Out of Africa: A Journey Through the World of E-Learning

by Francisco Manuel da Costa

Out of Africa is not a romantic drama film, but a short story based loosely on my autobiographical experience in Africa’s e-learning world. It’s a long walk through the lands of Africa, where e-learning begins to bear fruits.


The journey begins

My story begins in South Africa, and continues on northward through Angola, Kenya and finally Ethiopia. 18 years ago, I started to deeply research Africa Distance Education, especially the University of South Africa (UNISA), the largest distance learning university in Africa with more than 300,000 students, most of them from Africa. This institution started its work in distance learning in the middle of the last century. Presently, they offer many courses, from foundational degrees to Ph.Ds in many different subjects out of the humanities, social sciences, management, law, etc.

Born in Johannesburg, the African Management Initiative is an ambitious pan-African MOOC project that offers free management education using MOOC logistics. Angola is the next stop. Over the past few years, I’ve been collaborating as a consultant with Angolalearning. This is one of the first African startups dedicated to e-learning and other ICTs in education. Education is growing tremendously in this country. Angola is a Lusophone country, a lovely and amazing country with fantastic people and where nature is majestic.

The African Virtual University

From southwest to northeast Kenya, my next stop is Nairobi. Last year, I was invited to work with the Lusophone program at the African Virtual University (AVU). The AVU is a pan-African and intergovernmental organization created by the African Union and has its headquarters in Nairobi. This distance learning university offers courses in its three official languages: English, French and Portuguese.

This project is part of the overall objective of the AVU Multinational Project II to strengthen the capacity of the AVU and a network of 27 institutions in order to to deliver and manage quality ICT integrated education and training opportunities in 21 African countries. The project has the following activities: (1) establishment of new open distance and e-learning (ODEL) centers and/or upgrading of existing AVU learning centers as well as internet connectivity provisions at AVU partner institutions; (2) development and/or improvement, and delivery of ICT integrated programs: AVU capacity enhancement program (ACEP).

Africa Now and One Tablet per Child

E-learning Africa Now in its ninth year and is organized this year in Kampala (Uganda). It is an opportunity to learn about the latest challenges and initiatives in education and training. This forum is the largest meeting of e-learning and ICT supported education and training professionals in Africa, as education and training practitioners, experts, researchers, etc.

Our travel is close to a happy ending in Ethiopia. One Tablet per Child is a successful pilot project, supported by an Italian NGO which handed out 40 tablet computers in two remote Ethiopian villages to see if children can learn by themselves. They simply dropped off tablet computers with preloaded programs and to see what would happens: the children were so enthusiastic as they found the power button, a click that expanded their education with technology. I was so inspired by this story that I started working with a friend to reproduce this fantastic experience in a southwest Asian country.

Shaping the future along with it, e-learning arrived in Africa. So during this year, Africa's annual growth rate for self-paced e-Learning will be 15.4%, and their revenues are expected to reach $512.8 million by the year 2016 (Ref). So for many years, I thought that selling e-learning courses in Africa was the same that selling land on the moon – luckily, I was proved to be wrong.

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