October 19, 2017

An analysis of the e-Learning Africa 2015 report

Refugees and iPads 2

Elletson, H. and Burgess, A. (eds.) (2015) The eLearning Africa Report 2015 Berlin, Germany: ICWE GmbH

It is difficult to do justice in a short blog post to this 130 page plus report about the state of e-learning in Africa. I need therefore to be selective. As a result, although the link between primary, secondary and higher education is critical, I will focus in this post mainly on higher education, infrastructure and policy issues raised in the report. However, for anyone concerned about development in Africa, I strongly recommend reading the whole report rather than relying on this analysis. I have put selected extracts from the report in italics.


Technology is driving change in Africa and fuelling the economic growth of African economies. There is now an urgent need for radical change. Africa is at a ‘tipping point.’ The upward momentum of the continent’s economies can continue or they can start to slip back. Much will depend on the nature of the change the continent is now prepared to embrace….

Education is the key to Africa’s future and, if it is to do what is expected of it, technology has to be at the heart of it…. 

More attention also needs to be given to the forgotten child of African education – the higher education sector…

It is time to put eLearning at the forefront of the radical change Africa needs.

The state of e-learning readiness in Africa

This chapter from Dr Aida Opoku-Mensah, Special Adviser Post-2015 Development Agenda, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) addresses the following:

Whilst eLearning services and products are freely on offer in Africa, with many interesting initiatives and projects in place, the real question is whether the continent is ready fully to benefit from this revolution….

The key question is whether governments are providing a centrally coordinated eLearning implementation programme that aligns national goals to educational reform and the use of effective technology.

An eLearning strategy should be a subset of an ICT in Education policy that:

  • lays out a roadmap for countries with an eLearning architecture
  • addresses curriculum issues
  • provides for capacity development for teachers across a nation
  • supports administration and the management of systems

Other important aspects of such a strategy should be:

  • infrastructure development that provides affordable connectivity for education
  • content development especially when it comes to procurement of eLearning content, including its contextualisation
  • exploring the prospect of developing a local eLearning business support sector that can sustain any eLearning environment, whilst nurturing innovation and creativity in this sector.

She goes on to argue that:

eLearning becomes possible when there is an integration of ICTs in the education system, which requires a policy and strategy of its own. It may be derived from marrying a national ICT policy with national education goals and strategy. Without this approach, African countries are not and will not be ready.

The neglect of higher education in sub-Saharan Africa

Guy Pfefferman, an economist by background and CEO of the Global Business School Network, points to the neglect of higher education in Africa in the 2000 United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, because of its sole focus on primary education. However, demand for higher education has exceeded supply in Africa, resulting in a rapid growth of private higher education institutions. Funding has not kept pace with enrolment growth, and as a result quality is a huge challenge.

Although HE in Africa is now back on the development agenda, Pfefferman argues that the existing institutions require major reform:

What is necessary in order to meet the need for skills and employment is radical, not gradual, change. eLearning is therefore the only way … of scaling up the reach of good and relevant higher education.

The reality of Internet and phone access in Africa

Firoze Manji, Director of the Pan-African Baraza, which is aimed at reclaiming the past, contesting the present and inventing the future, offers some valuable counter-perspectives to the type of education being offered to Africans and the romanticism about [the Internet] and telephones. 

If one looks at the continent as a whole, something like less than 14% of the population has access to the internet. If you exclude Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and South Africa, you are left with 4% with access to the internet. You are, therefore, only reaching a tiny minority by doing it this way.

With regard to phones:

The majority of people who do have phones in Africa really only use them for text messaging. The cost of sending messages, although it has come down significantly in some countries, in many places costs anywhere between 20 and 35 cents. If you’re on less than a dollar a day then that’s a large proportion.

This theme was also taken up in the article by Nnenna Nwakanma, the cofounder of The Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa.

