In this era of digital natives, technological advancements in higher education is uberous worldwide. E-learning initiatives are expanding in the field of higher education with learners wanting more flexibility in terms of geographical location, time, commuting and access to the course resources. Apart from the increased accessibility to the students, e-learning initiatives can also provide universities with more enrollments, increased revenue, refined teaching-learning experience and enhanced reputation of the institution.
E-learning initiatives and use of information and communications technology in the field of higher education is held in common in the developed countries. However, higher educational institutions in Africa still have constraints of inadequate resources for the implementation of these advancements in the higher education model.
USAID’s report, African Higher Education: Opportunities for Transformative Change For Sustainable Development, suggested the following recommendations to support e-learning initiatives in Africa:
1) USAID’s e-learning investments should focus on increasing the use of e-learning tools by existing African universities rather than focus on developing fully online alternatives
2) Investments should incentivize international collaboration and public-private partnerships to promote the adoption of innovative, scalable approaches to blended learning
3) USAID should give consideration to establishing regional centers of leadership for the development and implementation of e-learning in African Higher Education
One great challenge in the field of higher education, as per this report, is that enrollment to higher educational courses is more than the financing capabilities of the sub-Saharan African countries.
There are great challenges in terms of allocating public investments towards higher education in Africa. Between 1995 and 2010, only 0.78% of the gross domestic product was allocated towards higher education. This is approximately 20% of the public expenditure on education to higher education. The number of students enrolled to the higher education courses increased from 2.7 million in 1991 to 9.3 million in 2006, during this period.
There is a great scope of development in the fields of higher education through e-learning initiatives in Africa. This can also address a lot of higher education challenges in Africa.
Political, institutional, capacity, technology access and supportive infrastructure challenges are some of the major higher educational challenges as per USAID’s report. Apart from these challenges faced by the higher education sector in Africa, some of the infrastructural challenges include the following:
Access to devices for e-learning
An important aspect to the e-learning initiatives is the access to the devices through which students and teachers get access to the course materials. There is lack of reliable data on the computers for the faculty and students to make use of; and with the introduction of mobile devices to replace laptops and desktops, the upkeep of ICT equipments is becoming a cost-incurring task. The recurring costs involved in the maintenance and support of the equipments is another key area of concern.
Electricity as a setback
Unavailability of electricity is a great problem faced by the African continent that is a major downside to ICT in African countries. Most West African countries that are said to be familiar to ICT also face problems of unpredictable power supplies, brownouts and power surges, which make the e-learning model of learning ineffective and inaccessible. While the issue of inadequate power supply still remains, use of renewable resources like solar energy and wind-turbines have not been able to suffice the needs.
The issue lack of access to electricity has not been addressed in the last decade and therefore the power sector in Africa has a slow growth-pace. Increased access to mobile phones and internet does not have enough electricity to back it up.
Human resources challenge
This is one other great aspect and a challenge in ICT programs in Africa. In most countries of Africa, there is still paucity in technically skilled and competent people to operate, maintain and design data communication networks. People who possess the skill set required prefer private sector employment options.
This lack of availability of human resources can be met by setting up courses in educational institutions that train the skills required to drive ICT in higher education and other domains.
The quality of the instructional materials used is another major factor affecting e-learning initiatives. Use of multimedia and web resources can enhance the learning experience with better retention of the knowledge gained. There has to be investments in increasing the number of educators in designing and developing instructional materials.
Keeping all these challenges in mind, Africa still has great scope of using modern technology to enhance higher education. The benefits e-learning initiatives are proven to be worthwhile in many developed countries. E-learning will bring great opportunities to students to have access to higher education.