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ࡱ> #` Pbjbj\.\. .&>D>Dچh DDD`xxxccc8,d\d2fffffcg}g g$GhtxcgcgxxffϾ,,,xfxf,,, 0xxf|f 8ac:$0^D#vL#H"#xķ4g. r,zdgggjggg1p7,p7xxxxxx  THE AFRICAN VIRTUAL UNIVERSITY The Limits and Possibilities of Distance Education in African -The Case of the African University Kuzvinetsa Peter Dzvimbo Rector, the African Virtual University Introduction Please allow me to take this opportunity to thank the Minister of Education in the Republic of South Africa, Professor K. Asmal for according us this opportunity to speak about the African Virtual University at this auspicious gathering. As the AVU we are delighted to be part of this new initiative on the African continent to accentuate distance teaching and open learning. We are also particularly delighted by the fact that, we are now able to share our experiences with African ministries of education and sister institutions on the African continent. The issue of expanding access to tertiary education has always been very high on the agenda of most African governments. Today, the African Union and NEPAD have committed themselves to working with African governments and institutions to expand access to relevant, flexible and cost effective distance teaching and open learning. Expanding access to relevant tertiary education especially science and technology is critical for the African continent to compete in a global economy. More importantly, Africa needs a critical mass of people who are essential in assisting the continent in making a transition from economies that are based on natural resources to knowledge economies. Investments in human capital as most developed countries have shown is becoming the sine qua non for rapid socio economic and technological development. We are now even talking of the advantages of e-government. Therefore the use of ICTs and the right content has promises for accelerating development in a number of sectors. The African Virtual University (AVU) was established in 1997 to increase access to tertiary education and training for African students by leveraging information and communication technologies (ICTs). The establishment of the AVU is part of the Virtual Colombo Plan. The Virtual Colombo Plan targets poverty alleviation through the use of (ICTs) in education and other sectors critical to socio economic development. The major focus of this initiative is to utilize ICTs to increase access to relevant and quality global knowledge and educational resources in developing countries through distance education and open learning. In this model, the AVU works closely with an institution from overseas to offer degrees and diplomas from an institution. The teaching and award of the degree or diploma is done by the overseas university utilizing the AVUs technology and learning centre infrastructure. In this schema, African students are able to access the best educational resources in a manner unimaginable without the use of ICTs such as VSATS. VSATS are the technology of choice today because they enable the AVU to overcome barriers imposed by the monopolization of telecommunications by state monopolies. The major limitation in the establishment of VSATs systems is the cost (s) associated with licensing. But they offer an opportunity for the AVU to make tertiary education accessible anywhere on the African continent especially in the so called remote rural areas. The role of ICTs in Higher Education There is still a role of conventional methods of teaching and learning in higher education. However empirical evidence shows that a number of African Universities are unable to admit all the prospective candidates who wish to enroll in our universities. The emergence of Open or Distance Education universities or Distance Education Centers in most African countries is testimony to the fact that African governments now support the utility of such methods of teaching and learning. For instance, out of a sample of 102 countries, data for 2001 from the UNESCO Institute of National Statistics (2003), the World Bank (2003) , World Development Indicators (2003) and National sources (2003) indicate that only Egypt had a gross tertiary enrollment rate of 39%. This shows that Africa is still unable to satisfy demand for university education and training as indicated below. The country with the highest tertiary education enrollment is Finland with 83.3% followed by South Korea with 77.6% then Taiwan with 77.1%. GROSS TERTIARY ENROLLMENT RATIONS FOR SELECTED COUNTRIES RANK COUNTRY VALUE 2South Korea77.637Egypt39.050Malaysia28.257Tunisia21.765South Africa15.267Algeria15.073Morocco10.381Namibia5.983Cameroon4.984Botswana4.785Nigeria4.086Zimbabwe3.987Senegal3.889Ghana3.390Kenya3.091Uganda3.092Zambia2.594Mali1.995Gambia1.996Ethiopia1.698Chad0.999Tanzania0.7100Angola0.7101Mozambique0.6102Malawi0.3 Source: Soumitra Dutta, Bruno Lanvin, Fiona Paua (2003). The Global Information Technology Report: Towards an Equitable Information Society. (New York: Oxford University Press, p. 252 When we also consider that Africa has 700 million people, then these gross enrollment rates mean that there is need to increase access in tertiary education and training. Conventional methods of distance teaching and open learning are still relevant and useful. However, mixed modes of delivery, such as the use of information and telecommunication technologies (ICTs) offer many opportunities of expanding cost effective teaching and learning which have not been possible in the past. ICTs are regarded as: A general purpose technology (GPT) and has features characterized by new growth theorists and economic historians: (1) wide scope for improvement and elaboration; (2) applicability across a broad range of uses and in a wide variety of products and processes; and (3) strong complementarities with existing or potential new technologies. GPT play the role of enabling technologies opening up new opportunities rather than offering complete solutions.[1] In this same article, Lanvin and Zhen-Wei Qiang argue that the major characteristics of these technologies are: Interactive, permanent, and global: These technologies are available around the clock and permits communication independent of the physical movement of individuals and geographic distances between them. Externalities: These are inputs into the socio-economic and technological development process such as ideas, knowledge and in formation which can be treated as public goods; Decoupling property: Information can be separated from its physical repository and making it easy to transmit unhindered by the volume or the nature (voice, video or data); and Pervasiveness: GPT have an economic impact on a number of areas by enabling the generation of a wide number of products and services, strong industrial interests as a means of profitability and competitiveness. They also enhance the reduction of unit costs of many products and processes. Within the field of higher education, the major drivers for the role of distance education and ICTs include the following: Excessive demand for university education and the inability of conventional university to admit all qualified students. This has given rise to the need for greater flexibility in providing educational access to students with disabilities. The need to provide education to students in rural areas and urban townships who find it costly to access residential programs. The demand for flexible scheduling by potential students whose daily routines are complex and do not mesh with the rhythm of the traditional educational day. Rising cost of conventional higher education and training in most of the African countries. The increased requirements for higher education for career advancement. The general shift in the publics perception of higher education as a youthful pursuit to one which values life long education and training. The growing requirement for the re-skilling of workers and the demands for competencies that are job specific rather than degrees and general certificates. The shift for teacher centered to learners centered education and training. The growing awareness among university teachers that students vary in their learning styles and speeds. While ICTs offer a wide range of possibilities in increasing access to tertiary education and training in Africa, it also has certain limitations that are of a financial, technical, educational and even of a political nature. At the global level, Individuals and institutions need to renew their competencies more often than before, because the problems they face change more rapidly. The key to success (for individuals and countries) is rather rapid learning and forgetting (when old ways of doing things get in the way of learning new ways).