  • Internet access is priced as a luxury good. Overall, in emerging and developing countries, the cost of entry level broadband (averaging across mobile and fixed line access) exceeds 40% of average income (in many countries it is over 100% of monthly income).
  • 500 MB per month is the minimum needed to access two or three educational videos a week, and fewer than 3% of Africans, 25% of Asians and 30% of Latin Americans, can afford a 500 MB mobile data package.
  • In some cases, schools are trying to meet the costs of eLearning programmes by introducing additional student fees, thus clearly discriminating against the poor.
  • The high cost to connect limits access to information and distance learning opportunities for women in the developing world, which is particularly worrying because the overwhelming majority of adults excluded from formal schooling are women.

Nnenna Nwakanma concludes that:

to unlock the internet revolution in access to knowledge and empowerment we need to ensure that all people can access all of the internet all of the time [and] can use it freely to express their views and seek information without political restrictions….Globally, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) should include a commitment to achieving universal and affordable access to broadband internet, including the expansion of free public access facilities, as part of a larger commitment on access to infrastructure. The SDGs must also commit to upholding the rights of all to freedom of expression, information and association, both online and offline.

What is appropriate technology for e-learning in Africa?

Niall Winters, Associate Professor of Learning and New Technologies at the Department of Education, University of Oxford, looks at three rationales for the use of technology for teaching in Africa:

  • to provide students with the skills they need to take part in the knowledge economy of the 21st Century
  • for teachers to improve their teaching practice
  • a means by which self-guided informal learning will flourish.

He argues that each of these rationales require nuanced and in-depth analysis to succeed. He argues that each is ‘problematic’ and the problems that arise from using technology for these purposes need to be addressed; merely providing technology in the hope that these goals will succeed is likely to fail. He uses One Laptop Per Child and the Hole in the Wall projects as examples of the need for a more nuanced approach.

Basic data on ICTs in education in Africa

An overview of the latest ICT in education data is provided by Peter Wallet, Programme Specialist in ICT in education statistics at the UNESCO Institute for Statistics. The first point he makes is that there is a major data gap in ICT in education data in Africa. In fact in six sub-Saharan countries, no data at all is collected. As a result, Wallet focused on three areas:

  • electrification
  • computer density
  • Internet connectivity.

He found that electricity was available in less than 20% of primary schools in ten countries for which there was data. More than 75% of all schools had electricity in just five countries (Mauritius, Sao Tome, South Africa, Botswana and Djibouti), although in Zambia and Niger over 75% of all secondary schools also had electricity.

The learner-to-computer ratio (LCR) varied considerably across countries, but Wallet reported that computer resources are greatly overstretched in primary education in a number of countries, including the Gambia, where 214 pupils on average share a single computer and in Zambia and São Tomé there are more than 500 pupils per computer.

The primary level LCR in South Africa, Botswana, Rwanda and Mauritius is 90:1, 55:1, 40:1 and 23:1, respectively, with Rwanda’s being relatively low due to the One Laptop Per Child program. Ratios are better in secondary schools (around 54 learners per computer). Wallet comments:

While the LCR is an average, computer resources may, however, be so strained in many schools that time on task is too limited per pupil to allow a meaningful learning experience

Internet availability ranges substantially within sub-Saharan Africa. For example, internet availability is negligible in primary schools in Burkina Faso, Liberia, Madagascar, and Guinea. At the other end of the range, Mauritius has connected over 90% of all its schools, while Botswana has connected all public secondary schools to the internet.

The impact of undersea fibre optic networks on Africa

In 2009, sub-Saharan Africa began to see its first international submarine fibre-optic cable connections. Now the region has multiple cable systems on both coasts, with more countries being connected each year.

Social entrepreneur Steve Song has been working with the online community to map the history and development of African undersea cables. He shares … his continuously updated African Undersea Cables map – April 2015 version – as well as his review of the continent’s 2014 telecom infrastructure development, to paint a picture of where and how the continent is getting connected.

Africa undersea cables 2

Country profiles

The report ends with profiles of each African country.

