One of the interesting things that has happened with the internet is the blooming of online courses.
Though distance education has existed for a long time, it was not as easy earlier because everything had to be done by post. Today, the internet provides instant access to lessons, materials, and teachers.
Edtech has changed the way we learn and e-learning can be very useful for working professionals, home-bound new mothers, and other students who are somehow unable or unwilling to enter the mainstream university education.
Education prospects in Africa
Online courses are a boon for many African students. The number of students from Sub-Saharan Africa who go to countries like France, US, and England are witness to the fact that there is a large amount of talent in the region which remains untapped due to lack of educational facilities, employment opportunities, and other factors such as corruption, lack of law & order, lack of regularity, etc.
Only about 10% of those who complete schooling enter into universities.
As aptly depicted in Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's ground-breaking book on race, African students can get easily disheartened for many different reasons.
Whom do online degrees benefit?
One option such students have is to consider becoming a graduate online. Whether they opt for an online MBA or any other online master program, e-learning is an excellent option under the following circumstances:
ICEF Monitor provides a good understanding of how the enrollment numbers actually look in many African countries.
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- This opens up fresh opportunities for the youth, and gives them the chance to explore options that might not be traditionally available to them in local universities.
- For students coming from a poorer stratum of society, online degrees are helpful because it offers them the choice of working and learning at the same time.
- In countries where women become mothers at a young age, online courses offer them the chance to improve their prospects.
- Students who want to do a GRA program. Of course, the courses which require a laboratory for research might not be a good option for an online GRA program.
Value of the degree
The opportunities for African students to join a MOOC and get a decent education has increased their prospects exponentially.
But all MOOC (Massive Open Online courses) that could be taken online do not bring the same value. Some definitely offer more value than others in terms of employability, while others are better at offering a higher standard of teaching through different e-learning or m-learning methods. A large number of such courses might not actually make the grade.
So what does one look out for when considering distance education?
- Accreditation -- One thing that needs to be checked before enrolling into any MOOC is the accreditation of the university. It is a clear indicator of academic standard. It is also a good idea to make sure that the accreditation is valuable and recognised by universities, governments, and employers.
- Curriculum -- The curriculum of the course is a good indicator of what the course would be worth. Whether the student would be actually learning anything worthwhile or just wasting their time would be clear from a curriculum check. It would also be a good idea to compare the curriculum with the curriculum of the mainstream degree programs.
- Credits -- The credits obtained in one course should be valid in another school in case a student decides to switch. If not, then the distance education program is perhaps not a recognised one. This is one aspect of the research that should be extensively done.
- Support -- School support services are essential for e-learning. If the student gets stuck, it is important for them to have someone who can help. This is especially important for GRA students or those doing an online MBA. If the university is not very forthcoming about their support services, then it should be a red flag.
- Medium of instruction -- The medium of instruction is an important indicator of whether the programme would be suitable for a person or not. Some courses, especially online master programs, require a higher level of interactivity, while others can be less interactive. Whether the MOOC is conducted through a series of web videos or mobile app (m-learning), or through traditionally written material, it is important for the student to be comfortable with the medium of instruction.
- Financing -- Becoming a graduate online should be affordable in the long run. Even if a student takes loans for financing their online course, they should be well aware of what they are doing. Any school which pressurises its students to take a loan should be suspect.
By keeping these few pointers in mind, it becomes easier for a student to take up an edtech course without being fleeced or cheated. It is not as if mainstream education does not contain pitfalls. Online education degrees would just require a slightly more rigorous research approach. Organisations like the African Virtual University also help students in pinpointing good programs.
Challenges for African students
However, one major problem is the major dropout rate among students. Though there is a high enrolment rate, many students drop out in the middle of the program. This could be due to various socio-economic factors, but also due to a lack of motivation to continue. The best way forward is probably is to pair up online education with practical instruction.
Another obstacle that stands in the way for much of Africa is the low penetration rate of the internet. The entire continent only accounts for about 10% of the total internet usage of the world.
The above graph shows the countries with the highest levels of internet penetration in Africa. In some remote parts of the continent, even electricity and mobile network penetration is low. These are problems that need to be solved before edtech can become a reality for all of Africa.
However, for those students who have access to these basic services, distance education is an excellent idea. There are many good resources for African students for achieving higher education, one of them being the website Online Courses Guide Africa. Even with all the hurdles, edtech is still an innovative way for students to achieve an education, and there are indications that enrolment in online courses will only increase in the future.
About the Author
Jens Ischebeck, African edtech specialist: Website publisher www.apps-for-learning.com. The website presents and compares e-learning and mobile learning providers with a special focus on the African market.