Taking e-Learning Development Agenda Beyond Africa
July 2007

Taking e-Learning Development Agenda Beyond Africa

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The second eLearning Africa conference on ICT for Development, Education and Training closed on May 30, with the total number of 1403 participants, an increase of over eighty percent compared to the inaugural event in 2006. eLearning users, newcomers, providers, and experts from 88 countries spanning all continents gathered during the three conference days at the Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya.

Approximately 73 percent of the participants came from 43 African countries, making it a truly Pan-African event. Kenya, the hosting country, had the largest participant group, followed by the Nigerian delegation and big groups from South Africa and Uganda. From Europe, the UK sent the largest contingent. Canada and the USA were also well represented.

The conference was attended by e-Learning experts from universities, schools, companies, the health sector, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) engaged in capacity development and education, government representatives, as well as from major development bodies. The programme featured the input of 308 speakers from 55 countries, including presentations from major development organisations, such as UNESCO, UNEVOC, the Global Development Learning Network (GDLN), and the World Bank, as well as national and governmental institutions, mainly from Africa but also from Europe, Asia, and  North America.

Projects and initiatives from all over Africa were presented, and the agenda featured leading example of how the latest developments in e-Learning are being put to work in the service of learners regardless of their location or level of technology. e-Learning at school and in medical and public health education featured significantly in this year’s agenda, as well as free open content and the provision of open education resources for all types of training.

UNESCO-UNEVOC, in partnership with the Commonwealth of Learning, the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Education in Africa, and the German Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training, organised the first African Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Summit “Access to and Inclusion in TVET in Africa Through New ICT-Based Solutions”, which attracted more than 120 participants.

ICT on the Agenda – The Conference Plenaries

The main conference agenda got off to a superb start with a plenary on 29 May chaired by Prof. Karega Mutahi, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Education, Kenya, with the welcome address made on behalf of Prof. George Saitoti, Minister for Education, Kenya by Dr. Kilemi Mwiria, Assistant Minister, Ministry of Education, Kenya. The Kwame Ampofo Twumasi, Deputy Minister of Education, Science and Sports (Secondary and Technical), Ghana then gave a spirited presentation on the potential ICTs in education holds for his home country.

Ken Mbwaya, Managing Director, HP East Africa followed with a presentation entitled “Helping People Achieve Key Performance”, in which he highlighted the work being done by HP in building products and services that are playing a key role in enhancing and improving African’s use of information and communication technologies.

Esam M. Abulkhirat, ICT Senior Policy Officer, Human Resources, Science & Technology Department at the African Union, was the final speaker and gave a presentation entitled “ICTool for African Youth Empowerment”. In his presentation, Esam focussed on what he described as the “revolutionary transformation” that is required of African educational systems if they are to benefit from the opportunities increasingly available through an expanded use and deployment of ICT that needs to be part of every country’s development programme and strategy.

The evening’s plenary focussed on the topic of “Building Partnerships for Education and Capacity Development in Africa: Finding a Sustainable Role for ICT-Supported Initiatives” and brought together panellists under the leadership of Tim Unwin of the Partnerships for Education Programme, World Economic Forum/UNESCO.

The participating panellists were Bill Souders, Cisco and NEPAD e-Schools Initiative, Micheline Ntiru, Nokia Corporate Social Investment, Mark East, Microsoft Education Solutions Group, Dr. Martina Roth, Intel Education, Europe, Middle East and Africa, Monika Weber-Fahr, World Bank Institute, and Afzal Sher, SPIDER, Sweden.

They discussed the value and impact of Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships for Education (MSPEs), which are seen as offering potential ‘solutions’ to many of the problems facing those seeking to enhance the quality and quantity of education and capacity development in Africa.

The conference’s closing plenary was again chaired by Prof. Karega Mutahi, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Kenya, and featured presentations by Hon. Prof. George Saitoti, Minister for Education, Kenya, Dr. Kenneth E. Keirstead, The Lyceum Group/Le Groupe Lyceum, Fredericton, Canada & Conakry, Guinea, and Anju Visen-Singh, SMART Technologies Inc., Canada. Prof. Saitoti spoke about the success of eLearning Africa 2007 in bringing together such a significant number of participants and the impact this could have on the take-up of eLearning in Africa.

Dr. Keirstead spoke about the changing face of learning in Africa and elsewhere and how ICT can be best used to improve the educational offerings, particularly to those in developing countries, while Anju Visen-Singh illustrated her presentation with examples of projects that SMART have supported in this area.

Sustainability is the challenge – The conference programme

The conference programme featured special-focus sessions headed by leading organisations in the field of African eLearning, including NEPAD, which offered insight into the NEPAD e-Schools Initiative. The session run by UNESCO focussed on the UNESCO Teacher Training Initiative for Sub-Saharan Africa (TTISSA), and the one organised by the Global Development Learning Network (GDLN) featured interviews and a discussion about GDLN as a global network, with a special focus on Africa GDLN and the Association of African Distance Learning Centers (AADLC).