[2] Distance education offers possibilities of dramatically increasing access to relevant and flexible tertiary education and training in the African continent. Virtual teaching and learning even offers a more cost effective way of expanding access to tertiary education and training if the IT infrastructure in Africa is un-bundles to allow the participation of the private sector which can bring down unit cots. ICTs in education and higher education in particular also help to address the millennium development goals in the social sector such as health, gender and the environment. Within the health sector ICTs in higher education facilitates[3]: Remote consultation, diagnosis, and treatment; The dissemination of health information and disease prevention techniques; Medical research collaboration and training; The improvement of the efficiency of medical facility administration especially in the rural areas. ICTs in higher education and education in general also have a similar impact on environmental issues. These include: Communication in development and enforcement of policies affecting environment; Raising awareness and sharing knowledge on environmental issues; Enabling greater environmental sustainability in other sectors; and Environmental monitoring and resources management and risk mitigation. As far as gender is concerned, the role of ICTs in higher education and distance education in particular is far reaching especially in improving the economic opportunities for girls and women using ICTs. It enhances the social and economic empowerment of women and othere marginalized groups in society as well. The African Virtual University Experience The African Virtual University was established in 1997 by the World Bank. The AVU is now an autonomous institution that receives funding from: The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA); Australian Aid (AUSAID); Department for International Development (DFID); and The World Bank. Funding from these organizations has been used for project development and the purchase of content from Australia and Canada. The AVU has now realized that this model is not sustainable. As such, the AVU has now began to work with African Universities in making use of existing content in these institutions to expand access to relevant and cost effective tertiary education and training. Even with the short courses which have been popular since 1997, the AVU is now exploring the possibilities of making use of content from African universities. Experience in the AVU shows that the best and most cost effective option is one in which the AVU works with African institutions to utilize existing content and make it available to students via the AVUs technology and learning centre infrastructure. The purchasing of content is now limited to 20% from outside the African continent. A key area in our offerings has been short courses which appeals to a wide spectrum of learners such as those who are already working and the unemployed who want to increase their chances on the job market by obtaining skills that are marketable. The major attraction is the availability of systems of articulation to existing degree and diploma programs at leading African universities. The AVU Programs and partnerships with Australian and Canadian Universities The AVU is currently offering the following programs: Computer Science degree and diploma programs for students from Anglophone countries with the RMIT and the LPU University of Dar es Salaam. There are 215 students. The content provider is the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Funding is coming from the Australian Aid. A computer science degree and diploma program at the following universities: University of Namibia, Namibia; Kenyatta University, Kenya; Egerton University, Kenya, Kwame Nkrumah University, Ghana. The estimated enrollment is 400 students. The content provider is the RMIT. A computer science degree and diploma program for countries that use French as an official language. These are University Gaston Berger as the LPU, Senegal, University of Mauritania, Mauritania; University of Benin, Benin; University of Lumiere, Burundi; University of Niger, Niger. The expected number of students is 120. These programs will be offered in conjunction with Laval University in Canada. A business studies program at Kenyatta University, Kenya; University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; University of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Kigali Institute of Technology, Rwanda. The expected number of students is 400. The content provider is Curtin University from Australia. The AVU has been offering short courses since 1997 to all the Learning Centers. As far as the use of technology is concerned, our activities can be split into the following categories: Content Origination, Delivery and Reception: Content is originated and delivered either through the satellite broadcast network or through an online learning management platform which is web based. Central to this operation is the need for interaction, communication and collaboration between students, content providers and facilitators. The AVU satellite network operations include the Hub and uplink operations, connections to content providers, reception at the Learning Centers (LCs), overall system management and roll out of new satellite technology products at the LCs. The AVU Web systems include the Web site, email systems and the learning management platform which at the moment is (WebCT). Through our partnerships with institutions such as Laval University in Canada, we are exploring the use of non-proprietary learning management systems. Technical support: This involves offering training, maintenance and service support to the LCs and the AVU HQ on technology infrastructure and systems. Vendor management: This ranges from management of relationships with technical vendors, building and promoting these relationships, contract negotiation and providing a point of technical contact with vendors and service providers. Technology management, advancement and architecture development: This involves developing blue prints for overall IT technical design and setting general policies and standards of operation, project management, business process analysis and setting business and technology strategy. It also includes research and development of new and emerging technologies, prototyping and product testing and system design and integration. Because of the challenges we are facing as far as technology is concerned, we have devised a technology and pedagogy model which will enable us to use technology as a strategic resource and not as end in its self. This is the driving factor behind the proposed AVUs technology strategy. The strategy is based on the need for quality, reliable, secure and cost effective delivery of content. It is also based on the fact that the technological landscape on the continent is weak. Thirdly the strategy is based on the fact that, the AVU aims to operate on the whole continent and indeed globally in an economical, flexible and scalable way and the need to reach students anywhere, anytime and using any device. The strategy has been refined based on the AVUs experience and various studies and reviews done over time. As indicated in our detailed IT strategy paper, the following action plan has been adopted: A VSAT network is planned by January 2004 starting with the universities taking AVUs degree programs. The VSAT network will enable the Learning Centres (LCs) to have reliable and even cost effective access to the Internet. Computing equipment will be procured and installed in LCs as part of a deliberate investment strategy to ensure that LCs can attract students, offer quality programs and also enable the AVU to standardize equipment at the LCs leading to lower costs of acquisition and maintenance. The AVU will start by equipping the Francophone LCs. Plans are underway to equip all the LCs with at least two servers - one to run the local WebCT platform and another to run file and messaging services. Negotiations have been concluded with Microsoft to provide software for all the AVUs Learning Centers. A data center has been built at the AVU HQ that will host enterprise level application servers. vi. Video broadcasting for the current broadcast network and planned VSAT network will