INTERNET CONNECTION FOR IMPROVED EDUCATION IN AFRICA
Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), is relevant for education in Africa. The Internet has for long proven to be vital in culture. It grants unparalleled access to information and promotes access to virtual labs, educational resources, ideas, and people. However, access to the Internet is not distributed equitably globally. The African continent is among those lagging much behind in providing Internet connectivity in schools, colleges, and out of school learners.
The relevance of the Internet Matter to Learning in Africa?
Education is the foundation for any form of social and economic development. Africa requires a skilled workforce that makes use of ICTs effectively as a critical factor in ascertaining its competitiveness in the global digital economy and for utilizing its natural deposits for sustainable growth.
The region faces several challenges in education, ranging from the lack of quality teachers, outdated or absence of learning and teaching materials, and inadequate school infrastructure for fast-growing learners. More than 110 million school children between the ages of 6-18 years are out of school in Africa. Thirty-seven (37) million young people need technical and vocational training or other forms of education that enhances paths to their employment. Only about 6 % of secondary school graduates get a chance for higher education in sub-Saharan Africa.
The Sustainable Development Goal for Education (SDG4) requires countries to address these challenges and attain universal pre-primary, primary and secondary education and gender equity, and promote youth learning for employability. Such commitments need innovative approaches that are beyond just building more educational institutions. One such innovative approach requires using educational technology in various ways.
Numerous opportunities for using the Internet for learning abound in Africa. According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), above a quarter of the African population (341 million) had to access to the Internet back in 2016, the major of such population are potential Internet learners. More than half the population has access to mobile phones. Countries have also witness improved broadband connectivity at national levels and internationally via a diversity of submarine cables that landed on the western and eastern part of the continent over the last decade. There is sufficient broadband capacity that can be utilized in serving the effort of the country to attain Sustainable Development Goals generally and to enhance in particular interactive and equitable learning.
State of the Internet for Learning in Africa
To date, Investment in ICT in education involved the rollout of School net projects and the establishment of NRENs. School net projects naturally start with equipping selected schools with computer labs, training teachers, and if possible, providing students and teachers with necessary learning materials.
Despite the efforts put in place over the last two decades, there has been limited success in the rollout of ICTs and the Internet in African schools, due to deficiency of resources and the lack of a holistic and unified vision and strategy. There is a considerable need for governments to further inclusive knowledge societies, taking into account the universality principles of the Internet adopted by the UNESCO’s General Assembly that campaigned for a human rights-based on the open and accessible Internet to everyone.
It should be noted that progress is different from one country to another. The improved broadband connectivity in countries like Egypt, Rwanda, Botswana, South Africa Morocco, Kenya, Tunisia, and Senegal has already improved the access of learners and teachers to the Internet. In other countries, connections to the Internet are restricted.
Role of Policy Makers in Unlocking the Potential of the Internet for Learning
Policy makers have essential parts to play in creating the required ecosystem for the integration of ICT in education. The enhanced connectivity in the region and the vast learning resources that are available over the Internet can be used to further access and quality of education in Africa. Policymakers primarily need to articulate a real vision for a merged form of learning by crafting and implementing an ICT for education policy that involves the entire spectrum of knowledge.
a. Policymakers must address three related areas proposed by the Internet Society Enabling Environment Framework, these include, fostering entrepreneurship and skills, promoting infrastructure investment, and promoting supportive governance.
b. Data and research are vital in assessing the impact of ICT investment in education. Policymakers need to focus on data gathering on ICT access used by teachers and students, and support centers of excellence that participates in research and spread it to improve learning from past experiences.
c. A significant gap exists in using it for training youth to tap into global ICT Enabled Services and in applying ICTs for job creation. These need initiatives that stir a blended form of learning that brings together traditional and online education in TVET institutions, for example by supporting access to state of the art education present through MOOCs and other available Open Educational Resources.