The topic came to a close with a discussion highlighting the work of the Forum for African Women Educationalists and the Africa Gender and Development Evaluators Network, Kenya, amongst others.

Health featured significantly in this year’s agenda, with presentations of various examples of online learning opportunities for health professionals. These include the African Medical and Research Foundation’s (AMREF) initiative to upgrade 22,000 nurses in Kenya, supported by Accenture, the Global Healthcare Information Network and the Chartered HealthNet, Uganda, supported by the International Development Research Center (IDRC).

While setting up projects and initiatives in the field of e-Learning may be relatively straightforward, the challenge for those attending eLearning Africa lies in finding sustainable models, and this topic was the subject of both a presentation and a lively discussion. Examples of efforts to highlight the issue of sustainability included projects for dispersed communities in rural Canada, the Ethiopian Civil Service College e-Learning initiative, as well as the work of Digital Links International. The ensuing discussion brought together several long-term practitioners who strove to identify best practice in creating sustainable initiatives with the input of the audience.

African Showcases were spread throughout the agenda, with examples of digital courseware and learning materials developed with a focus on African learners presented by organisations such as Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia, National Curriculum Development Centre, Uganda, University of Nairobi, Kenya, and ISPU Quelimane, Mozambique.

Free and open content and the provision of Open Education Resources for all types of training featured significantly on the agenda, including the presentation of the Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa (TESSA) programme, aimed at supporting teacher training throughout the Continent, and the Open Learning Platform from UNESCO.

Finding ways to support learners in rural areas of Africa continues to be an important challenge that brings together several concerns, not the least of which is how to operate successful telecentres in rural regions where access to infrastructure can be very problematic. Mobile technology brings new hope to rural learning initiatives, along with re-thinking the value of traditional media like radio, and examples of projects that highlighted developments in this area which are being undertaken by the Ministry of State for Youth Affairs in Kenya and the Municipal Development Partnership in Zimbabwe were presented.

Universities continue to lead the way in Africa in the implementation of Information and Communication Technologies, and there were several sessions devoted to exploring how this is being realised. African cases that illustrate challenges in this area included those put forward by the University of Botswana, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Kenya, Tshwane University of Technology, South Africa, University of Lagos, Nigeria, and the Association pour la Promotion de l’Education et de la Formation à l’Etranger (APEFE), Congo (DRC).

UbuntuNet and the efforts being made throughout Africa to link research networks attracted quite some attention to the general topic of connectivity.
This discussion was enhanced through the presentations of experiences, such as those put forward by the African Virtual University and LinkNet Zambia.

Using an innovative format called the World Cafe, a significant number of participants took part in sessions on the agenda designed to network training practitioners and help them explore and discuss ideas and issues relevant to their work. These sessions helped attendees find out more about new and existing networking initiatives, such as those built around the ItrainOnline
Partnership – a network formed around a portal on ICT4D training resources. This session was led by the ItrainOnline Partnership and hosted by APC, Bellanet and IICD.

The general topic of introducing e-Learning to the school system proved to be very popular, with sessions devoted to teacher training, effective partnerships for African Schools, and successful strategies for implementing ICT in schools. Organisations taking part included  WITAR, Burundi, Ramos University of Aveiro, Portugal, Umeå University, Sweden, Intel IT Innovation, Ireland, HP Education Services, France , SIVECO Romania, Romania, Centre d’apprentissage du Haut-Madawaska, Canada, Ministry for Education and Vocational Training, Malawi, and the Lycée Joss Douala, Cameroon.

A Networking and Meeting Place

Harambees or networking sessions were a new addition to the agenda this year, and the response from participants to set up and lead one of these informal sessions was overwhelming. In small groups and an informal setting, participants discussed topics such as LMS’s in African Schools and Universities, ICTs and Rural Development, Teacher Training Initiatives, Developing Africa’s
Business Leaders Using e-Learning, and many more.

Hosted and chaired by the Prof. George Saitoti, the first African High-Level Policy Maker and Industry Leader Round Table and Retreat on 28 May 2007 became a milestone in inter-African ministerial collaboration related to African technology-enhanced education programmes. The Round Table endorsed a communiqué comprising three recommendations and a work plan.

The accompanying exhibition at eLearning Africa featured 43 major e-Learning and learning technology providers as well as organisations and institutions from the development network.

eLearning Africa (www.elearning-africa.com) is a conference organised by ICWE GmbH and Hoffmann & Reif that focuses on ICT for development, education and training in Africa. Each year a different African country is served as the venue. eLearning Africa 2008 will take place in Accra, Ghana from May
28 – 30, 2008.

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