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Strategies for Deploying eLearning in Developing Countries

Cavin Mugarura

More than 60% of students who qualify for University or tertiary education in the developing countries are not able to join due to limited physical infrastructure. With the introduction of elearning, these students can be admitted in extra mural programs. The concept of brick universities has to be replaced with click technology.

The World Wide Web and advances in Open Source Software have led to an eLearning Revolution, where students can access a plethora of learning materials, easily and conveniently. This has been propelled by the Hardware Industry where the processing power of computers is doubling every 18 months (Moore’s Law) and yet the prices either reduce or remain the same.

The Western model of eLearning can not apply to developing countries

All these advantages have not trickled to the majority of the population in developing countries. Many developing countries don’t have high speed internet access, due to a myriad of factors including but not limited to intermittent electricity, use of expensive low bandwidth satellite technology, and inadequately trained personnel. Internet access is less than 10% in Africa alone.

Fortunately many countries have started deploying nationwide backbone ICT infrastructure, built on high speed fiber cables. Several countries in East and Southern Africa have also invested in undersea cables to tap the global Internet super highway. In order for developing countries to accrue the benefits associated with e learning, they need to think of innovative ways to deliver online content on the national backbone, instead of relying on the unreliable and expensive Internet. Private institutions such as banks are already using the backbone to inter connect different branches country wide for their transaction processing needs.

eLearning at Makerere University

Higher institutions of learning like universities and technical colleges need to embrace this model, to deliver elearning to their students located within the main campus and satellite campuses. The deployment can be based on a push model where the main server is connected to the national backbone, and through online updates from a high speed Internet connection, the content is posted through the Extranets (National Backbone).

eLearning requires training for staff and students

Another challenge for implementing eLearning is training of academic staff in the use of ICTs to deliver online training. With academic staff over burdened by large student numbers, the introduction of eLearning is prone to face stiff resistance. Several academic staff members are not conversant with the use of computers, even for basic tasks like word processing. To expect staff members to deliver online training using technology they are not familiar with is no mean feat.

This technology has to be rolled out through use of blended learning and an incentive structure is paramount. Universities and Institutions of higher learning need dedicated eLearning Support Centers that can convert learning materials into digital formats. Such a facility can provide training to academic staff and students who don’t have the skills in elearning.

Students also need to be trained in Foundation ICT courses before starting their main course programs. The majority of students who join tertiary institutions also have inadequate skills to engage in e learning. ICT foundation courses should be mandatory for students, who don’t have the basic computing skills that include Word Processing, Email & Internet.


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