Report: E-Learning breaking down barriers in Africa

Public-private arrangements are bringing e-learning to thousands of Africans whose access to traditional education is hampered by poverty, political conflict and a lack of teachers and infrastructure, according to a new grant report from the IBM Endowment for the Business of Government, a unit of IBM Corp. of Armonk, N.Y.

The report, The Promise of E-Learning in Africa: The Potential for Public-Private Partnerships, concludes that e-learning offers a flexible and cost-effective way to span Africa's rural distances and make alternatives to regular classroom settings available through such technologies as satellite downlinks, interactive television, videoconferencing and virtual educational networks.

Norman LaRocque, a policy adviser with the New Zealand Business Roundtable in Wellington, New Zealand, and Michael Latham, president of CfBT Education Services Inc., a Reading, United Kingdom, nonprofit organization that focuses on educational development, authored the report.

Africa is the only region in the world whose school-age population will increase rapidly over the next 20 years, LaRocque and Latham said. And while introducing e-learning technologies in Africa presents many challenges, public-private partnerships are creating an increasing number of success stories there. The report defines these collaborations broadly as "risk-sharing relationships based upon an agreed aspiration between the public and private sectors to bring about a desired public policy outcome."

Current e-learning collaborations in Africa include:
  • Collaboration between South Africa's National Department of Education and private companies that have donated the hardware and provided financing and software for technologies to train teachers at 14 learning centers in remote areas. The program has trained approximately 13,500 teachers since 1998.

  • A "virtual university" sponsored by the World Bank which uses satellite and computer technologies, Internet access and an online digital library of over 1,000 full-text journals to deliver academic courses to students in 15 sub-Saharan African countries. By the end of a pilot phase in early 2000, more than 12,000 students had completed semester-long courses in engineering and the sciences through the university.

  • A collaboration between South Africa's Department of Communications, nonprofit organizations and a consortium of private companies that provided the technology, resources and know-how to launch a pilot program last June to establish e-learning centers in disadvantaged schools and community projects.

  • To move e-learning collaboration forward, the report recommends that:

  • Multilateral agencies, governments and the private sector develop an agenda for action on e-learning in Africa with the understanding that the public sector cannot by itself meet the challenges presented by the introduction of new technologies.

  • Government organizations and donor agencies work to ensure that legal and regulatory policies in Africa promote private sector investments in telecommunications infrastructure, education and e-learning.

  • Multilateral agencies and governments undertake market and regulatory surveys to guide technology and e-learning investment decisions and to support the development of a framework for public-private relationships.

  • Click here to link to the report.

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