be based on IP. The same bandwidth for Internet is (will be) interchangeably used for video leading to efficient bandwidth utilization but also paving the way for new possibilities such as the ability to direct video to the desktop (and hence to any IP capable device) and the ability to cheaply originate and store video. vii. The use of the WebCT Learning Management Platform has transformed the AVUs delivery approach from relying mainly on video to relying on online courses (currently video is used only about 25% of the time). viii. The AVU will exploit Microsofts expertise to design and implement a network wide decentralized messaging, collaboration and knowledge management system that allows the AVU to directly reach the student, allows for effective and efficient communication and collaboration between students and lecturers and allows the efficient creation, storage, retrieval and dissemination of information. All process will be based on IP technologies. The messaging system will require decentralization of the current central web based system. ix. A web based technical support ticketing system is under development and will tie together the AVUs technical staff and the LC staff (and even the students) to enable faster identification and resolution of technical problems and also to enable the LPUs technical staff to take on a bigger role in providing technical support for the network Focus of the AVU The AVU offers a range of short certificate and non certificate courses; and degree and diploma programs which focus on those areas identified by African vice chancellors and key stakeholders as relevant to the needs of Africas socio economic and political development. The focus from the early days of the AVU has always been on computer science and business studies. Computer science and business studies have been seen as the best way to put Africa on a trajectory that will enable it to make a transition from societies based on natural resources to knowledge based economies. The AVU technology and pedagogy models include the use of mixed modes of delivery systems which include video conferencing, use of the internet, CD-Rom, video and audio cassettes and print based materials. A typical AVU remote class which meets at a Learning Centre (LC) has 25-50 learners who either view a lecture on a large screen or work online on computers that have been provided to LCs throughout Africa. The learners interact with tutors and other students via e-mail, using Web CT and through the telephone. We are now developing systems and procedures to work closely with the AVU network of LCs. The LCs will also be part and parcel of our decision making process. The coal face of the AVU activities is learning and teaching which occurs on the information super highway and at the LCs. While this approach may be challenged on continent with very few people with access to electricity and pipe borne water, our philosophy is that the AVU has to train people for the present and the future. Therefore, learner support is central to our activities in the LCs. We have also now strengthened the department that provides learner support. In our view, learner support is also closely linked to our efforts of developing a full fledged digital library. Today we have roughly 8 000 e-books and 4 000 e - journals. We continue to talk to African libraries to explore the possibilities of linking the AVU digital library to information resources available on the African continent and abroad. The challenge in all these initiatives ladies and gentlemen is the availability of bandwidth and connectivity on the African continent. We hope that the AVU system can be merged with other virtual and open learning systems on the African continent so that more and more systems can have access to digital library resources. Obviously the challenge will always be the availability of bandwidth. Once Africa addresses these issues then the vision of making e-learning available to more African students than the current conventional systems can offer. The AVU attempts to remain contextual in its choice of a pedagogy model. The print mode will not be completely abandoned because in some areas students still find it difficult to access our e-books and e-journals due to the prohibitive costs of connectivity in a number of African countries. In areas where connectivity is not an issue especially in urban and peri-urban areas, the internet is becoming our choice for learning and teaching and student support in general. E-learning as we all know gives room to interactive learning and teaching. The AVU is now setting up mechanisms for conducting basic and applied research on e-learning. This Endeavour is closely related to one of our main mandates which are to take a lead in capacity building on the African continent in e-learning. Our strategy is to partner with both funders and institutions in Africa and abroad which already have expertise in this area so that we can build a critical mass on the African continent. However, as we move to rural schools, remote clinics, churches or even mosques, the mixed mode will become the main choice and dominant mode of delivery. As the VSAT systems become cheaper, we will use our LCs as ISPs to link the so called remote areas in Africa-the rural population. The second pedagogy model The second AVU pedagogy model is one in which the AVU works closely with African universities to make use of their existing diploma and degree programs. In this schema, the AVU is developing linkages with African universities in which their most popular undergraduate and post graduate degrees and diplomas are taught through a mixed mode of delivery which includes e-learning, print based teaching and learning materials, the CD-Rom, video and audio cassettes, the television and possibly the radio. Central to the success of this learning and teaching model is the staff development and institutional capacity building in e-learning of staff in our partner African universities. Most of our African professors do not have expertise in designing, developing, implementing and evaluating e-learning materials. They are experts in the conventional model of teaching and learning. A few universities are now experimenting with pilot projects in e-learning. We see the AVU and its other virtual university partners playing a critical role in this area as Africa begins to embrace the role of e-learning in making tertiary education more accessible to African students. Therefore, there is an urgent need to staff develop Africas academia in digitizing their print based materials and to develop institutional structures and processes that are pivotal in e-learning and teaching. Most African universities have distance education units that are performing well despite shortages in equipment and trained person power. These efforts need to be enhanced because we all now know that tertiary education and training is at the centre of our experiments to develop knowledge based economies. As John Dewey once argued, education is not a preparation for life; it is life itself. Therefore, we believe that post secondary education is now becoming essential to the development of knowledge based economies. Emerging global players such as India have invested very heavily in science and technology at the university level. Africa has a lot to learn from this experience. Challenges in implementing distance education programs in Africa The major challenge in extending open learning and distance teaching to most African universities is obviously the issues of skills and attitudes towards distance education in general and e-learning in particular. It is correct to note that a number of African universities now have various forms of Distance education programs. The majority of African universities have opted for mixed modes of delivery or what is regarded as blended teaching and learning in some universities. The second problem is associated with coping with the demands of a learner as a consumer and customer. In other words, distance education universities especially the mixed mode now has to cope with the demands of a plethora of learners.