Embracing mobile education in Africa

 

Despite Africa containing many of the world’s fastest growing economies and a burgeoning middle class, it still lags behind in educational standards.

Chris Parr, a social media reporter, agrees: “Driven by falling costs and a lack of fixed phone line connections, mobile phone ownership in Africa is booming, and is transforming everything from banking and healthcare (with text messages used to transfer money and send health advice), to agriculture and politics (farmers can receive guidance, weather forecasts and market reports) – so why not education?

Answers are simple. Although the mobile infrastructure has improved massively, Africa is a continent in which about two-thirds of the population still live without domestic access to electricity, the same reason why Gary Marsden, a professor in the department of computer science at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, is worried when discussing the educational possibilities introduced by the seemingly unstoppable rise of mobiles.

“There are lots of excitement and lots of potential here in Africa, but lots of worry as well,” Marsden explains. 

More so, a report by the World Bank and the African Development Bank points to an absence of comprehensive national strategies in most – if not all – African countries to promote the use of mobile technologies for education; a lack of finance and prioritisation of investment in information and communication technology; limited infrastructure of the type required to support mobile technology’s widespread use in education; and a lack of technological expertise among educators.

Another huge challenge is developing online educational resources that can cater for Africa’s diverse and multilingual population. According to Marsden, there is nothing at all on the Internet in many African languages, because no one in African communities has the ability to produce content in African languages.

However, it is critical to note that in countries within and across Africa, mobile learning is the only practical way to sidestep huge physical and computing infrastructure deficits because it breaks barriers of time, location and the cost of delivering educational content.

More so, the power of the Internet in an educational context has always been that it simplifies access to content. This is according to Andrew Rudge, Chief of Insight and Reach at Mxit, South Africa.

Accordingly, African countries should craft comprehensive national programmes and strategies that promote the use of mobile technology for education. Collence Chisita, a Harare-based researcher, says to embrace mobile learning as an economic game changer, African countries require to create conducive technological platforms; mobile-friendly and locally relevant content.

Steve Vosloo, senior project officer in the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation mobile learning division for teacher development and higher education, concurs but argues that mobile technology is not going to be the saviour of Africa’s education, but it can potentially make a significant contribution

“Mobile phones are having a profound impact on so many levels of society in Africa – communication, banking, entertainment. “In terms of access, it is like no other Information and Communication Technology before. Mobile technology is not going to be the saviour of Africa’s education, but it can potentially make a significant contribution,” argues Vosloo.

Thus, to effectively benefit from the significant contribution of mobile learning, stakeholders, policy decision makers in the education fraternity and governments in African countries need to invest in appropriate and relevant technologies that facilitate permanent access to and resource discovery of selected online or digital resources.

Because of this, Chisita attests:“Making educational resources freely available will benefit African students, researchers, policy decision makers, intellectuals and think tanks – and in the process fast-track the continent’s development.”

Chisita further urges researchers, library and information professionals in the continent to acquire new set of skills to enhance their training and capacity building techniques, and to successfully manipulate mobile technologies.

He believes governments and information practitioners need to quickly adapt to mobile technology to promote education and to effectively transform the economy of Africa.

“The information and communication technology’s revolution in mobile communications has the potential to transform education; therefore, African governments and other stakeholders should promote e-learning, e-inclusivity and invest more in information and communication technology driven research infrastructure.

“There is therefore a need for partnerships both inside and outside Africa, to ensure access to local information and knowledge for the people, and for this knowledge to be incorporated into Africa’s development strategy to enhance economic and social development,” he says. Frankly, mobile learning is driving development in other continents; therefore, it is time for African states to embrace and fully support it.

March 2014
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