The country profiles allow for a more detailed view on a country-by-country basis, analysing national trends, policies and best practice, highlighting how each country in Africa uses ICT for education and development.

They show the scale of Africa’s achievement, the obstacles that remain to be overcome and, in many cases, the enormous opportunities that are now within reach of so many people across the continent.

Other topics

There are also interesting sections in the report on the following:

  • Education is the first step toward peaceful societies, by Emmanuel Jal
  • The Cruise of a Thousand Clicks: A poem by Bobana Badisang
  • The power of open knowledge: How Wikimedia is transforming education
  • Teaching teacher trainers to teach online
  • Stop the education blame game and start looking at the bigger picture
  • Spotlight on eLearning in Egypt and eLearning for agriculture in Malawi
  • The eLearning Africa survey
  • Putting mobile learning into context
  • Finding funds

Each one of these is worth a blog post in itself.

My comments

I cannot praise too highly the work of the eLearning Africa project of ICWE GmbH, which also runs the annual eLearning Africa conference. They provide essential documentation and networking regarding what’s happening in e-learning in Africa.

The report highlights the tension between the enormous possibilities of the use of technology for teaching and learning in Africa, and the reality and challenges on the ground. The editors state:

It is already clear that the ambitious aims of the Millennium Development Goals have not been fulfilled. Despite some progress, universal attainment of the goals remains distant. Progress has been uneven too. Some statistics nevertheless stand out: since 1999, for example, the number of children enrolled in primary schools in sub-Saharan Africa increased by 75% to 144 million in 2012. In the same period, the gender parity gap was halved in primary education. In the 2000’s, the percentage of countries carrying out national assessments of learning almost doubled.

Overall, I came away optimistic about the real progress that has been made and is continuing to be made in education in Africa, and the role that e-learning is beginning to play.

However, e-learning is way down the development food chain and does not exist in a vacuum. First comes political, economic and infrastructure development (particularly electricity), accompanied by investment in and the building of formal education capacity. Then comes teacher training and the development of ICT infrastructure linked to educational goals and policy. Only then is the ecological framework that enables e-learning to be successful in place.

This does not mean that e-learning cannot help bring about radical changes, but it has to be seen as just one part of many highly complex developments that are needed to reduce poverty and provide freedom and well-being to the peoples of Africa. We do Africa a disservice by suggesting that there are simple short cuts through mobile learning, free computers or online learning, although these are all developments that can help speed up change in Africa, provided that the other pieces are also being put in place.

Una mirada personal sobre el uso de tecnologías digitales en la formación de docentes en los INFDs de Argentina.

El Ministerio de Cultura y Educación de la provincia argentina de Misiones y Fundación Telefónica capacitan a 360 docentes sobre nuevas tecnologías. © Fundación Telefónica, 2012

Ileana Farré, a quien solicité una mirada personal sobre el uso de tecnologías digitales en la formación de docentes, es profesora en el Instituto Superior de Formación Docente No 803 en Puerto Madryn, sur de Argentina. Ella quisiera enfatizar que sus opiniones están basadas en su experiencia personal y no son necesariamente representativas de todas las instituciones.

Cree que, en general, en la mayoría de los Institutos Superiores de Formación Docente faltan proyectos o estrategias institucionales para la implementación de tecnologías digitales para la enseñanza y  el aprendizaje. Es una decisión de cada profesor, si o cómo,  utilizar las tecnologías en su tarea.

Sin embargo, se constituyen tres contextos básicos para el uso de tecnologías en los institutos:


La no utilización de TIC en las propuestas de enseñanza.

 Herramientas digitales para apoyar la enseñanza tradicional

En esta situación  los formadores utilizan una plataforma institucional (LMS Ej. Moodle) y otras herramientas  para la transmisión de información y la comunicación directa entre: – dirección – profesores; profesores entre sí y  profesores – alumnos. En algunos casos se utilizan  foros de discusión. Las herramientas más usadas  son e-mail, pdf, video y presentaciones de Power Point;  éstas  refuerzan el rol central del formador.