[4] These include: The traditional learner who moves form secondary school to university. The non traditional learner who drops out of university and goes on later in life to complete a degree. The traditional graduate learner who seeks a graduate degree immediately after completing a first degree. The professional graduate learner who seeks graduate program to enhance his/her professional status. The casual learner who periodically signs up to take a class for professional or personal reasons. The life long learner who is always seeking new knowledge and new knowledge basis. Other issues that the AVU has faced over a number of years include the following: i. The availability of an IT infrastructure in African countries; ii. The cost and availability of bandwidth on the African continent; iii. The cost and availability of computers and related hardware and software especially the cost of licensing teaching and learning platforms such as Web CT and Blackboard. iv. The availability of academic and non teaching staff with skills in curriculum design, development, implementation and evaluation. v. The costs of setting structures for developing distance education materials. vi. Limited funds for outsourcing the production of open learning and distance teaching materials. vii. Scarce financial resources for setting up regional, provincial and district centers in rural areas. Funds for equipping such centers and paying for staff who are employed either on a part or full time basis. viii. Problems associated with quality assurance, accreditation of certificate and degree programs across the African continent. ix. Limited human and financial resources for providing student support especially in remote regional and district centers. x. The difficulty of obtaining licenses for VSATs in some African countries. As indicated above, a mixed mode of delivery demands that a country has a progressive IT policy in place and the there is a conducive environment for e-learning and distance education in general. Most African countries are still lagging behind in terms of the penetration of ICTs in their societies. For in stance, it is only South Africa on the African continent which had more that 50 computers per thousand inhabitants in 2001. The figure for South Africa is 68.5 per thousand while that for Singapore is (508.3), Malaysia (126.1) Mauritius (109.1), Ethiopia (1.1), Mali (1.2), Malawi (1.3), Chad (1.6), Uganda (3.1) Tanzania (3.3), Mozambique (3.5), Cameroon (3.9) Kenya (5.6), Nigeria (6.8), Zambia (7.0), Zimbabwe (12.1), Gambia (12.7) Morocco (13.1), Senegal (18.6), Namibia (36.4), Botswana (38.7). Even in terms of in ternet users, very few African countries have managed to increase the number of internet users in the last few years. Personal Computers in selected African countries (2002) RANKCOUNTRYNUMBER OF PERSONAL COMPUTERS1United States178 000 000 Taiwan8 887 10021South Africa3 300 00030Indonesia2 300 00035Singapore2 100 00054Zimbabwe600 00060Morocco400 00069Algeria220 00070Senegal200 00074Kenya175 000 (estimate)78Mauritius130 00081Tanzania120 00084Ethiopia100 00084Namibia100 000 (estimate)87Zambia80 00089Ghana70 000 (estimate)89Mozambique70 000 (estimate)89Uganda70 000 (estimate)92Botswana65 000 (estimate)93Cameroon60 000 (estimate)95Angola27 00096Gambia17 000 (estimate)97Mali14 000 (estimate)98Malawi13 000 (estimate)99Chad12 000 (estimate) Source: Soumitra Dutta, Bruno Lanvin, Fiona Paua (2003). The Global Information Technology Report: Towards an Equitable Information Society. (New York: Oxford University Press, p. 292 Accreditation and certification For us to achieve our goal of making higher education and training accessible, we also need to critically examine the current frameworks, processes and structures of accreditation of certificate, diploma and degree programs on the African continent. The Francophone African countries are lucky in the sense that, they already have a framework of accreditation that is working well. We are searching for an acceptable model in which African students can enter and exit the university systems in their countries and across the continent at strategic and conducive stages in their training. We are in a quest for a system in which African students can complete a diploma with the AVU and then gain access to a degree program at an African university or one of our lead partner institutions. In most African countries, it is still very difficult for students to transfer credits from one university to the other. If this is problematic at the national level, it is a daunting task to implement a credit transfer system among African universities that may have very different academic, educational and political histories and structures as is the case among Francophone, Lusophone and Anglophone African universities. The AVU is now committed to the development of a strategic action plan to work within the framework of the Arusha Declaration on accreditation of programs on the African continent. Closely related to these issues is the whole area of Accreditation and Recognition of Prior Learning or tacit knowledge. The AVU is now developing a systematic way of recognizing prior learning or tacit knowledge so that those learners who do not have formal secondary school qualifications can have access to tertiary education and training by making use of their experiential learning. The adult learner Open learning and distance teaching is also premised on the notion that, it offers an opportunity to learners who, for a variety of reasons did not have access to conventional tertiary education and training. As we all know, the current university system in Africa is no longer able to cope with the excessive demands for tertiary education and training let alone the large numbers of science and technology graduates required by our nations for a transition to knowledge based economies. The participation rates in African tertiary education and training are in the region of one to five percent of the age cohort compared to over fifty per cent in Europe and North America. In some African countries, entry requirements are being raised in an attempt to cope with demand and lack of supply of enough places at conventional universities. This is why the AVU and its partners are essential in providing access to those who would not have been able to access the tertiary education and training system in Africa. On the African continent, we are now faced with a new type of a learner. The AVU has to satisfy the insatiable desire for tertiary education and training demands of a learner who has no time to be at a conventional university because of financial, employment or personal demands. The AVU was also set up to satisfy the educational demands of female learners who have been marginalized from the African tertiary education and training system for a very long time. While the majority of our students are youths, we hope that future enrollments will reflect the wide spectrum of learners on the African continent with a special emphasis on female students. As we all know ladies and gentlemen, the illiterate of the twenty-first century as Alvin Toffler (1990) has argued will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. Open learning and distance teaching is intended to augment existing educational programs in conventional universities. In this schema, the role of ICTs is fundamental. We are therefore appealing to our governments to create an enabling environment for African institutions to take advantage of VSAT technologies that can be cheaper if student numbers are increased exponentially. We are also appealing to our governments to help in developing ICT backbones in our countries so that Africa can be part of the global technological age. Conclusion When we look at the IT, educational and political challenges of distance education and e-learning in Africa, the task before us looks impossible. But as Mahatma Gandhi pointed out, strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will. At the AVU, we are committed to making this initiative succeed. For us failure is not an option. Investment in ICTs can be a very expensive activity. But if we think education is expensive let us all try ignorance! Therefore, we are driven by the indomitable will to provide access to relevant, cost-effective and flexible tertiary education and training to Africans who in the past did not have access to university education.  [1] Bruno Lanvin and Christine Zhen-Wei Qiang (2004) Poverty e-Reduction: Using ICT to Meet MDG: Direct and Indirect Roles of e-Maturity, p. 61. [2] Bengt-Ake Lundvall and Daniele Archibugi (2001) Introduction: Europe and the Learning Economy. In The Globalizing Learning Economy (Eds) Bengt-Ake Lundvall and Daniele Archibugi. (Oxford: Oxford University Press), p. 1. [3] Bruno Lanvin and Christine Zhen-Wei Qiang, op. cit, pp. 61-67. [4] Daniel James Rowley and Herbert Sherman (2001). 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ࡱ> #` Pbjbj\.