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Can online education unlock Africa's potential? [A key question this Africa Day]

BY: Dr Riaan Steenberg|24 May 2019
BLOG| Deciding to study online

It’s been 56 years since the inaugural Africa Day. It’s a day that commemorates the founding of the African Union, champions liberation and human rights, and reflects on the progress the continent has made – and the collective challenges we face. Education in Africa remains one of the biggest challenges of all, with UNESCO naming sub-Saharan African as the region with the highest rate of education exclusion in the world. Online education could be a key to solving the crisis.


South Africa has 25% of Africa’s total education capacity. Other countries that are doing well are Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Ghana, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco. These countries have prioritised education, with strong private education systems, aligned with the needs of industry. With one of the world’s youngest populaces, African education needs to expand drastically over the next decade. We believe much of this will be made possible through distance education (including online learning).


Public vs private education

Currently, there’s a continent-wide over-reliance on public education, coupled with a continuous gaze towards America and Europe to solve Africa’s problems. We need good, homegrown solutions instead. Capacity is the continuous conundrum. The number of seats in public higher education institutions is the biggest barrier to education in Africa. We cannot build universities fast enough to satisfy the demand that will be needed to sustain and grow the continent. At the same, there is a need to expand the number of educators, researchers and to build more effective mechanisms for education delivery.


Free education

Another big question is should education be free? We’d argue that it should not be free as this creates an artificial pricing that is not market-related and that does not speak to the needs of businesses. That makes it unsustainable. Additionally, free education requires budget from somewhere. Money doesn’t just materialise. But something needs to shift. Currently only 50% of South Africans leaving school can pay for a post-school education. By opening online education regulations and creating competitive online offerings, more young people will be able to access continuous learning opportunities from institutions that can always accommodate them.


Scope of education

Additionally, apprenticeship programmes, community colleges and the TVET system all have a role to play in vocational education and these need better programmes and online delivery systems that work and that have credibility with employers. The SETA and QCTO systems need to move beyond their current bureaucracy. They must start delivering valid qualification frameworks that are relevant to learners and to industry, and that are not prescriptive or administrative but functional.


Online programmes that are well designed and that have a clear practical component can widen access and give participants functional skills that are relevant in a digital world of work.


Education leading to employment

As we move into the digital age, the link between education leading to employment becomes ever more critical. Many learning programmes bypass a practical component, with no assessment, reflection or application elements. This does a disservice to the student who will need an arsenal of work-place ready skills to be able to hit the ground running and have the best chance of success. Theory must be complemented by real-world-applicable capabilities. This is something SGI feels strongly about and is committed to.


Sharing knowledge and experiences

We need lecturers who are dedicated to teaching this way as well. Across Africa, we need to put as many lecturers online as possible in order to create a renewable resource that allows us all to learn from each other. In the SGI classroom everyone is a teacher as students contribute to their learning by sharing with each other. This is perhaps, the most powerful message we can share this Africa Day. Africa is a continent rich in talent. We must get better at sharing our knowledge and making it accessible to our young people, especially, in a way that resonates, now and in the future.


SGI Managing Knowledge and Innovation

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