide students with greater access to affordable and relevant education and training and we must create the infrastructure and the culture to allow students to study anytime, anywhere and on any device; Second: our institutions must be more self-reliant. We need to be creative in stretching those public resources as far as we can and find ways to be more efficient; Third: curriculum reform is urgent. We need to develop the types of skills in our students that will not only allow them to compete on the global stage, but also to contribute straight away to African institutions and societies; Fourth: research based teaching and learning is essential to innovation. Our aim is to be able to take this knowledge and make it relevant to our towns and villages as we develop communities of practice across Africa. This is why the AVU envisions an African higher education scene in which Open, Distance and e-Learning (ODeL) will play an increasingly substantial part. The AVU intends to be the pivot of a continental network of higher education institutions, all engaged in enhancing their capacity to utilise high quality, innovative, ODeL systems and methodologies. As adopted in the COMEDAF II (second meeting of the Conference of Ministers of Education of African Union) declaration, the AVU is committed to playing a central role in enhancing the capacity of African universities in ODeL to dramatically increase access to higher education and training in Africa. The AVU already has experience in the limits and possibilities of the use of electronic learning, which has been accepted by the COMEDAF as a viable delivery methodology in African higher education and training. Reasons for a paradigm shift The AVU came up with a model that was cost effective, flexible, scalable, affordable and sustainable. The model that we adopted will take into account contexts in which there are both low and high levels of technology. In each case, there will be some use of information and communication technologies. VSAT systems are the current choice of technology to access bandwidth for the African institutions, hence our involvement in the negotiations with bandwidth providers for the institutions in our network. The AVU learning architecture The AVU has adopted a learning architecture that takes into account the different pedagogical and technological contexts in Africa. Our learning architecture can allow for situations both where there is a low level of technology and those in which the technological levels are very high. In this way, we are able to cater for the needs of different kinds of institutions and students on the African continent. Improving connectivity – the VSAT option Short for Very Small Aperture Terminal, the VSAT system uses an earthbound station used in satellite communications of data/video and voice signals. A VSAT consists of two parts, a transceiver that is placed outdoors in direct line of sight to the satellite and a device that is placed indoors to interface the transceiver with the end-user’s communication device, such as a PC. The transceiver receives or sends a signal to a satellite transponder in the sky. The satellite sends and receives signals from a ground station that acts as a hub for the system. Each end-user is connected to the hub via the satellite, forming a star topology. Why VSAT? The VSAT system is the most cost-effective way to access the Internet in Africa. There are, for the most part, two ways of accessing the international Internet backbone in Africa-Satellite (VSAT) and Fibre (submarine) cable. Fibre cable is currently available only along the western coast of Africa, from Morocco to South Africa, and along the northern coast to Egypt. This leaves the inland states and the interior of Africa accessible only by satellite. Furthermore, it is still cheaper, even in most countries with a fibre cable network, to connect by satellite than by fibre. Then, too, every square inch of the African continent is covered by satellites. Therefore, VSAT technology is the choice at the moment although AVU will closely monitor emerging technologies on the continent or perhaps until such a time that marine fibre cable systems become more affordable to African institutions. Digital libraries and learner support The digital library at http://library.avu.org constitutes a major component of the learner support system. It serves as a gateway to the world’s virtual collections of scholarly information contained in vast databases of text and journals in French and English languages. The collection targets the “open access” resources that are within the public domain, making it possible for the majority of African students to gain unrestricted access to the collection. As a result, the AVU has been able to provide access to digital resources free of charge to African students. In addition to the digital library, AVU facilitates access to the academic programme’s core textbooks, handouts, CD-ROMs and videos that supplement the library. This combination of resources makes it possible for learners to access the blend of support resources that best covers their course work. Sustainability of the AVU The AVU network The AVU’s network consists of 42 established Learning Centres located at universities in 18 African countries with additional centres in the pipeline. A partnership agreement signed with each of these institutions allows them to benefit from AVU resources. Outside of Africa, the AVU also works in partnership with renowned international universities in Australia, Canada and the US. The AVU partners with institutions and business entities to fully support the technology options that the AVU provides to deliver its academic programmes. Alliances have been established with the Hewlett Packard (HP) company, Microsoft Inc., GSI Globecomm, Intelsat, Netsat, etc., to support our technology infrastructure and learning and teaching platforms. Partners in development The AVU’s mission and vision are in line with Africa’s development goals and global development objectives, as defined by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Further collaborative relationships are being developed, negotiated or strengthened. These include those in the areas of grants or projects funding. The African Development Bank, the Canadian International Development Agency, Australian Aid and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development are currently funding the AVU. Added value for institutions of higher learning The AVU adds value to African institutions by enhancing their capacity to provide open and distance education with a focus on electronic learning. Through its AVU Capacity Enhancement Program (ACEP) the AVU will work with and support institutions, in and outside its network, to provide education and training, open and distance education. This will help them to create an enabling environment to dramatically increase access to their own demand driven programmes. The ACEP has as its overarching goal, to enhance the institutional capacity of its AVU Partner Institutions to design, deliver and manage Open, Distance and e-Learning (ODeL) Programs. The sustainability of the AVU depends upon its ability to facilitate the development of the ODeL programs that higher education institutions need to widely implement their own ‘In Country’ programmes. By financing the cost of developing the programme materials, the AVU becomes both a developmental and financial partner for the implementation of these programmes in African tertiary institutions. The AVU intends to begin to generate income for the programmes in this manner and through project funding. The AVU supports activities in African universities by engaging in Business-to-Business activities that both generate income and provide them with a service. The AVU hopes also to generate a modest income from fees, especially from short courses linked to degree and diploma programmes The AVU has also set up a Research and Innovation Facility (RIF) intended to enhance basic and applied research in ODeL. We intend to commission research in ODeL and use project and publication funds to generate some income as well. In the early years, we will look for external resources to fund these activities, but, eventually we hope to establish a commercial wing to the AVU RIF for income generation purposes.