\. .&>D>Dچh DDD`xxxccc8,d\d2fffffcg}g g$GhtxcgcgxxffϾ,,,xfxf,,, 0xxf|f 8ac:$0^D#vL#H"#xķ4g. r,zdgggjggg1p7,p7xxxxxx  THE AFRICAN VIRTUAL UNIVERSITY The Limits and Possibilities of Distance Education in African -The Case of the African University Kuzvinetsa Peter Dzvimbo Rector, the African Virtual University Introduction Please allow me to take this opportunity to thank the Minister of Education in the Republic of South Africa, Professor K. Asmal for according us this opportunity to speak about the African Virtual University at this auspicious gathering. As the AVU we are delighted to be part of this new initiative on the African continent to accentuate distance teaching and open learning. We are also particularly delighted by the fact that, we are now able to share our experiences with African ministries of education and sister institutions on the African continent. The issue of expanding access to tertiary education has always been very high on the agenda of most African governments. Today, the African Union and NEPAD have committed themselves to working with African governments and institutions to expand access to relevant, flexible and cost effective distance teaching and open learning. Expanding access to relevant tertiary education especially science and technology is critical for the African continent to compete in a global economy. More importantly, Africa needs a critical mass of people who are essential in assisting the continent in making a transition from economies that are based on natural resources to knowledge economies. Investments in human capital as most developed countries have shown is becoming the sine qua non for rapid socio economic and technological development. We are now even talking of the advantages of e-government. Therefore the use of ICTs and the right content has promises for accelerating development in a number of sectors. The African Virtual University (AVU) was established in 1997 to increase access to tertiary education and training for African students by leveraging information and communication technologies (ICTs). The establishment of the AVU is part of the Virtual Colombo Plan. The Virtual Colombo Plan targets poverty alleviation through the use of (ICTs) in education and other sectors critical to socio economic development. The major focus of this initiative is to utilize ICTs to increase access to relevant and quality global knowledge and educational resources in developing countries through distance education and open learning. In this model, the AVU works closely with an institution from overseas to offer degrees and diplomas from an institution. The teaching and award of the degree or diploma is done by the overseas university utilizing the AVUs technology and learning centre infrastructure. In this schema, African students are able to access the best educational resources in a manner unimaginable without the use of ICTs such as VSATS. VSATS are the technology of choice today because they enable the AVU to overcome barriers imposed by the monopolization of telecommunications by state monopolies. The major limitation in the establishment of VSATs systems is the cost (s) associated with licensing. But they offer an opportunity for the AVU to make tertiary education accessible anywhere on the African continent especially in the so called remote rural areas. The role of ICTs in Higher Education There is still a role of conventional methods of teaching and learning in higher education. However empirical evidence shows that a number of African Universities are unable to admit all the prospective candidates who wish to enroll in our universities. The emergence of Open or Distance Education universities or Distance Education Centers in most African countries is testimony to the fact that African governments now support the utility of such methods of teaching and learning. For instance, out of a sample of 102 countries, data for 2001 from the UNESCO Institute of National Statistics (2003), the World Bank (2003) , World Development Indicators (2003) and National sources (2003) indicate that only Egypt had a gross tertiary enrollment rate of 39%. This shows that Africa is still unable to satisfy demand for university education and training as indicated below. The country with the highest tertiary education enrollment is Finland with 83.3% followed by South Korea with 77.6% then Taiwan with 77.1%. GROSS TERTIARY ENROLLMENT RATIONS FOR SELECTED COUNTRIES RANK COUNTRY VALUE 2South Korea77.637Egypt39.050Malaysia28.257Tunisia21.765South Africa15.267Algeria15.073Morocco10.381Namibia5.983Cameroon4.984Botswana4.785Nigeria4.086Zimbabwe3.987Senegal3.889Ghana3.390Kenya3.091Uganda3.092Zambia2.594Mali1.995Gambia1.996Ethiopia1.698Chad0.999Tanzania0.7100Angola0.7101Mozambique0.6102Malawi0.3 Source: Soumitra Dutta, Bruno Lanvin, Fiona Paua (2003). The Global Information Technology Report: Towards an Equitable Information Society. (New York: Oxford University Press, p. 252 When we also consider that Africa has 700 million people, then these gross enrollment rates mean that there is need to increase access in tertiary education and training. Conventional methods of distance teaching and open learning are still relevant and useful. However, mixed modes of delivery, such as the use of information and telecommunication technologies (ICTs) offer many opportunities of expanding cost effective teaching and learning which have not been possible in the past. ICTs are regarded as: A general purpose technology (GPT) and has features characterized by new growth theorists and economic historians: (1) wide scope for improvement and elaboration; (2) applicability across a broad range of uses and in a wide variety of products and processes; and (3) strong complementarities with existing or potential new technologies. GPT play the role of enabling technologies opening up new opportunities rather than offering complete solutions.[1] In this same article, Lanvin and Zhen-Wei Qiang argue that the major characteristics of these technologies are: Interactive, permanent, and global: These technologies are available around the clock and permits communication independent of the physical movement of individuals and geographic distances between them. Externalities: These are inputs into the socio-economic and technological development process such as ideas, knowledge and in formation which can be treated as public goods; Decoupling property: Information can be separated from its physical repository and making it easy to transmit unhindered by the volume or the nature (voice, video or data); and Pervasiveness: GPT have an economic impact on a number of areas by enabling the generation of a wide number of products and services, strong industrial interests as a means of profitability and competitiveness. They also enhance the reduction of unit costs of many products and processes. Within the field of higher education, the major drivers for the role of distance education and ICTs include the following: Excessive demand for university education and the inability of conventional university to admit all qualified students. This has given rise to the need for greater flexibility in providing educational access to students with disabilities. The need to provide education to students in rural areas and urban townships who find it costly to access residential programs. The demand for flexible scheduling by potential students whose daily routines are complex and do not mesh with the rhythm of the traditional educational day. Rising cost of conventional higher education and training in most of the African countries. The increased requirements for higher education for career advancement. The general shift in the publics perception of higher education as a youthful pursuit to one which values life long education and training. The growing requirement for the re-skilling of workers and the demands for competencies that are job specific rather than degrees and general certificates. The shift for teacher centered to learners centered education and training. The growing awareness among university teachers that students vary in their learning styles and speeds. While ICTs offer a wide range of possibilities in increasing access to tertiary education and training in Africa, it also has certain limitations that are of a financial, technical, educational and even of a political nature. At the global level, Individuals and institutions need to renew their competencies more often than before, because the problems they face change more rapidly. The key to success (for individuals and countries) is rather rapid learning and forgetting (when old ways of doing things get in the way of learning new ways).