The Role of ICT in Africa’s Evolving Higher Education Sector
In the past ten years Africa has seen tremendous growth in the demand for higher education and this can be witnessed by the ever-growing numbers of Higher Education Institutions (HEI) both private and public. This situation has been fuelled by several factors which include free secondary education from various governments propelling a surge in the numbers that qualify for higher education, improved society and emergence of the knowledge economy. There are also clear signs of the demand for higher education that is ubiquitous, there are more people on the move within the continent, lifelong learning is more sought after, employees’ skills becoming outdated after 3-5 years at the job which calls for retooling, the emergence of both digital natives and digital migrants. These factors are propelling the evolution that is happening in the HEI in order to certify the demand which is higher than the supply. Questions like; how to cope with the ever-increasing numbers with minimal expenditure but still providing the quality education are constantly being raised. Therefore, there has been a paradigm shift in many African HEI in both educational delivery and its management. This paradigm shift has focused on the ability to deliver education effectively, efficiently and ubiquitously with minimum costs possible.
In order to take care of the paradigm shift and its demands, African HEI have adopted innovative ideas to sustain their supply for quality education. These innovative ways include the adoption of Information Communication Technology (ICT) to enable educational provision and its effective management. Billy Gates has once asked Universities and colleges “How can we use technology as a tool to recreate the entire college experience? How can we provide a better education to more people for less money?”. Other organizations such as UNESCO have also stated that African education status requires innovative ways to support it in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Further, the CISCO system Chief Executive Officer once said that the next bigger killer application of the internet will be education. These clearly signify the potential of ICT in solving the current dilemma brought about by African demands for higher education but with less supply of it.
Integration of ICT within HEI in Africa is slowly taking shape with several institutions appreciating its potential to offer a ubiquitous teaching and learning to both teachers and students. The integration has taken a form of use of computers and internet, TV, radio, video conferencing and mobile learning. This integration of ICT within the educational sector depends on several things such as activity to be undertaken, processes involved, target audience, availability and accessibility of resources. However, it should be noted that integration of ICT in education is not only about educational delivery but includes education management, administration, communication, finance and security. It is therefore important to understand the requirements under which a particular service needs to be enabled using ICT if there is going to be returns on investments.
Why integrate ICT in Education?
This pertinent question demonstrates that for African HEI to integrate ICT in their education institutions, there should be clear reasons that stimulate the adoption. Several reasons have been identified as those that have fueled integration of ICT in the African HEI. These include: effective collaboration, effective networking, easy sharing of resources, effective accessibility to educational resources, ubiquitous education and empowering of learners. Integration ICT in education teaching and learning has evolved in HEI leading to a new method of educational delivery called e-learning. E-Learning has been defined by several people to mean the use of ICT to support formal or non-formal knowledge acquisition. This form of learning is one that should support enthusiasm to happen in class, be engaging, allow exchange of educational resources, enriching, enhancing, allows being extended beyond geographical boarders, that is entertaining, that allows embedding and empowers learners to become better. HEI in Africa are starting to realize that education has evolved and what used to be a traditional classroom is now a flipped classroom. This inversion allows students-teachers to collaborate and engage from anywhere, at their wish and at any time they wish.
E-learning world trend indicate that it is annually growing at rate of $0.4 Billion from 2015 and expected to rise by 2020. Statistics also indicate that there is an increasing expenditure on e-learning in several HEI across the world as compared the traditional education. However, as compared to the entire world Africa still lags behind in the integration of ICT in teaching and learning with just $512 Million revenue against USA’s $27 Billion revenue. The advancement in technology, reduced costs of hardware, software and internet connection in the world market is affecting greatly the adoption of e-learning. This is creating several opportunities for the HEI as described below.
Opportunities for E-Learning in HEI
Several opportunities have emerged due to adoption of e-learning within HEI and these include: immerging partnerships among institutions in terms of research and training, empowered learners, real-time supervision and share of resources is possible despite of the geographical barrier, reach out to more training opportunities, intercontinental educational markets for institutional courses, increased need for lifelong and work place learning and massive education through ubiquitous means. It is obvious today that the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are taking the world by storm and are being more recognized within the HEI. African HEI have to tap into the opportunity of the MOOCs to contribute to the localization and authoring of content that is suitable for the African setting.
Challenges for E-learning in HEI
Despite that several opportunities exist, there are challenges that are serious impediments to the full integration of ICT in HEI. These include unavailability of adequate ICT resources by the institutions, uncoordinated ICT integration projects funded by different bodies with own interests, student to ICT ratio is still very high, indiscriminate learning within educational institutions, ICT illiteracy amongst the population in some of the communities (attitude and cultural change within the population), curriculum development to suit the e-learning teaching and learning model (focus being done on technology rather than pedagogy). The lack of appropriate ICT skills by the education stakeholders, the limited or no access to power in some areas, the internet access is still costly and has fueled plagiarism within HEI, preparation, planning and maintaining of quality is always an issue if not well monitored, and standardizing locally developed content
Interventions required in African HEI
Adoption of ICT in African HEI can be better implemented once the following interventions are undertaken. These include; waivers on ICTs for Education, conducting ICT Integration in Education sensitization and awareness workshops for institutional heads and teachers; strengthening inter sector linkages and collaborations to create synergies for effective integration of ICT in education, encouraging institutions to collaborate while purchasing things like internet, collaboratively procure e-subscription to e-resources, develop more localized content within the African setting, improving access and provision of ICT integrated education to special needs people and institutions of learning and adopting open source learning management system for costs saving purposes. Click here to download full AGM digest.
Jude T. Lubega holds a PhD in Computer Science with a specialization in E-Learning. He is currently a Professor of Information Technology who has vast experience in Information Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D). He is currently the Deputy Vice Chancellor and a professor within the School of Computing and Engineering of Uganda Technology and Management University (UTAMU). He has a vast experience in ICT integration in teaching and learning spread across 15 years plus. He is a distinguished scholar who has published widely in international fora.
This is our seventh issue in a series of articles we are releasing as part of our RUFORUM AGM Digests. You can get more details about the meeting at http://www.ruforum.org/AGM2017/ and more information about RUFORUM at www.ruforum.org. You many also join us online using Social Media for real time updates. Our Official hashtag is #Visioning2030