m-learning, e-learning and education in Sub-Sahara Africa: Mobile learning is increasingly seen as an essential tool in improving learning opportunities in Sub-Sahara Africa. It is the long-range missile in education technology’s growing armoury. For many reasons, the infrastructure and accessibility of traditional education are often inadequate. Schools are overcrowded and under-resourced, and teachers lack essential training. Despite attempts at improving the system, retention of both pupils and teachers is low, and learning outcomes are poor. Education is essential for economic development, innovation and growth. But it can also be expensive and hard to get access to.
Africa has a young population. Approximately 50 percent of the populace are under 15, and there are around 200 million young people between the ages of 15 and 24. Added to this, Sub-Sahara Africa is home to some of the world’s fastest growing economies. These young people will be the driving force behind sustainable growth across the continent. But, an unskilled and uneducated workforce is a stumbling block to both further growth, and to maintaining it. With this in mind, it is more important than ever to invest in education and training. For the area to maximise the potential of its economic growth, it needs to expand educational opportunities and cut its price. This is where the possibilities provided by the advancements in edtech come into play.
M-learning – what is it?
The definition of m-learning, and its difference from e-learning, is not well-defined. It can mean different things according to its application. In general, e-learning is rooted on expensive computers and internet access, often a problem in Africa; and m-learning is based on SMS and the simple mobile phone. The rise in general mobile phone use means many Africans are now able to directly access learning applications. Text messages enable the delivery of training to people living in remote areas and areas with a weak educational infrastructure. This is important; education standards are directly linked with increasing innovation and wealth.
SMS support in school.
The interactive nature of mobile technology means it can offer support and back-up for students and teachers in school. Information can be broken down into small pieces and sent as a regular text message, helping teachers deliver the curriculum. Or messages can be sent straight to the students. Both teachers and students can interact with their peers via messages, helping them to feel supported and to stay motivated. Importantly, this form of m-learning is often a free service. With mobile text packages becoming more and more affordable it means learning should not incur extra costs. Social networks can also be accessed for sharing lessons and for peer support. This should lead to better retention of students and staff and better learning outcomes. Providers of SMS based learning are Eneza Education in Kenya, and Rethink Education and Obami, both in South Africa.
Texts to aid exam preparations.
The nature of m-learning makes it suitable for exam preparation. Bite sized revision aids can be texted to students, enabling learning to happen, even in small windows of opportunity. A text can be quickly read on a break at work or when on the way to somewhere. They can also be stored and revisited as a useful revision tool. Once again, many companies do not charge for this service and with bundled texts, this form of mobile learning should not incur the student any extra costs. These services can be accessed from Nigeria’s Prepclass.com.ng, Ghana’s ecampus.camp and Togo’s Okpabac.
Online courses for university students.
MOOC, Massive Open Online Courses, move education back into the realm of e-learning. The availability of smartphones makes it the most sophisticated, and expensive, form of mobile learning. MOOC delivery requires internet access and the ability to download large amounts of data. Access to a PC, Notebook or a smartphone is essential. These online courses can offer support during current university studies as well as allowing access to other topics.
MOOC also offer a possible alternative to traditional university study in Sub-Sahara Africa, and many universities have seen the benefit of this. They can deliver a course to more students and advancements in edtech mean there can be direct interaction with tutors and access to online resources. They may also appeal to students who might not have considered or been able to access college or university before.
Although MOOC opens up a wealth of learning potential, it also raises the issue of cost; whether it is too expensive for students? Smartphones and computers are still luxury items for many, and data can be costly. In addition, some of the courses carry a cost for their services. African online course providers are Kotivu.ng (Nigeria), Chalkboard Education (Ghana), Dapt.io (South Africa), and Samaskull (Senegal). However, there are also global edtech providers offering online courses for university students: Udemy, Coursera and Ed2go are all USA based.
SMS learning – how to spread the message?
After reviewing mobile learning, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, concluded that it held “significant potential for resolving the region’s educational challenges.” And the continuous developments in edtech mean companies now offer a range of flexible and effective mobile learning opportunities in Sub-Sahara Africa. However, the challenge is how to familiarise students, adult learners and teachers with these possibilities. The website, apps-for-learning.com, provides a useful guide. It presents an overview of the market and allows comparisons between the apps offered by both global and regional African e-learning and m-learning providers.
The writer Jens Ischebeck is an African edtech specialist. Learn more about his service through www.apps-for-learning.com.