[2] Distance education offers possibilities of dramatically increasing access to relevant and flexible tertiary education and training in the African continent. Virtual teaching and learning even offers a more cost effective way of expanding access to tertiary education and training if the IT infrastructure in Africa is un-bundles to allow the participation of the private sector which can bring down unit cots. ICTs in education and higher education in particular also help to address the millennium development goals in the social sector such as health, gender and the environment. Within the health sector ICTs in higher education facilitates[3]: Remote consultation, diagnosis, and treatment; The dissemination of health information and disease prevention techniques; Medical research collaboration and training; The improvement of the efficiency of medical facility administration especially in the rural areas. ICTs in higher education and education in general also have a similar impact on environmental issues. These include: Communication in development and enforcement of policies affecting environment; Raising awareness and sharing knowledge on environmental issues; Enabling greater environmental sustainability in other sectors; and Environmental monitoring and resources management and risk mitigation. As far as gender is concerned, the role of ICTs in higher education and distance education in particular is far reaching especially in improving the economic opportunities for girls and women using ICTs. It enhances the social and economic empowerment of women and othere marginalized groups in society as well. The African Virtual University Experience The African Virtual University was established in 1997 by the World Bank. The AVU is now an autonomous institution that receives funding from: The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA); Australian Aid (AUSAID); Department for International Development (DFID); and The World Bank. Funding from these organizations has been used for project development and the purchase of content from Australia and Canada. The AVU has now realized that this model is not sustainable. As such, the AVU has now began to work with African Universities in making use of existing content in these institutions to expand access to relevant and cost effective tertiary education and training. Even with the short courses which have been popular since 1997, the AVU is now exploring the possibilities of making use of content from African universities. Experience in the AVU shows that the best and most cost effective option is one in which the AVU works with African institutions to utilize existing content and make it available to students via the AVUs technology and learning centre infrastructure. The purchasing of content is now limited to 20% from outside the African continent. A key area in our offerings has been short courses which appeals to a wide spectrum of learners such as those who are already working and the unemployed who want to increase their chances on the job market by obtaining skills that are marketable. The major attraction is the availability of systems of articulation to existing degree and diploma programs at leading African universities. The AVU Programs and partnerships with Australian and Canadian Universities The AVU is currently offering the following programs: Computer Science degree and diploma programs for students from Anglophone countries with the RMIT and the LPU University of Dar es Salaam. There are 215 students. The content provider is the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Funding is coming from the Australian Aid. A computer science degree and diploma program at the following universities: University of Namibia, Namibia; Kenyatta University, Kenya; Egerton University, Kenya, Kwame Nkrumah University, Ghana. The estimated enrollment is 400 students. The content provider is the RMIT. A computer science degree and diploma program for countries that use French as an official language. These are University Gaston Berger as the LPU, Senegal, University of Mauritania, Mauritania; University of Benin, Benin; University of Lumiere, Burundi; University of Niger, Niger. The expected number of students is 120. These programs will be offered in conjunction with Laval University in Canada. A business studies program at Kenyatta University, Kenya; University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; University of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Kigali Institute of Technology, Rwanda. The expected number of students is 400. The content provider is Curtin University from Australia. The AVU has been offering short courses since 1997 to all the Learning Centers. As far as the use of technology is concerned, our activities can be split into the following categories: Content Origination, Delivery and Reception: Content is originated and delivered either through the satellite broadcast network or through an online learning management platform which is web based. Central to this operation is the need for interaction, communication and collaboration between students, content providers and facilitators. The AVU satellite network operations include the Hub and uplink operations, connections to content providers, reception at the Learning Centers (LCs), overall system management and roll out of new satellite technology products at the LCs. The AVU Web systems include the Web site, email systems and the learning management platform which at the moment is (WebCT). Through our partnerships with institutions such as Laval University in Canada, we are exploring the use of non-proprietary learning management systems. Technical support: This involves offering training, maintenance and service support to the LCs and the AVU HQ on technology infrastructure and systems. Vendor management: This ranges from management of relationships with technical vendors, building and promoting these relationships, contract negotiation and providing a point of technical contact with vendors and service providers. Technology management, advancement and architecture development: This involves developing blue prints for overall IT technical design and setting general policies and standards of operation, project management, business process analysis and setting business and technology strategy. It also includes research and development of new and emerging technologies, prototyping and product testing and system design and integration. Because of the challenges we are facing as far as technology is concerned, we have devised a technology and pedagogy model which will enable us to use technology as a strategic resource and not as end in its self. This is the driving factor behind the proposed AVUs technology strategy. The strategy is based on the need for quality, reliable, secure and cost effective delivery of content. It is also based on the fact that the technological landscape on the continent is weak. Thirdly the strategy is based on the fact that, the AVU aims to operate on the whole continent and indeed globally in an economical, flexible and scalable way and the need to reach students anywhere, anytime and using any device. The strategy has been refined based on the AVUs experience and various studies and reviews done over time. As indicated in our detailed IT strategy paper, the following action plan has been adopted: A VSAT network is planned by January 2004 starting with the universities taking AVUs degree programs. The VSAT network will enable the Learning Centres (LCs) to have reliable and even cost effective access to the Internet. Computing equipment will be procured and installed in LCs as part of a deliberate investment strategy to ensure that LCs can attract students, offer quality programs and also enable the AVU to standardize equipment at the LCs leading to lower costs of acquisition and maintenance. The AVU will start by equipping the Francophone LCs. Plans are underway to equip all the LCs with at least two servers - one to run the local WebCT platform and another to run file and messaging services. Negotiations have been concluded with Microsoft to provide software for all the AVUs Learning Centers. A data center has been built at the AVU HQ that will host enterprise level application servers. vi. Video broadcasting for the current broadcast network and planned VSAT network will be based on IP. The same bandwidth for Internet is (will