Diseños de enseñanza para potenciar las posibilidades de las tecnologías para el aprendizaje.

Los alumnos del profesorado generalmente responden con entusiasmo cuando las tecnologías son utilizadas para lograr metas claras de aprendizaje y cuando el uso de las herramientas está apoyado desde un análisis teórico y práctico que enfatiza el rol pedagógico de las TIC para mejorar la calidad educativa.

Cuando esto ocurre, el método de enseñanza se transforma en un hibrido, de manera imprevista desde la perspectiva  organizativa por parte de la institución.

A veces es posible lograr mayor flexibilidad en la organización de los tiempos, con el reconocimiento de que el trabajo virtual es un tiempo efectivo de trabajo por parte de ambos, estudiantes y profesores.

Principales desafíos

En Argentina persisten dificultades tecnológicas infraestructurales que ponen límite a la conectividad. Este es un desafío que el gobierno, mediante la estrategia denominada “Argentina Conectada”, se propone mitigar.

Como profesora de un Instituto Superior de Formación Docente, creo que necesitamos abrir espacios de debate para construir estrategias integrales, que signifiquen más que una colección de actividades aisladas. Necesitamos una estrategia institucional basada en el análisis del contexto, que considere el rol de los profesores en los Institutos de Formación Docente;  resignificar  las vías de acceso al conocimiento, cómo se construye el conocimiento y el rol  de las herramientas  digitales como un medio para mejorar los recorridos académicos de nuestros alumnos y alumnas.

Algunas iniciativas nacionales

El espíritu de la Red Nacional de Institutos de Formación Docente  (RED INFD) es promover a las instituciones para incrementar el uso de tecnologías digitales  en la formación, desarrollando comunidades de práctica entre docentes “comunicados y conectados”. Esto resulta en propuestas de colegas que surgen desde el contexto de las instituciones. Hay numerosos proyectos que focalizan el enriquecimiento de la enseñanza de los espacios curriculares a través del uso de TIC desde un marco de aprendizaje permanente y de reflexión docente.

  • El programa Conectar Igualdad  es una iniciativa en vista a mejorar y profundizar las políticas de mejoramiento de la calidad en las escuelas públicas a fin de reducir las brechas digitales, educacionales y sociales en todo el país. Como parte del programa, para proveer acceso tecnológico universal, fueron entregadas 2,014,492 notebook a docentes y alumnos en todo el territorio argentino.
  • Conectar LAB por su parte, promueve el uso creativo de tecnología, el diseño de juegos interactivos basado en la generación de proyectos colaborativos, y otras experiencias, que surgen de la interacción entre las personas y su medio ambiente.

Existe una situación emergente en función de responder, de manera adecuada a estas iniciativas por parte de los institutos, vinculada con la necesidad de construcción de un liderazgo visible,  desde la sinergia de los grupos de profesores motivados en la investigación de diseños innovadores. Los líderes institucionales necesitan generar y apoyar oportunidades para que, docentes y alumnos aprendamos compartiendo experiencias desde la institución.

Desde un punto de vista personal, como profesores y directivos liderando las instituciones, necesitamos pensar cómo , dado el contexto actual, podemos promover los cambios esperados. Necesitamos considerar la disponibilidad de tecnología para la enseñanza y el aprendizaje  y los nuevos modos de interacción como oportunidad que abre las aulas a otras miradas (internas y externas) que pueden transformar la educación.

Muchas gracias, Ileana!

The English version is available here

A personal view of the use of learning technologies in teacher education in Argentina

The Culture and Education Ministry of Argentina's Misiones province and Fundación Telefónica train 360 teachers in new technology. Photo: © Fundación Telefónica, 2012

Ileana Farré is a professor at a Teacher Training Institute (Instituto Superior de Formación Docente 803) in Puerto Madryn, Patagonia, Argentina. I have asked her to provide a personal view of the use of learning technologies in teacher education in Argentina. She would like to emphasise that these are opinions based on her personal experience and aren’t necessarily representative of all the ISFDs.

