This year, eLearning Africa took place in Cairo. The conference is regarded as a key networking event for ICT enhanced development, education and training in Africa. It is one of the largest of its kind. The three-day event is considered optimal for those wanting to develop multinational, cross-industry partnerships and contacts whilst sharing knowledge and learning new skills. The conference brings together decision makers and practitioners from across the education, business and public sectors to debate, share and take action on all themes surrounding access, openness, skills, pedagogy, sustainable development, best practice and more.
The delegation from ICT4EEDU that attended the conference consisted of Marcus Duveskog (UEF), Teklay Tesfazghi (EIT), Samuel Tewelde (EIT) and Alem Habte (Ministry of Education, Eritrea). The scope of the conference was seen as highly relevant for the project and the aim for attending was networking, learning from others, sharing own ideas and getting inspiration on how to increase the impact of the project. Below, we share some of our reflections on talks and workshops presented at the conference.
The narrative globally on Africa is finally starting to change. It has recently shifted from focusing on catastrophes, to the continent of opportunities and currently shifting to Africa on the rise. At the conference there was a large focus on Africa not only catching up, but taking the front seat in innovation- not only coming up with African solutions for African problems but rather African solutions for global problems. As suggested by one of the keynote speakers, Toby Shapshak: “Innovation takes place where it is most needed and not where the young generation waste their time playing Angry birds and watching TV”, paraphrased from his talk: “What Africa Can Teach You About Innovation that Formal Education Cannot”. A movement has started to nurture the next Einstein who is expected to come from Africa.
We learnt that only 5 percent of what is written about Africa is written in Africa and for the African audience. There were a few interesting workshops on literacy highlighting how technical tools were being used across the continent to support the production of local books. Since some languages are starting to die out, it is useful that any teacher can make their own learning materials in their local language thereby also preserving those languages. Being able to learn in your mother tongue always enriches the learning experience and enables learning on a deeper level.
In this type of conferences there is always a large focus on access. It was uplifting to hear the voices that we should be focusing on doing meaningful things with existing and available technologies. While access to high speed Internet, one-to-one computing and various state of the art technologies would be desired, there still is so much more that can be done with what is already in place. The lack of access should not be used as an excuse but rather to stimulate innovation.
It was refreshing and exciting to hear the talks on rethinking existing educational models, In Egypt for example, they are throwing their old educational system out the window, and rebuilding a new system from scratch. This is seen as a long term project to overhaul their education system. Instead of only thinking about incremental changes in the existing system to make it slightly more efficient, the idea is rather on how they can best equip the youth with the right skillsets needed for a changing world. Technology is seen as an integral tool for making learning user-centered where learners take ownership of their own learning process.
There was also a lot of focus on MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses. The wide availability of free online courses allows learners to access courses where they can get lectures from the best professors or professionals in the field. This opens up great opportunities for learning in Africa. The movement is also starting to force universities to rethink their models as learners are able to acquire the skills from outside the framework of their local learning institutions. In many countries, the burden of high tuition/school fees are a barrier to people getting a proper education, so MOOCs are seen very important in these contexts. Instead of condemning the efforts, universities should embrace the changes as opportunities to improve education and the accessibility to education. The roles of universities are changing and more emphasis should be on building skills rather than producing degrees that don’t necessarily enable the students to get suitable jobs.
Driven by the African Development Bank, there were a significant number of talks and workshops on stimulating innovation. There were many good examples across the continent on initiatives that support entrepreneurs and innovators. One fundamental challenge that was highlighted though was how to change the educational systems to better support innovation. There also need to be more instruments in place for innovative ideas to flourish into new services and products. The conference was a good place for sharing success stories and discussing ways to move forward.
It was great for the project to be able to attend eLearning Africa and to get inspiration on how to move forward. While we still think we are focusing on the right things in the project, attending the conference has helped us to see how we can implement the project even better. The conference has also enabled us to expand our networks, and people were excited to hear about the project and our efforts in using ICT for the improvement of Eritrean Education.