be) interchangeably used for video leading to efficient bandwidth utilization but also paving the way for new possibilities such as the ability to direct video to the desktop (and hence to any IP capable device) and the ability to cheaply originate and store video. vii. The use of the WebCT Learning Management Platform has transformed the AVUs delivery approach from relying mainly on video to relying on online courses (currently video is used only about 25% of the time). viii. The AVU will exploit Microsofts expertise to design and implement a network wide decentralized messaging, collaboration and knowledge management system that allows the AVU to directly reach the student, allows for effective and efficient communication and collaboration between students and lecturers and allows the efficient creation, storage, retrieval and dissemination of information. All process will be based on IP technologies. The messaging system will require decentralization of the current central web based system. ix. A web based technical support ticketing system is under development and will tie together the AVUs technical staff and the LC staff (and even the students) to enable faster identification and resolution of technical problems and also to enable the LPUs technical staff to take on a bigger role in providing technical support for the network Focus of the AVU The AVU offers a range of short certificate and non certificate courses; and degree and diploma programs which focus on those areas identified by African vice chancellors and key stakeholders as relevant to the needs of Africas socio economic and political development. The focus from the early days of the AVU has always been on computer science and business studies. Computer science and business studies have been seen as the best way to put Africa on a trajectory that will enable it to make a transition from societies based on natural resources to knowledge based economies. The AVU technology and pedagogy models include the use of mixed modes of delivery systems which include video conferencing, use of the internet, CD-Rom, video and audio cassettes and print based materials. A typical AVU remote class which meets at a Learning Centre (LC) has 25-50 learners who either view a lecture on a large screen or work online on computers that have been provided to LCs throughout Africa. The learners interact with tutors and other students via e-mail, using Web CT and through the telephone. We are now developing systems and procedures to work closely with the AVU network of LCs. The LCs will also be part and parcel of our decision making process. The coal face of the AVU activities is learning and teaching which occurs on the information super highway and at the LCs. While this approach may be challenged on continent with very few people with access to electricity and pipe borne water, our philosophy is that the AVU has to train people for the present and the future. Therefore, learner support is central to our activities in the LCs. We have also now strengthened the department that provides learner support. In our view, learner support is also closely linked to our efforts of developing a full fledged digital library. Today we have roughly 8 000 e-books and 4 000 e - journals. We continue to talk to African libraries to explore the possibilities of linking the AVU digital library to information resources available on the African continent and abroad. The challenge in all these initiatives ladies and gentlemen is the availability of bandwidth and connectivity on the African continent. We hope that the AVU system can be merged with other virtual and open learning systems on the African continent so that more and more systems can have access to digital library resources. Obviously the challenge will always be the availability of bandwidth. Once Africa addresses these issues then the vision of making e-learning available to more African students than the current conventional systems can offer. The AVU attempts to remain contextual in its choice of a pedagogy model. The print mode will not be completely abandoned because in some areas students still find it difficult to access our e-books and e-journals due to the prohibitive costs of connectivity in a number of African countries. In areas where connectivity is not an issue especially in urban and peri-urban areas, the internet is becoming our choice for learning and teaching and student support in general. E-learning as we all know gives room to interactive learning and teaching. The AVU is now setting up mechanisms for conducting basic and applied research on e-learning. This Endeavour is closely related to one of our main mandates which are to take a lead in capacity building on the African continent in e-learning. Our strategy is to partner with both funders and institutions in Africa and abroad which already have expertise in this area so that we can build a critical mass on the African continent. However, as we move to rural schools, remote clinics, churches or even mosques, the mixed mode will become the main choice and dominant mode of delivery. As the VSAT systems become cheaper, we will use our LCs as ISPs to link the so called remote areas in Africa-the rural population. The second pedagogy model The second AVU pedagogy model is one in which the AVU works closely with African universities to make use of their existing diploma and degree programs. In this schema, the AVU is developing linkages with African universities in which their most popular undergraduate and post graduate degrees and diplomas are taught through a mixed mode of delivery which includes e-learning, print based teaching and learning materials, the CD-Rom, video and audio cassettes, the television and possibly the radio. Central to the success of this learning and teaching model is the staff development and institutional capacity building in e-learning of staff in our partner African universities. Most of our African professors do not have expertise in designing, developing, implementing and evaluating e-learning materials. They are experts in the conventional model of teaching and learning. A few universities are now experimenting with pilot projects in e-learning. We see the AVU and its other virtual university partners playing a critical role in this area as Africa begins to embrace the role of e-learning in making tertiary education more accessible to African students. Therefore, there is an urgent need to staff develop Africas academia in digitizing their print based materials and to develop institutional structures and processes that are pivotal in e-learning and teaching. Most African universities have distance education units that are performing well despite shortages in equipment and trained person power. These efforts need to be enhanced because we all now know that tertiary education and training is at the centre of our experiments to develop knowledge based economies. As John Dewey once argued, education is not a preparation for life; it is life itself. Therefore, we believe that post secondary education is now becoming essential to the development of knowledge based economies. Emerging global players such as India have invested very heavily in science and technology at the university level. Africa has a lot to learn from this experience. Challenges in implementing distance education programs in Africa The major challenge in extending open learning and distance teaching to most African universities is obviously the issues of skills and attitudes towards distance education in general and e-learning in particular. It is correct to note that a number of African universities now have various forms of Distance education programs. The majority of African universities have opted for mixed modes of delivery or what is regarded as blended teaching and learning in some universities. The second problem is associated with coping with the demands of a learner as a consumer and customer. In other words, distance education universities especially the mixed mode now has to cope with the demands of a plethora of learners.