Dr. José Cossa is a research analyst from Mozambique, currently working in Syracuse, New York State, USA. He has recently published the following book:

José Cossa (2008)  Power, Politics, and Higher Education in Southern Africa: International Regimes, Local Governments, and Educational Autonomy Amherst, NY: Cambria Press

For further information on Dr. Cossa, go to: http://mozambicanscholar.blogspot.com/

We have had the following conversation. Please add your comments to this blog.


From: tony.bates@ubc.ca
Subject:     Re: Online learning in Southern Africa
Date:     August 19, 2008 3:05:59 PM PDT (CA)
To:  Jcossa1@luc.edu

Dear Dr. Cossa

I am currently on the Academic Advisory Board of Universidade Aberta
de Portugal (the Open University of Portugal). It has approximately 10,000 students studying at a distance, of which approximately 3,000 are in Angola or Mozambique. In 2006, the management decided to move all its formerly print-based courses fully online. It has now successfully completed this move. In general the students in Portugal have supported this move. However, less than 1% of the population in Angola and Mozambique have access to the Internet

What are your views on this decision, particularly with regard to Angolan and Mozambican students?


From: “Jose Cossa” <Jcossa1@luc.edu>
Date: August 19, 2008 5:15:01 PM PDT (CA)
To: <tony.bates@ubc.ca>
Subject: Re: Online learning in Southern Africa

Alo Tony,

Muito obrigado. This is very interesting and I would like to engage more in this talk pertaining to distance learning.

One immediate concern that I could raise is whether such a decision by UAb will enhance the (currently) existing elitism in Mozambique, in which it is taken for granted that the voice of the minority with access to technology is indeed representative of the country’s readiness to accommodate a move such as online learning, or if it is indeed a way to contribute to the overall higher education system and encourage Mozambicans to engage in technology if/when such are made available.

The other concern is how that will impact the business of UAb if it happens that in the long run the investment is not correspondent to the demand/students’ ability to pay. I know for sure that Internet access is pretty expensive in Mozambique, thus making it hard for the majority to even dream of having it at home (and some of those who can access it at work, do so under severe restrictions from their bosses; it’s often seen as a means to access e-mail).

Anyway, this is really important not only at the levels that I have pointed here, but also at the level of policy and so forth–take for instance, the questions that Bologna itself is asking… Southern Africa also has a qualifications framework that may be at stake or be enhanced by cross-border and online/distance education.

I cannot agree less with your observation in your blog on South Africa that,

[Indeed, the main challenge for South African universities seems to be
the same as everywhere else: underuse of technology by faculty, quality issues due to a lack of training, and lack of innovative uses of
technology by those who are using it for teaching. Underlying all this
is the need to expand very rapidly the South African higher education
system without losing quality, a formidable challenge for a country
where poverty is still strongly evident.]

As one who has taught both in South Africa and in the USA (undergraduate and graduate levels), I have seen the underuse of technology as a major issue; in fact, I just shared with some colleagues that many of my former colleagues in academia have no idea that they can use Blackboard beyond posting assignments and getting feedback–they can even assess student participation through the data that blackboard generates, in addition to other tools.



From: Tony Bates <tony.bates@ubc.ca>
Date: August 24, 2008 3:35:38 PM PDT (CA)
To: Jose Cossa <Jcossa1@luc.edu>
Subject: Technology for education in Africa

Ola, Jose.

UAb’s move to online learning was done for two reasons: primarily to change the pedagogy from a very print-based, didactic, teacher-centred, industrial approach, to a more online, constructivist, learner-centred, knowledge-based approach; and at the same time, to develop ICT skills for students so they can work in knowledge-based industries. This was done because of the need to modernize the university to meet pressure from the government to address the needs of modern Portugal.

Although there is still a lot of concern at UAb regarding the implications for the overseas students, the administration felt it had to go this way. They are now beginning to look at ways to widen access to technology for the African students, such as through local learning centres and Internet cafes.

In general terms, I am myself conflicted about the use of technology for teaching in developing countries. There are always three different economies running in parallel in any country (resource-based, industrial and knowledge-based.) In most African countries, relatively few are employed in knowledge-based industries (mainly financial services, health, education, and media) and these are usually from the most privileged/wealthy families. However, jobs are growing fast in the knowledge-based industries, even in Africa, and familiarity and use of Internet and computing technologies is essential for these industries, so embedding ICTs in education is increasingly important.