Generally, there are no institutional plans or strategies for the use of learning technologies within most ISFDs. Thus it is usually left to individual professors to decide whether or not and how to use learning technologies in their teaching. Thus there are three basic contexts for the use of learning technologies in Argentinian Teacher Training Institutes.


There is no use of learning technologies in some institutes.

Digital tools to supplement regular instruction

In this case, instructors use an institutional learning platform  (learning management system ie. Moodle) and other institutional communication tools for the transmission of information and  hierarchical communication between: administration and teachers; between teachers, and between teachers and students. In a few cases discussion forums are in use. The most widely used tools are e-mail, pdfs, videos and PowerPoint presentations. In general, these tools  reinforce the central role of the instructor.

Instruction designed to exploit the features of learning technologies

The student teachers usually react enthusiastically to the use of learning technologies when they are used to achieve clear educational goals, and when their use is backed up with theoretical analysis and practice that emphasises the pedagogical role of learning technologies in improving educational quality.

When this happens, the teaching method becomes hybrid in organizationally unanticipated ways from an institutional perspective. At times it has been possible to allow greater flexibility for classroom time, recognizing that virtual work is an effective use of study time by both teachers and students.

Main challenges

There remain difficulties with technology infrastructure in Argentina that limit online connectivity. This is a challenge that the government is addressing through the program Argentina Conectada.

As a professor of education within a teaching college, I believe that we need more institution-wide strategies that are more than a collection of isolated activities. We need an institutional strategy based an a contextual analysis that considers the role of professors in a teaching college; the means by which information is acquired and validated; and how knowledge is constructed and the role of digital media as a means of improving the learning path of our students.

Some national initiatives

The national Network of Institutes of Teacher Training (RED INFD) is working in this spirit to encourage institutions to make more use of learning technologies in preparing teachers for their careers, by developing a community of practice among  “in touch and connected” teachers. This results in activities being implemented from the ground up by the institutions and by the various educational jurisdictions.

Several projects are aimed at enriching subject teaching through the use of information technologies for lifelong learning and personal reflection:

  • The program Conectar Igualdad is an initiative seeking to improve and enhance public schools with the objective of reducing digital, educational and social gaps all over the country. (This is supported  in part by Canada’s IDRC – International Development Research Centre). As part of a goal to provide universal access to technology, 2,014,492 notebooks have been delivered to teachers and students throughout Argentina.
  • Conectar Lab promotes the creative use of technology, the design of interactive games based on the generation of projects focused on collaboration, exploring emerging interactions between people and their environment.
  • The Ministry of Education offers a post-graduate course Higher Level Teaching Specialization in Education and ICT that aims to train specialist teachers in the pedagogical use of ICT, promote the production of new knowledge for teaching and learning, and stimulate reflection on practice.

 If the teacher training institutions are to respond adequately to these initiatives, there is an emerging need for visible leadership that will  build on the synergy of groups of teachers who are motivated by the search for innovative designs. Institutional leaders need to create and support opportunities for instructors and students to learn by sharing experiences across institutions.

From my point of view, as teacher educators and educational administrators, we need to think about how in the current context we can foster the changes that we are hoping for in the educational environment. We need to consider the availability of learning technologies and new ways of interaction as an opportunity that opens classrooms to other approaches (internal and external) that can transform education.

Many thanks to Ileana for this. A version in Spanish is available here.

If anyone else has more information on the use of learning technologies in Argentina, Ileana and I would be pleased to hear from you.


National educational technology plan for the USA

U.S. Department of Education (2010) National Educational Technology Plan Washington DC: Office of Educational Technology, U.S. Department of Education

The U.S. Department of Education published its draft plan on educational technology on March 5 (it can be downloaded by clicking here). Secretary Arne Duncan invites comments on the draft National Educational Technology Plan. The plan describes how information and communication technologies can help transform American education. It provides concrete goals to inform state and local educational technology plans, and recommendations to inspire research, development, and innovation. This plan is a draft. “We are open to your comments,” Secretary Duncan said.

