African Students and the Dilemma of Online Education

Africa’s population is the fastest-growing in the world. It is expected to increase by roughly 50% over the next 18years, growing from 1.2billion people to over 1.8billion people in 2035. There are increasing number of youths and students, but there is very limited government spending on education. Online Learning would seem to be a magic solution to this problem and, in theory; courses should be accessible to everyone everywhere at a fraction of the cost, providing maximum flexibility. UNICEF-UNESCO-Word Bank’s survey factsheet on National Education Responses showed that Africa had the highest minimum share of students who cannot be reached through online learning.

After the eruption of Covid19, Sub Sahara African countries had no alternative but to shut their higher education institutions as element of their lockdown measures to enclose the extend of the virus, and higher education institutions had no alternative but to have remedy to the use of information and communications technology (ICT) to convey their programmes online at a detachment to their enrolled students. But the process has laid bare the digital divide within the Sub Sahara African countries between those countries that have better ICT infrastructure than others; between higher education institutions within the same country, with some being far better equipped and experienced than others; and between students within the same institution, the rich who live in urban areas and the poor in rural areas who can barely afford to access the internet, when and if it is available.

It is true that the crisis has provided an opportunity to all higher education institutions to quickly improve and maximize their ICT operations. However, the greater parts of them do not have the capacity to fully deliver whole programmes online. It is the few open universities in Sub Sahara Africa that have that capacity, but their targets are mostly mature students, those in employment and those wishing to improve their qualifications, not fresh school-leavers. While a momentous number of Sub Sahara African higher education institutions have been implementing blended learning (a mixture of face-to-face and online learning) in order to increase access and improve learning, hardly any had intentions for their face-to-face delivery to be completely replaced. How then can Sub Sahara African countries and higher education institutions contract with the inequity arising from the extensive use of online learning, even for a relatively short period? 

However, in general, online education rates are still very low and many students and teachers still prefer what they’ve always known—face-to-face teaching as opposed to cyber education. Moreover, negative perceptions about online courses abound, making it hard for online learning to take off. Some common issues students face are detailed below:

Internet Access and Connectivity

Unless distance learning projects in African countries have reliable internet access, they’re doomed to failure before they even get off the ground. According to the U.N. Broadband Commission, Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest number of countries with the world’s worst internet availability (this affects 80% of countries in the region). These countries include Burundi, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Guinea, Niger, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and South Sudan. In all these places, internet penetration has reached less than 2% of the population. This way it is difficult for students to access materials to study online or even connect with teachers in a scheduled online class via video platforms.

At present, delivering internet access to all areas would cost too much for African governments, and rural and remote areas suffer the most. In these places, internet connections are either non-existent or very erratic. If we look at other world countries where online Learning has flourished, these benefit from huge levels of local and foreign investment, as well as above-average internet access and connectivity.

Kenya has the best connectivity in Africa and the greatest bandwidth per person. Also, speeds are fast and costs are among the lowest. Moreover, internet giants like Microsoft, Google, and IBM have Kenyan bases and have invested in online education there. Unfortunately, not all African countries are as lucky as Kenya, and this is considerably holding up the progress of online learning across Sub-Sahara Africa as a whole.

Quality of Online Learning and Research

It is a misleading concept to consider that online learning can be effective by just posting a lecturer’s notes online or having a video recording of the lecture. So far, this is what is generally happening at hand.

The most horrible affected programmes will be science and technology as students will be not capable to right of entry to laboratories for their practical. Thus far, science and technology programmes are the ones that are most vital for Africa’s growth. How can higher education institutions find choice to proceed to use laboratories and subsequently, how can they weaken the outlay of poor-quality programmes as a result of unplanned online liberation?



Institute for security studies. Africa’s Population Boom: Burden or Opportunity?

Jens Ischebeck (2020). 5 Reasons for Potential eLearning Failures in Africa.

Aborode, A., Anifowoshe, O., Ifeoluwapo Ayodele, T., Rebecca Iretiayo, A., Oluwafemi David, O. Impact of COVID-19 on Education in Sub-Saharan Africa. Preprints 2020, 2020070027 (doi: 10.20944/preprints202007.0027.v1)

UNICEF (2020). Covid-19: Are Children Able to Continue learning During School Closure?

21 thoughts on “African Students and the Dilemma of Online Education”

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