Access to quality education is one of the biggest challenges across Africa. Several students, who wish to study a university degree, are unable to achieve their academic dreams. 18 year old Lesego, who resides in a remote village in Botswana found it nearly impossible to travel to her nearest university located many hundred miles away towards the eastern region of the country. Moreover, relocation was not an option for her either. However, still she is pursuing higher education directly from the convenience of her own home. How?
Mobile Phone eLearning
Lesego is studying online, but not from a computer or laptop. As her family cannot afford a computer and the electricity supply in the region faces frequent outages, She is learning on her new smartphone that offers her instant access to the Internet and a wide array of online courses. Most of the courses are developed and offered by leading and reputed universities worldwide.
Does it sound too good to be true? This might be an imaginary situation, but our educators and policymakers are now gearing up to turn this into a reality for aspiring learners who live in such conditions. Mobile phone ownership across Africa is rising as a result of reducing cost and shortage of fixed phone line connections. It is now revolutionising every aspect of African lives from healthcare and banking to politics and agriculture. Now it’s time to transform education. However, the probabilities are being hyped to some extent.
In the previous year, CNN announced that mobile technology has “immense” potential which can revolutionise “dysfunctional educational system” in Africa “as mobile phones, cheaper to own and easier to run than PCs, gain ground as tools for delivering teaching content”.
This successfully caught the focus of the international development community. Back in 2011, the Mobile for Education for Development ( m4Ed4Dev) event was organised by the US Agency for International Development and Stanford University. This round-table discussion was held to find out how mobile devices can be used to improve education in developing nations. Moreover, the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) published a report titled Turning on Mobile Learning: In Africa and the Middle East.
UNESCO recently hosted the 2nd annual Mobile Learning Week conference where experts explored the potential of mobile learning in helping the “Education for All” goals. Smartphones are already being used for enhancing teacher training and and also to boost communication between educators and university students. However, can mobile phones actually improve access to quality higher education in a significant way?
Potential of mobile technology
At present, there are more mobile phone users in Africa than in the US. In 2014, it was found that there were more than 650 million people with a mobile phone subscription in Africa. As per a 2012 report by GSMA, sub-Saharan Africa has over 475 million mobile connections, compared to only 12.3 million fixed phone line connections. So, it is highly possible that smartphones can bring about the necessary change which the African education system needs.
Steve Vosloo, senior project officer at UNESCO mobile learning division for teacher development and higher education, said “Mobile phones are having a profound impact on so many levels of society in Africa – communication, banking, entertainment. In terms of access, it is like no other ICT before. Obviously radio and television are huge, and play a massive role, but they are broadcast media, whereas mobile technology is an interactive medium. In terms of uptake it has massively surpassed PCs, so we feel that it warrants particular attention.”
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