elearning, the New Educational Paradigm and the Promise of Open and Distance Learning

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1 elearning, the New Educational Paradigm and the Promise of Open and Distance Learning Mr. Chairman, His Excellency, the VP of the Republic of Ghana Honorable Ministers of State present Honorable Ministers of Education present Members of Parliament Distinguished personalities present here this morning Heads of Academic institutions Members of the media present Invited guests Ladies and gentlemen It gives me great pleasure to be given the opportunity to deliver this address at the 3rd International Conference on ICT for Development, Education and Training, whose theme is e-learning Africa e-learning one was held from May in the UN conference Center in Addis Ababa and it attracted a sizeable number of participants and distinguished speakers. The following year, in May 2007, e-learning two was held in Kenya and it attracted more participants and guest speakers than e-learning one. Today, e-learning three is being held in Accra, Ghana, under the auspices of the Ministries of Education, Science and Sports. Those who have been following the history of this conference will agree with me that this is the largest and most comprehensive capacity-development event for technologyenhanced education and training in Africa The large attendance you see here today is a clear testimony of the importance experts attach to educational issues and initiatives on the continent. The conference central theme, and the 16 sub-themes are very relevant and timely in today s world a world increasingly dependent on knowledge as its motive power.

2 Mr. Chairman, his excellencies, our continent continues to be poor and suffers from all the social, economic, and political pathologies that so often accompany poverty. Clearly the escape from poverty will require transformation of all our basic institutions: our economy, our politics, our culture. And all of these transformations of our ways of working and governing and thinking will not happen without a rapid expansion and improvement of our educational systems. For most African countries, the surest road out of the poverty trap is to explore the full potential of innovative learning systems to facilitate our development. We cannot win this war on poverty without dramatic improvements in our educational system. It is this road that will lead to work and wealth, for our people; It is this road that will bring dignity and prosperity for our people; It is this road that will unleash the untapped potential in our people; It is this road that will bring equality and social justice to our people; It is this road that will lead to sustained economic growth and improved living standards for our people; and It is this road that will lead our people to the educational promised land. Moving forward to the educational promised land requires an expanded and enriched educational system that can provide the skilled workers, the technicians, and the professionals that Africa will need if it is to compete in the world economy successfully. A recent study found that while more than 50% of those in the rich countries were enrolled in some form of tertiary education, only 5% of African students were enrolled and Ghana has only 3% engaged. The evidence from this data is clear; we need to increase the general educational level of all of our people. Thus we need more and better education at all levels, primary, secondary, and tertiary. And more nonformal education and opportunities for those in remote rural villages to get the knowledge that will help them endure and improve their lot. How, then, can this come about? All the evidence suggests that our needs cannot be met by attempting to build more brick-and-mortar buildings to house conventional schools and colleges. We do not have the money to properly maintain our present schools and colleges, much less build new ones to accommodate all the qualified Africans who are looking for options to further their education. Even if the buildings appeared, we do not have enough trained teachers and professors and scholars to move into those classrooms. The time has come for us to reconsider our ancient way of providing education to our people. This ancient way has always began with buildings, with classrooms, with lecture halls, with dormitories.

3 And these buildings need roads and walkways to connect them, and men and women to keep them clean, and secure. The ancient way, then, requires huge sums of money to create the environment that will house the teachers and the students. And those from our rural communities who want to learn must leave those communities and go to the cities of the nations, since small villages cannot have lecture halls and classrooms and dormitories. In a very real sense education beyond the primary level has become a kind of internal brain drain that requires our talented youth to leave their home communities and crowd into urban educational structures that cannot grow fast enough to house and teach them. Mr. Chairman, his excellencies, it has been documented that the expansion and enrichment of our educational system can only happen if Africa is able to harness the power of information communication technology (ICT) to connect teachers and learners to the knowledge they need, wherever that knowledge exits. Initiatives to date to harness the new communication technologies have made important contributions to the development of education on the continent. But the pace of change in Africa toward the incorporation of ICT into the work of existing teaching and learning organizations and the creation of new ones needs to be radically accelerated. Mr. Chairman, his excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, I propose as a starting point that we consider the implications of the title of Harvard sociologist Shoshana Zuboff's 1988 book titled "IN THE AGE OF THE SMART MACHINE: THE FUTURE OF WORK AND POWER." Her research clearly documented in 1988 that the old forms of work were being radically transformed by "the smart machine": by the computer. The 21st century is the age of the smart machine, and the forms of work and power and communication it is creating. If Africa is to take its rightful place in the global economy, its educational system will have to turn out graduates who understand and use the smart machine. If we bring in education via the smart machine, our young people can remain in our cities and villages instead of facing the choice or remaining without further education. Mr. Chairman, his excellencies, e-learning has been viewed as one option for creating a literate society, a literate workforce, and a knowledge-based society for Africa. Using e-learning mode of teaching will make it possible for educators in physically unconnected places to be connected to global educational resources such as online journals, electronic library resources, and teaching tools. Mr. Chairman, his excellencies, we know that e-learning is at an early phase of evolution in Africa and yet to reach the tipping point where new technologies move into mass

