Sign in to my resources Register

Sign in to my resources

elearning-article14 June 2013 – Mobile technologies and social networking are leading the transformation in education in Africa, according to the 2013 eLearning Africa Report, released at the eighth annual eLearning Africa conference held in Namibia in May. The report found that innovation was running parallel with efforts to solve traditional educational problems, and there was an urgent need to bring the two together.

The report is the result of a comprehensive survey of 413 education professionals from 42 African countries, which questioned them on their use of technology for learning and their views on the future of education on the continent. It covers a wide range of critical issues that influence work to improve African education by means of information technology.

“The rapid diffusion of digital technologies in African society ... catalyses changing perceptions, not only of ourselves as Africans, but also of the views from the wider world about Africa,” said report editor Shafika Isaacs.

“Examples of paradigm shifts in education and innovation coexist with traditional ways of learning. The media and popular literature are awash with statistics on the exponential rise of internet-enabled mobility in Africa, said to be ushering in Africa’s ‘leapfrog’ into the 21st century and ‘revolutions’ in the field of open education, higher education and schooling.”

The respondents

The average survey respondent has a university degree, uses a laptop and social media for learning every day, and uses technology mainly for classroom-based learning.

Eighty percent of respondents are African by birth, and work as teachers, lecturers, trainers, entrepreneurs, executives, government officials, investors and policy makers. The report explores their views and experiences of the way digital technologies are influencing learning in their classrooms, workplaces and communities.

They believe that the use of digital technologies improves learning outcomes, that mobile technology is the dominant driver of change, that national governments are the most important change agent, and that education and ICT are the top priorities for African development.

Old and new technologies

The survey revealed that laptops and mobile phones are the most popular learning technologies, with 83% of respondents using laptops and 71% using mobile phones to support learning every day. Nonetheless, newer, more mobile technologies have not yet eclipsed older-generation technologies’ value in learning and teaching: 67% still use standalone PCs, 34% use TVs and 31% use radios for learning every day.

While even newer technologies such as tablets, zero clients and smart boards have a far lower rate of use, the signs are that they may be still emerging. Twenty percent of respondents said they use tablets for learning, but 30% say they never use tablets, 42% say they never use zero client computer labs – server-based computing in which the user's device has no local storage – and 34% never use smart boards. This may reflect the level of exposure to these technologies at the time the survey was conducted.

Social media also featured prominently as a teaching tool, with 60% of those surveyed saying they regularly used sites such as Facebook, Google Plus and LinkedIn in learning. This compares with only 29% who use voice over internet protocol (VOIP) such as Skype and 22% who use blogs, mobile apps and mobile chat.

What type of learning?

Accessing online resources, classroom-based learning and personal learning are top technology uses for survey respondents. Sixty-five percent use technologies to access online resources, 56% use them for classroom-based learning and 52% use them for their own personal learning. When asked why they use digital technologies for learning, expanding access to learning opportunities (33%) featured more prominently than developing employability skills (8%). A total of 71% say that, in their experience, technology has a positive effect on learning outcomes; only 1% say it has a negative effect.

But there are still pitfalls in tech-based learning. Nearly half – 49% – of respondents say they have experienced failure in e-learning. Many of these failures are due to technology and infrastructure breakdowns.

When asked to name their top technology priorities, ICT use in education (16%), training (15%) and infrastructure (16%) came out as the top three. The infrastructure priorities were identified as bandwidth and electricity.

Driving change

The report also highlights African views on the top drivers of change in the use of digital technologies for learning. Mobile technologies (27%) and social media (16%) are seen as the top change drivers, and national governments as the most important agents of change.

“Numerous projects, programmes and initiatives are under way across Africa, related to experiments with mobile phones, tablets and social media in learning and teaching,” Isaacs said of this change.

“National policies on ICT in education are being revisited in a few African countries and implementation plans are being evaluated and renewed. New partnerships are being forged, new financing models are being designed, and innovation hubs and technology-related start-up companies are sprouting up.”

The eLearning Africa Report 2013 also pays special attention to the use and creation of local digital content, including content in indigenous African languages. It reveals that 40% of respondents are involved in creating local digital content but only 16% help create content in African languages.

Technology for development

With less than 1 000 days to go to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, respondents were asked to name priorities for development on the continent. Unsurprisingly, 27% of respondents highlighted education as the top post-2015 development priority, followed by 22% stressing ICT.

“Collectively, these views reflect a strong optimism about the newness and positive change that digital technologies can catalyse in Africa's education and skills development systems,” the report says.

“Yet they also highlight important gaps in our knowledge. Key amongst these are the views and insights of the traditionalist education practitioners and those without access to new learning technologies – those who are primarily focused, due to their personal views or circumstances, on delivering the basics of education: chalk, textbooks, qualified teachers and functional classrooms.

“These conversations about innovation still seem to be taking place in parallel with resolving our traditional educational problems. There is an urgent need to establish points of connection between these conversations.”

Related articles