How online learning can improve access to quality education in developing countries

Access to a good education is the fundamental right of every child on earth, however, in some parts of the world, this privilege appears to be far out of reach.

Africa, as whole, has some of the world’s greatest disparities when it comes to accessing quality education. Aside from dealing with poverty, other barriers to education include children’s gender, race, ethnic background or disability. There are approximately 57 million children who do not attend school, due to living in remote or conflict-affected areas, or caring for sick parents or orphaned children.

Child enrolment for primary school across the continent wavers between 95% (for high income countries), to 60% in the poorer Sub Saharan regions. The highest rates of education exclusion are seen in Sub-Saharan Africa, with less than 40 per cent in secondary school and only 6 percent enrolled in higher education institutions.  With an adult literacy rate of just over 50 per cent, if nothing changes, this situation will only worsen with time.

Access to quality education isn’t simply just a matter of children attending school; as some children can spend several years in school without learning to read or write a single word. Classroom environments can be cramped, teachers under-qualified or under-resourced, and political and economic stability can impede a student and teachers ability to attend school. Quality education is about improving the calibre of the teaching workforce, having adequate class sizes that provide a supportive learning environment, availability of educational material, and access to basic needs such as potable food, water, sanitation and power.

It is estimated that up to one million new primary school teachers are needed to achieve the universal primary education development target in Africa. This represents a massive investment in training, technology and education needed by the African Government in order for children to develop the requisite literacy and numeracy skills to develop intellectually and progress positively through stages in the education system.

While major progress has been made to improve the education system and school attendance in Africa, largely as a result of abolishment of primary school fees, changing governments, school-feeding programs, and improved technical and vocational training, there are still many obstacles to overcome before all African children are afforded the opportunity to access a quality education. Transitioning to mainstream digital technology, like much of the Western world already has, is likely to result in major leaps forward in education, as will improved infrastructure, more student and teacher resources, increased access to electricity, and broadband internet.

There is a growing recognition that online study provides a more affordable and flexible option for students, allowing institutions to dramatically streamline their operations and change the way in which education is delivered and accessed. Through the use of materials such as web-based videos, audio clips, digitised notes and interactive imagery, students can now access education from anywhere. This in turn makes for a more productive learning experience, which empowers students to achieve learning outcomes and potentially retain information longer than through traditional learning.

While online learning will never completely replace formal schooling, it is a valuable tool available for those limited by the constraints of having to be somewhere at a specific time and place to attend classes. Schools and Universities will always exist as institutions of teaching, learning and research, however, digital technology can shift the way in which education is delivered and accessed, and assist students in remote and regional locations to obtain a fair education.

Across Africa, online learning is becoming more prominent for many nations. For example, in Tanzania, the THL e-learning program was established to enable secondary school students to use information technology in a more practical manner, through access to online quizzes, exams and tests. In Nairobi, Kenya, The African Virtual University was established in 1997, to deliver higher education learning programs to students through the use of digital technology. The organization uses virtual learning as a means of making education more accessible to the African continent, regardless of gender, race, religion or geographical locality.

Improving educational outcomes for students in developing countries comes down to a combination of factors, including teacher recruitment and training, classroom capacity, availability of teaching resources, and the implementation of better support systems and technology, including e-learning.

Children these days, across the world,  are growing up in an environment where digital technology is a fundamental part of communicating and developing with others. Integrating digital technology into the African education system offers huge potential for social and economic growth across the continent and can be seen as a powerful tool for developing the minds of children in these areas, so that they may make future contributions to an educated and skilled workforce.

Unfortunately, access to higher education is competing with other main concerns such as political instability, lack of food, energy shortages, and illness – unless these factors change, then not much is likely to change.