4 diffusion and usage. We need to vigorously promote the development and mass deployment of e-learning throughout our educational system in Africa. Mr. Chairman, his excellencies, the impact of information technology has led to the emergence of Open and Distance Learning (ODL) as a supplement to the traditional educational system based on brick and mortar. Many educational institutions around the world are experimenting with ODL to enable them address the growing demands for higher and continuing education. More focus is turning to open learning and distance education as the system likely to characterize the 21st century' ODL has created opportunities for large number of students looking for ways to enhance their educational backgrounds. This has been demonstrated by some of the mega academic institutions; institutions that do away with dormitories and lecture halls, and use computers and radio and television and books to bring learning to where people are. From South Africa to the Sudan, Nigeria to Tanzania, Rwanda, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Uganda, Ghana, African nations are experimenting with ODL to enable them address the growing demands for higher and continuing education. The earlier open universities such as the University of South Africa (UNISA), the Indira Gandhi National Open University in India and the Open University in the United Kingdom have demonstrated that the concept can be used to increase access and enrolment, improve the quality of education and reduce increasing educational costs. These features of the world s open universities aim to open the world of higher education to all, irrespective of age, sex, place of residence or occupation, in order to enable every individual to realize his or her academic ability. Institutions such as the African Council for Distance Education, the African Distance Learning Association, the African Virtual University Project, the Commonwealth Of Learning (COL), the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD), the British Council, and NEPAD s commitment and plans to support innovative education in Africa are some indicators to attest to the importance of ODL initiatives in Africa. This approach to teaching meets the constraints of non-traditional students (such as workers, those undertaking national assignments such as serving in the military, etc.) as this method is not space- or time-dependent. Conclusion Mr. chairman, I believe the key to addressing the challenges inherent in Africa s educational institutions is e-learning and its various variants-hybrid learning, mobile learning, blended learning, ubiquitous learning, etc. African educational institutions need the new technologies and Africa need to be part of the information society to be globally competitive. The continent will loose momentum if it fails to move ICT in education to centre-stage.

5 Today, we have become a global learning society. As such, our educational systems must become a primary vehicle for assisting learners to become successful citizens of the world- a world that demands new knowledge, new thoughts, new frameworks for problem-solving, and new ways of caring for one another. We need to explore, encourage, and promote the development and use of e-learning at all levels of our educational spectrum. Through e-learning, we can transform our institutions and achieve better outcomes with the least possible cost. Mr. Chairman, his excellencies, there is a saying that if a society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich. We need to increase the general educational level of all of our people. Thus we need more and better education at all levels. And more nonformal education for those in remote rural villages. Mr. Chairman, his excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, it has been said that the mark of a noble society is found not in the manner in which it helps the rich, but in how it helps the poor and the vulnerable. Not in its virtues during good times, but in its character during hard times. Not in how it protects the powerful, but how it defends the vulnerable. Through e-learning, we can extend the reach of education to the disenfranchised populations of Africa who have fewer options to further their education. If this conference can create a working party to carry on this work after the conference is over, I have no doubt that the money and the talent to make e-learning centerstage in Africa s educational system can be found. And that the dream of e-learning--students scattered in time and space connected to the teachers they need--can finally be realized. The Cuban poet José Marti once said: All people, when they arrive on earth, have a right to be educated; and then in return, they have the obligation to educate others. We have the keys to the world before us and, we have the obligation to pass those keys to others. With the e-learning concept, we have the best chance of achieving Education for All Africans who are yearning for it. Thank you Dr. Osei Darkwa, Principal Ghana Telecom University College PMB 100

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