This week, #ela14 takes place at the fancied Munyonyo Resort, 12km south east of downtown Kampala. eLearning Africa is the largest gathering of elearning and ICT supported education professionals on the continent. And it happens annually. I attended Cotonou 2 years ago and Dar es Salaam prior to that. I can confirm that if elearning, online learning and ICTs for education interest you, this is a great place to be. So lets examine a little what kind of Ugandans would attend elearning africa – Teachers of ICTs, University ICT departments, elearning Service Providers, Policy makers from the Ministry of Education, and a ton of exhibitionists – software vendors, technology vendors and as always, a number of schools looking to attract support from represented donor agencies. The potential to network gainfully is enormous, as this conference averages 1400 professionals over 3 days!
Last year in Windhoek, Namibia, 86% of the participants came from African countries. It is not clear how many came from within Namibia. That would be an interesting statistic, because as the ICT Association of Uganda has already lamented, the conference fees for the category ‘African Nationals based in Africa’, stands at €380 (an equivalent of Ushs 1,350,000 – One Million Three Hundred Fifty Thousand Shillings.) To get the context right, this figure represents about 4 times the net salary of a primary school teacher, and about the gross salary of a university teaching assistant!
I have had the honor of serving in a senior management position at a university, and facing the National Council of Higher Education. Particularly, my interest was tweaked when an NCHE representative asked the University to guarantee that elearning students would access their courses – either by providing internet access to the hosted learning materials and/or providing the means (read gadgets) for the students. Access to the internet remains a critical factor in any online and elearning venture. 3 years later, I am happy to note that overall access to the internet in Uganda has increased – but that is to the outside. It is still not clear what the national policy for elearning is – I hope this conference will bring us to the table.
Within Uganda, one of the hugest drivers for elearning will be the Research and Education Network for Uganda – RENU. Over the last 8 years, RENU has gone from a concept on paper to become a driving force in promoting research collaboration between institutions of higher learning in Uganda and beyond. Through its mission, RENU hopes to promote knowledge creation and sharing amongst scholars and researchers through the provision of advanced network services. The realisation of RENU’s vision and mission is closely intertwined with elearning and online learning. RENU seeks not to create superstars, but a network of like minded centres of excellence in research and education.
Online learning (and indeed, some aspects of elearning) present a new problem for our age-old standards. MIT, Harvard and Berkeley have Free Online Courses -the question is, and appropriately for this day and age,if i covered 15 online courses, from various providers, totaling enough credits for a degree, would I be awarded?
Is the Uganda National Examinations Board (as well as the National Council for Higher Education) ready to accredit and honor hours spent learning online?
I have also scoured the Uganda Ministry of Education website for any policy documentation on elearning and i did not find any. Does that explain why the chief hosts are the ministry of ICT and the Uganda Communications Commission? I appreciate, the role of technology in elearning but i also sense that the leading policy body for education, at an event hosted by the ‘Government of Uganda’ – the Ministry of Education is on a long leash.
This year’s theme, ‘Opening Frontiers to the Future’, is one that calls to mind, what we would like elearning and online learning to be like – when our children’s children go to school. Uganda – what is your frontier to the future of elearning?