Developed and Developing, it’s access to education that has separated these two worlds.
There is always somewhere in the world where matured technology will seem like the new kid on the block, and naturally this place is Africa. The benefits of eLearning have been proven and the term ubiquitous in the developed world, however the two worlds do not adopt the same rate of technological evolution. Perhaps its time to leapfrog the necessity to own a computer and explore how we can apply mobile learning directly into the hands of the people.
Online or distance learning is nothing new and has been adopted globally by Governments, schools, corporations, institutions and individuals. Access to quality education from any geographical location has helped create jobs, improve health, empower individuals and contribute to economic development, but it is important that education be made more available than it currently is.
The proliferation of mobile phones across Africa provides one of the biggest opportunities for mobile phone learning as a future development tool. Mobile learning or otherwise know as m-learning is a derivative of eLearning and has gained much traction through the global growth of mobile phone usage, moving education from desktop computers onto mobile phones.
Unique characteristics of the African population indicate unbelievable opportunities for m-learning. Countries like Nigeria, where 5% of the population have access to a computer whilst 63% have access to a mobile phone, suggesting that mobile phones will be the primary source for internet access as oppose to desktop computers. Evidence from a study conducted in South Africa in 2014 also showed that 22% of students had access to computers, 48% owned a mobile phone whilst 100% had access to a mobile phone.
Mobile phone learning is not a substitute to early stage education and its advantages are primarily explored in higher education and individual that are out of school. Often an uneducated youth is the product of uneducated adults and so one of m-learning most promising attributes is the ability to attract adults and other individuals that are out of school. Initiatives such as Dr Math which seek to improve mathematical literacy by providing on demand math tutoring and other skill development tools through Mxit. Other apps such as Gidimo, Yoza Cellphone Stories and EduMe provide a diverse variety of educational content predominantly in the areas of assessment preparation, literacy and language improvement as well as other material that can enhance an individuals opportunity in the job market.
Unequal access to network coverage and inadequate infrastructure will be the greatest obstacle to m-learning and significant investment in infrastructure (However less than the alternative) is required for m-learning to achieve its desired objective. Other limitations within Africa may include diverse multilingual audiences, access to cheap smartphones, implementation within less developed countries, absence of government and policy support and of course the effectiveness of m-learning.
Opportunities within mobile learning in Africa have been identified by major players, including UNESCO who’s reach spreads across almost 100% of the African continent, and seeks to begin implementation into higher education. M-learning provides an alternative avenue for learners to access quality educational materiel, seek guidance and supports those outside of school to make use of the educational streams to obtain valuable skills.
Although e-learning has been revolutionary in educating a widely dispersed global population, Africa must consider its unique adoption of mobile technology and take the necessary steps to fill the educational void. There is no doubt that the effectiveness of m-learning will encounter heated debate, however if we are to consider the alternatives, global trends and current available information, it seems m-learning is an industry to keep an eye on as Africa seeks a solution to its educational woes.