It covers the following topics:

Executive Summary
Learning: A Model for the 21st Century
Assessment: Measuring What Matters
Teaching: Improving Learning Through Connected Teaching
Infrastructure: People, Processes, and Technologies for Learning
Productivity: Improving Learning Outcomes While Managing Costs
R&D: Solving Grand Challenge Problems

It takes as its starting point the educational goals of the Obama administration:

By 2020,

  • We will raise the proportion of college graduates from where it now stands [39%] so that 60% of our population holds a 2-year or 4-year degree.
  • We will close the achievement gap so that all students – regardless of race, income, or neighborhood – graduate from high school ready to succeed in college and careers.

The report argues that:

Technology-based learning and assessment systems will be pivotal in improving student learning and generating data that can be used to continuously improve the education system at all levels. Technology will help us execute collaborative teaching strategies combined with professional learning that better prepare and enhance educators’ competencies and expertise over the course of their careers. To shorten our learning curve, we can learn from other kinds of enterprises that have used technology to improve outcomes while increasing productivity.

With regard to learning, it states:

The challenge for our education system is to leverage the learning sciences and modern technology to create engaging, relevant, and personalized learning experiences for all learners that mirror students’ daily lives and the reality of their futures. In contrast to traditional classroom instruction, this requires that we put students at the center and empower them to take control of their own learning by providing flexibility on several dimensions.

With regard to teaching it states:

In connected teaching, teaching is a team activity. Individual educators build online learning communities consisting of their students and their students’ peers; fellow educators in their schools, libraries, and afterschool programs; professional experts in various disciplines around the world; members of community organizations that serve students in the hours they are not in school; and parents who desire greater participation in their children’s education.

With regard to professional development and training it states:

Episodic and ineffective professional development is replaced by professional learning that is collaborative, coherent, and continuous and that blends more effective in-person courses and workshops with the expanded opportunities, immediacy, and convenience enabled by online environments full of resources and opportunities for collaboration….Clearly, more teachers will need to be expert at providing online instruction.….Many of our existing educators do not have the same understanding of and ease with using technology that is part of the daily lives of professionals in other sectors. The same can be said of many of the education leaders and policymakers in schools, districts, and states and of the higher education institutions that prepare new educators for the field.

With regard to productivity, it states:

To achieve our goal of transforming American education, we must rethink basic assumptions and redesign our education system….Education has not, however, incorporated many of the practices other sectors regularly use to improve productivity and manage costs, nor has it leveraged technology to enable or enhance them. We can learn much from the experience in other sectors. What education can learn from the experience of business is that we need to make the fundamental structural changes that technology enables if we are to see dramatic improvements in productivity.

Lastly, there is a set of recommendations about R&D in learning technologies, which did not impress me – too general, full of jargon and not sufficiently focused on a humanistic approach to learning and in one case recommending research on best practices in online design, when the research has already been done (not that it couldn’t be improved.)

Otherwise, this is an excellent report in terms of its intent and philosophy. It will be interesting to see how or whether it gets implemented.

For a not very informative report on the plan, see:

Laster, J. (2010) Colleges of Education Are Urged to Focus More on Online Learning Chronicle of Higher Education, March 16

Eleven countries with ‘good practice’ in e-learning

Trucano, M. (2010) ICT & Education: Eleven Countries to Watch — and Learn From EduTech, January 29

EduTech is a World Bank Blog on ICT use in education. Trucano excludes North America, Western Europe and Australia, as much is already known about these countries (see for instance the excellent Re.Vica wiki). Instead, he focuses on the following countries:

Chile, Costa Rica, India (Kerala), Jordan, Macedonia, Malaysia, Namibia, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, and Uruguay.

Interestingly, he deliberately omitted China from his list – for his reasons, read the article!

Thanks again to Clayton Wright for directing me to this.