[4] These include: The traditional learner who moves form secondary school to university. The non traditional learner who drops out of university and goes on later in life to complete a degree. The traditional graduate learner who seeks a graduate degree immediately after completing a first degree. The professional graduate learner who seeks graduate program to enhance his/her professional status. The casual learner who periodically signs up to take a class for professional or personal reasons. The life long learner who is always seeking new knowledge and new knowledge basis. Other issues that the AVU has faced over a number of years include the following: i. The availability of an IT infrastructure in African countries; ii. The cost and availability of bandwidth on the African continent; iii. The cost and availability of computers and related hardware and software especially the cost of licensing teaching and learning platforms such as Web CT and Blackboard. iv. The availability of academic and non teaching staff with skills in curriculum design, development, implementation and evaluation. v. The costs of setting structures for developing distance education materials. vi. Limited funds for outsourcing the production of open learning and distance teaching materials. vii. Scarce financial resources for setting up regional, provincial and district centers in rural areas. Funds for equipping such centers and paying for staff who are employed either on a part or full time basis. viii. Problems associated with quality assurance, accreditation of certificate and degree programs across the African continent. ix. Limited human and financial resources for providing student support especially in remote regional and district centers. x. The difficulty of obtaining licenses for VSATs in some African countries. As indicated above, a mixed mode of delivery demands that a country has a progressive IT policy in place and the there is a conducive environment for e-learning and distance education in general. Most African countries are still lagging behind in terms of the penetration of ICTs in their societies. For in stance, it is only South Africa on the African continent which had more that 50 computers per thousand inhabitants in 2001. The figure for South Africa is 68.5 per thousand while that for Singapore is (508.3), Malaysia (126.1) Mauritius (109.1), Ethiopia (1.1), Mali (1.2), Malawi (1.3), Chad (1.6), Uganda (3.1) Tanzania (3.3), Mozambique (3.5), Cameroon (3.9) Kenya (5.6), Nigeria (6.8), Zambia (7.0), Zimbabwe (12.1), Gambia (12.7) Morocco (13.1), Senegal (18.6), Namibia (36.4), Botswana (38.7). Even in terms of in ternet users, very few African countries have managed to increase the number of internet users in the last few years. Personal Computers in selected African countries (2002) RANKCOUNTRYNUMBER OF PERSONAL COMPUTERS1United States178 000 000 Taiwan8 887 10021South Africa3 300 00030Indonesia2 300 00035Singapore2 100 00054Zimbabwe600 00060Morocco400 00069Algeria220 00070Senegal200 00074Kenya175 000 (estimate)78Mauritius130 00081Tanzania120 00084Ethiopia100 00084Namibia100 000 (estimate)87Zambia80 00089Ghana70 000 (estimate)89Mozambique70 000 (estimate)89Uganda70 000 (estimate)92Botswana65 000 (estimate)93Cameroon60 000 (estimate)95Angola27 00096Gambia17 000 (estimate)97Mali14 000 (estimate)98Malawi13 000 (estimate)99Chad12 000 (estimate) Source: Soumitra Dutta, Bruno Lanvin, Fiona Paua (2003). The Global Information Technology Report: Towards an Equitable Information Society. (New York: Oxford University Press, p. 292 Accreditation and certification For us to achieve our goal of making higher education and training accessible, we also need to critically examine the current frameworks, processes and structures of accreditation of certificate, diploma and degree programs on the African continent. The Francophone African countries are lucky in the sense that, they already have a framework of accreditation that is working well. We are searching for an acceptable model in which African students can enter and exit the university systems in their countries and across the continent at strategic and conducive stages in their training. We are in a quest for a system in which African students can complete a diploma with the AVU and then gain access to a degree program at an African university or one of our lead partner institutions. In most African countries, it is still very difficult for students to transfer credits from one university to the other. If this is problematic at the national level, it is a daunting task to implement a credit transfer system among African universities that may have very different academic, educational and political histories and structures as is the case among Francophone, Lusophone and Anglophone African universities. The AVU is now committed to the development of a strategic action plan to work within the framework of the Arusha Declaration on accreditation of programs on the African continent. Closely related to these issues is the whole area of Accreditation and Recognition of Prior Learning or tacit knowledge. The AVU is now developing a systematic way of recognizing prior learning or tacit knowledge so that those learners who do not have formal secondary school qualifications can have access to tertiary education and training by making use of their experiential learning. The adult learner Open learning and distance teaching is also premised on the notion that, it offers an opportunity to learners who, for a variety of reasons did not have access to conventional tertiary education and training. As we all know, the current university system in Africa is no longer able to cope with the excessive demands for tertiary education and training let alone the large numbers of science and technology graduates required by our nations for a transition to knowledge based economies. The participation rates in African tertiary education and training are in the region of one to five percent of the age cohort compared to over fifty per cent in Europe and North America. In some African countries, entry requirements are being raised in an attempt to cope with demand and lack of supply of enough places at conventional universities. This is why the AVU and its partners are essential in providing access to those who would not have been able to access the tertiary education and training system in Africa. On the African continent, we are now faced with a new type of a learner. The AVU has to satisfy the insatiable desire for tertiary education and training demands of a learner who has no time to be at a conventional university because of financial, employment or personal demands. The AVU was also set up to satisfy the educational demands of female learners who have been marginalized from the African tertiary education and training system for a very long time. While the majority of our students are youths, we hope that future enrollments will reflect the wide spectrum of learners on the African continent with a special emphasis on female students. As we all know ladies and gentlemen, the illiterate of the twenty-first century as Alvin Toffler (1990) has argued will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. Open learning and distance teaching is intended to augment existing educational programs in conventional universities. In this schema, the role of ICTs is fundamental. We are therefore appealing to our governments to create an enabling environment for African institutions to take advantage of VSAT technologies that can be cheaper if student numbers are increased exponentially. We are also appealing to our governments to help in developing ICT backbones in our countries so that Africa can be part of the global technological age. Conclusion When we look at the IT, educational and political challenges of distance education and e-learning in Africa, the task before us looks impossible. But as Mahatma Gandhi pointed out, strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will. At the AVU, we are committed to making this initiative succeed. For us failure is not an option. Investment in ICTs can be a very expensive activity. But if we think education is expensive let us all try ignorance! Therefore, we are driven by the indomitable will to provide access to relevant, cost-effective and flexible tertiary education and training to Africans who in the past did not have access to university education.  [1] Bruno Lanvin and Christine Zhen-Wei Qiang (2004) Poverty e-Reduction: Using ICT to Meet MDG: Direct and Indirect Roles of e-Maturity, p. 61. [2] Bengt-Ake Lundvall and Daniele Archibugi (2001) Introduction: Europe and the Learning Economy. In The Globalizing Learning Economy (Eds) Bengt-Ake Lundvall and Daniele Archibugi. (Oxford: Oxford University Press), p. 1. [3] Bruno Lanvin and Christine Zhen-Wei Qiang, op. cit, pp. 61-67. [4] Daniel James Rowley and Herbert Sherman (2001). From Strategy to Change: Implementing the Plan in Higher Education. 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