As always, the issue is at what cost and what will not happen as a result? My own view on this is that it is more important to provide first of all basic education facilities, such as qualified teachers and schools, especially at primary and secondary level, and to focus investment in technology specifically at developing skills needed in the new knowledge-based industries, and not as a general panacea for educational development. However, the worse thing would be for developing countries to turn their back on new technology, as technology does offer a chance to break the cycle of poverty and dependence.


Oi Tony,

The following condition imposed on UAb does not surprise me: If it did not modernise and meet the needs of Portugal’s economic development, it would be closed down. This seems like a direct result of “consented” pressure exerted on European governments to catch up with the rest through Bologna and the European benchmarks that call for an Increase of at least 15 percent in the number of tertiary graduates in Mathematics, Science and Technology (MST), with a simultaneous decrease in the gender imbalance; reach an average percentage of 80 percent or more of 25-64 year-olds with at least upper secondary education; and, 12.5 percent of the adult population between the ages of 25-64 should participate in lifelong learning and in no country should it be lower than ten percent. On top of these benchmarks, you nail it right on the head as you refer to the competitive participation in knowledge economies (or knowledge-based industries). So, it makes sense that the government would put pressure on UAb if these goals were not being met! As bad as it is, my suspicion is that our countries will also adopt (if they haven’t already started to draft the documents) agreements and benchmarks that reflect the developments in European higher education.

In regards to Internet access through learning centers and Internet cafes in countries like Mozambique, I think a lot of investment must take place if ventures like those intended by UAb are to be successful. As we both know, this is crucial for all the developing world. One thing that serves as an example to me is the fact that the Centro de Informatica da Universidade Eduardo Mondlane (CIUEM) has been around for a long time and I consider it one that, at least in the past, has been on the cutting edge in Southern Africa yet until now it does not seem to have reached the capacity to respond to the country’s need for a wider access to the Internet. There must be more and more centers and, even more so, free Internet access in order for the culture to be widespread. I know that there are businesses, but these too do not have the capacity to respond because their Internet is usually very slow, which forces them to put restrictions, such as forbidding downloads, on users. Now, if a student is to depend on Internet cafes and centers to engage in academic work, there may be the issue of delays in assignments and missing some class sessions; also, the university cannot rely on more advanced technologies that require high streaming capabilities. Unfortunately, this will not be for lack of ability to cope with higher education demands or any other sort of barrier, but an issue of access—they do not have the space to work online at the time when they can, given their other commitments and the availability of space in the venues providing Internet access; and, sometimes for lack of funds to pay for the service. There is also the time (of usage) limitation imposed on users because of demand.

Actually, this brings nostalgia… in 1996, when the Internet was a luxury (although I believe it still is for a vast majority of my fellow Africans), I used to walk from Bairro Central to the CIUEM—well, this information is only useful for those who know Maputo, but can at least serve as a means of provoking some interest and curiosity for those who do not know the city—only to be able to read and send e-mails in one of the two computers they had available, using Pegasus mail system (apparently, if my sources are correct, this is the oldest e-mail system). How many of us were even aware of such luxury is a question I cannot answer specifically, but can at least speculate that we were perhaps a few dozens because not even most UEM students seemed to be aware of this service until one or two years later (I stand under correction). Now things seem better, but I still firmly believe that more needs to be done not only in Universities—these have actually addressed a few of the concerns in regards to access—but more importantly nationwide. The market for online education is not in universities, but among those who cannot afford (financially, time wise, distance wise, etc.) to attend a physical university as a traditional student, thus low-cost or free Internet access through centers and other access points is the foundation for a successful implementation of online education in developing nations, more specifically Africa.

Lastly, we must also take into account the fact that both Europe and Southern Africa are undergoing tremendous changes in their higher education system—with Europe being more intense than Africa, due to resources and lack thereof. This necessitates an understanding that the quality frameworks of both areas (in this case, Europe and Southern Africa) must be taken into account when considering a university venture (online or otherwise) and the fact that both Portugal and Mozambique are under pressure of converting, in the long run, to bilingual systems with the Anglophone systems of education replacing the already existing Lusophone system.

Let me stop here for now. There may be a lot of thoughts in this entry, but such is a reflection of how I see the matter to be very complex and interconnected with many other issues that will continue to emerge as we exchange ideas. Online education is not only a matter of technology, particularly in developing countries or, even, when dealing with marginalized populations in developed countries.

I look forward to our continuing discussion.




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