E-learning education conference looks to unlock Africa’s future

(John McCann/M&G)

(John McCann/M&G)

As a Russia-Africa summit opens in Sochi on the Black Sea on October 24, a more modest but significant conference will take place in Abidjan, the capital of Côte d’Ivoire.

The conference, eLearning Africa, will bring together international education and technology specialists, government ministers, entrepreneurs and investors to discuss opportunities for expanding Africa’s education sector.

It is a subject at the heart of the African Union’s plans for turning Africa into a “transformed continent” by 2063 and it will be discussed and debated during three days of presentations, workshops, seminars and ministerial meetings from October 23 to 25.

International organisations such as Unesco, the European Commission, the World Bank, German development agency GIZ and the African Union are part of the conference programme.

“What is set to happen in Côte d’Ivoire is possibly of much greater significance for the future of Africa than what is going on in Sochi,” says Charles Senkondo, secretary general of the Association of African Development Learning Centres in Tanzania. “It is education that will transform Africa and new technology is spreading the benefits of education and training across Africa and into every sector. We are already seeing how traditional sectors, such as agriculture, are being transformed.
The possibilities now are enormous.”

eLearning Africa, an annual pan-African conference dedicated to examining the potential for using new communications technology to spread educational opportunity, is now in its 14th year.

Since the conference, which visits a different African capital each year, was first held in Addis Ababa in 2006, technology assisted learning has expanded and now plays a major role in the delivery of learning, training, research and development in schools, colleges, universities, companies and organisations across the continent. It has enabled millions of Africans to expand their horizons and take advantage of the countless possibilities new technology offers to study and acquire new skills and qualifications.

“Technology assisted learning has been perhaps the single most important factor in Africa’s development over the last decade,” says Senkondo. “It has fuelled economic growth and its importance cannot be underestimated. For skills, entrepreneurship, innovation and the development of effective practices in many sectors, it has been invaluable. It has really helped to modernise Africa and to attract the world’s attention to the exciting opportunities in many African countries. This trend is set to continue. Africa is learning fast and we must continue to build on our success. It is education that will transform Africa.”

Conference founder Rebecca Stromeyer has little doubt about the significance of eLearning Africa.

“When I first set up eLearning Africa, with the support of the Ethiopian government and other far-sighted backers, I saw the potential for the combination of technology and education to transform Africa. Now, things have come so far that I am continually amazed at the speed with which new possibilities for real, lasting change are opening up. I’ve seen how e-learninghas helped millions of women to access education, how it has improved agriculture and how it has helped to fight disease and contributed to better health.

“I have absolutely no doubt that what has happened over the past decade has simply been the start of an astonishing transformation. What is coming next is going to be extraordinary and it is very exciting. The African Union is right: by 2063 Africa will be a transformed continent. And much of that transformation will happen because of the spread of education and training.”

The theme of this year’s eLearning Africa conference is “learnability and employability”, which the organisers describe as “the keys to the future” and “the key attributes Africans will need in tomorrow’s rapidly changing global economy”. The conference will look at how young Africans can, learn, adapt and grow in the rapidly changing, technology-driven environment of the future. It will focus on how they can acquire the skills employers will require and how communications technology can help.

The conference programme includes pre-conference workshops on entrepreneurship skills, new technologies, the latest trends in e-learning and the use of design-thinking methodologies. A conference track will be devoted to the issue of “youth and digitalisation” and another will focus on how to empower teachers with continuous professional development and improved digital literacy.

And, for the first time, African food producers and farmers, many of whom are women, will have their own track, which will look at how communications technology can contribute to improved yields and increased productivity in this important sector of the African economy.

Special sessions will cover a range of vital topics, including literacy, the development of entrepreneurship, university teaching, borderless education and new digital learning resources for healthcare professionals.

The conference will also feature “knowledge factories”, in which conference participants will be able to take part in a range of practical activities and learn new strategies. There will be a “Moodle Moot” with Martin Dougiamas, the founder of the open-source learning management system Moodle, and, as always, there will be a lively discussion at the eLearning Africa debate. This year, the motion for debate, which is likely to be highly controversial, is: “This House believes governments are failing to provide young people with the skills they need to prepare for the future.”

For more information about the eLearning Africa conference contact Rebecca Stromeyer at info@elearning-africa.com

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