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Can e-Learning Resolve Education Shortages in African Countries?

A “virtuous cycle” is one in which a reciprocal cause and effect leads to the improvement of the situation. As the world moves deeper into the information age, technology and education have the potential to form such

A “virtuous cycle” is one in which a reciprocal cause and effect leads to the improvement of the situation. As the world moves deeper into the information age, technology and education have the potential to form such a cycle. The skills acquired through education provide an enabling environment for the improvement of technology. Similarly, the integration of technology into education is a powerful tool for the advancement of knowledge and education.


In the case of certain African countries, broader access to education can truly help them take part in this ‘information age’, and become future engines of growth. As Nelson Mandela said, “education is the key to everything.” While learning is the cornerstone of all development, it is only when the underpinnings of quality education are present that all the other systems upon which development depends (e.g., economic growth, effective governmental machinery, etc.) be truly accomplished. Despite this need, the number of children across the continent who are out of school amounts to 30 million.

“Teachers now assume a whole new role as facilitators and guides.”

Adding technology to the mix, particularly e-Learning, is one way to overcome this shortfall, and can be pivotal in closing the information gap.  E-Learning uses various kinds of electronic media together with information and communication technology to teach. It also has several advantages over the conventional brick-and-mortar style of education and can cater to the huge numbers of potential students who may not have access to physical classrooms. Additionally, e-Learning leads to a paradigm shift in both the role of students and teachers. While teachers used to be perceived as ‘transmitters of knowledge’ addressing an entire audience, in the context of this digital revolution, teachers assume a whole new role as facilitators and guides.


Advocates have also argued that the online learning environment allows for skill transfers in a way that was once inconceivable. The African Leadership University, (Africa’s first e-learning driven university) is a prime example of democratised learning.

“e-Learning systems can be powered in innovative ways”

Skeptics would have you believe that making e-Learning practicable and sustainable would first require energy security and that lack of consistent and affordable electricity makes implementing a technology-driven infrastructure near-impossible. Admittedly, in an overwhelming majority of African countries unpredictable power outages occur regularly and may undermine the value of any online tool, not just e-learning initiatives. However, these power issues can be overcome.


Thinking outside the box, e-Learning systems can be powered in innovative ways. In the event of a power outage, powered modems and routers designed to serve specifically in contexts where access to energy is inconsistent are excellent back-up devices. They can connect to the closest GSM network connection. GSM is a wireless platform independent from land-based networks because it uses radio frequencies. Fortunately, most major African cities, provincial capitals and smaller towns already have GSM connections available. The ubiquitous mobile connectivity would therefore enable modems and routers to work in these particular environments. Juliana Rotich and her peers found inspiration in this model when they designed BRCK as part of their Nairobi-based open-source software, Ushaidi, during Kenyan post-election violence in 2008.


Overall, e-Learning addresses numerous obstacles related to education in Africa. In addition to providing access to education to a larger part of the population, it would improve the quality of education. Interactive and communicative e-Learning promotes the development of the so-called 21st Century Skills which are critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity and collaboration. African countries would benefit greatly from e-Learning as it would help them to be better equipped to contribute to the knowledge-centered economy we are seeing today.


Iynna Halilou is a strategic communications analyst at Urban Future Lab, New York’s premier stop for clean tech activities in the region. She is passionate about the role of technology and entrepreneurship as a driver of solutions for Africa’s most pressing development challenges. She has experience in the public sector, international organisations and is now working to design a social venture focused on improving sanitation access in Cameroon. Despite her passion and love for the African continent, Iynna considers herself a global citizen, having lived in Cameroon, France, Russia, Senegal, England and the United States. 
Iynna recently received a Master in International Affairs / International Development from NYU and completed her B.A. in International Relations and Spanish from Durham University in England. 
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