The internet is a resourceful tool that can improve and transform Africa’s education sector and contribute to economic transformation of African nations, a new study by the Internet Society indicates.
The study, whose results were released during the just-concluded two-day African Regional Internet and Development Dialogue in Kigali, yesterday, shows that internet offers an opportunity for addressing the learning needs of diverse groups in Africa, including the bulk of learners that are currently out of school.
Dubbed the “Internet for Education in Africa,” the study says a blended learning environment that leverages internet can potentially help connect education to work, improve the skills that allow youth to access employment, empower lifelong learners, and importantly, support women, girls and disabled people to participate in learning without space, time and other cultural and social barriers.
Blended learning is an education system that combines online digital media with traditional classroom methods.
“The participation in the global economy is now dependent on 21st century skills, which includes the ability to navigate in the digital world. Progress in countries like India, China and South Korea shows that connectivity serves as a foundation for access to information economy jobs and advancing innovations,” it says.
The study shows that in Africa, using internet for learning is a real possibility. More than a quarter of the African population (334 million) has access to internet, the majority of which are young people.
There were 147 million Facebook users in Africa as of June 2016.
However, such access to internet and use of social media has not been harnessed systematically to advance education and learning at individual and institutional levels, the study says.
Internet for learning
Dr Lishan Adam, one of the lead researchers behind the study, said it was also part of reviewing the position of Africa in global education commitments.
“As internet is growing, educational challenges are advancing and normally the two are not supposed to be intersecting. What we are trying to do is to look at where we are in terms of providing access to quality education, which is in line with the global education commitments under Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4,” he said.
The education targets of the SDGs, among others, aim to ensure universal pre-primary, primary and secondary education, achieve gender equity among learners, ensure disabled learners attain equal education, and foster youth employability.
To achieve this, Adam reckons that improved connectivity in the region and the vast learning resources that are available over the internet are useful.
While access to mobile broadband has increased in urban areas, last-mile connectivity remains a challenge.
With about half of the population more than 25km from the nearest fiber connection, broadband connection in rural areas remains very low.
With over 70 per cent of the population living in rural areas, the majority who need internet the most, such as rural schools, do not have it.
The study says there’s hope that internet and ICTs can transform the education landscape in Africa, but that there are still challenges blocking internet use in education in Africa.
These include limited literacy and skills that are needed to participate in the Internet economy, lack of infrastructure to host and exchange locally available content, inadequate supportive infrastructure such as electricity, and high taxes on ICT hardware and software, among others.