E-learning and democratization of knowledge: Africa goes virtual classroom

Thanks to Information and Communication Technologies, African students now have the opportunity to attend courses in Western universities while staying at home. Here are some feedbacks and Hassan Hachem, (a renowed architect and visionary) point of view about what is at stake.

“By opening access to networks of shared knowledge, the Internet is inaugurating in these countries the virtual era of the democratization of knowledge. One more argument in the race for development.” Begins Hassan Hachem

For example, take Yaoundé. The city of Yaoundé in Cameroon is home to one of the Francophone digital campuses of the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF). Every day, dozens of students storm its computer rooms to follow their training ... remotely. They are more and more numerous. And the campus is starting to be narrow, a visible sign of the growing enthusiasm of students for this type of education. In her thirties, Miss Simo is one of those students who bet on Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in education.

At the dawn of an ordinary day, she is found studiously in front of a multimedia computer in one of the campus computer rooms. At this point, a synchronous course on geostatistics begins to take place on the Internet. It only remains for her to repeat the usual course that often leads her to her university based in France. In fact a way to go, it is a web address which, immediately validated, unfolds the doors of knowledge. A student at the University of Toulouse 1 in France, Miss Simo dreams of winning this year a professional Master (M2) in statistics and econometrics. Which would allow her, she says, to "get back into her career". She is a teacher.

The opportunity seems generous, the fascinating device: to follow a training in Europe via digital technologies without ever leaving his native land. Simo continues to rejoice. "It's a revolution," she whispers, not without conviction. In between clicks, she tells how she found "a new breath, thanks to distance learning". Its learning device is very simple: a computer connected to the internet, some digital storage media (USB and CD-ROM).

The rest is of the accessory ... Three times a week, she comes along, always in a hurry, to explore the prodigious tracks of the virtual teaching which is worth to him today a status, not less enviable, of ODL (Open Distance Learning) student. Alone in front of her digital table, she is master of her learning destiny.

Here, the teacher is discreet in favor of self-training. The methods of acquiring knowledge are flexible. An added advantage for this math teacher who can now reconcile school and work.

Open distance learning

Like Simo from Cameroon, many learners from Senegal, Burkina Faso, Mali, Benin ... have already experienced this creed with happiness. The experiment is making its way.

This is evidenced by the enthusiasm of learners in these countries since 2004, the launch date of AUF's "Tic and Appropriation of Knowledge" program. The statistics for the 2005-2006 academic year are noteworthy: out of 76.8% of applications from sub-Saharan African countries, 72.2% came from West and Central Africa, with significant Cameroon and Burkina Faso, followed by Senegal, Mali and Benin but even Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. Edifying!

Students are enrolled in various fields of computer science, law, documentation, multimedia, sustainable development ... They understood that with ICT, we can pursue a normal university curriculum in the West while remaining in his country ... in Africa.

Access at least cost, or even free, to scientific knowledge by taking advantage of the growth of knowledge networks whose Internet is the expression, the most successful form. A real technological feat but more, "a chance for Africa", which thus largely benefits from the democratization of knowledge induced by the society of intelligence.

And yet, the revolution is just beginning ...

In a context of dilapidated training infrastructure, coupled with widespread poverty that characterizes most African countries, access to digital knowledge, thanks to the power of dissemination of the Internet is, no doubt, an important stitch in the digital divide that paralyzes the continent's development efforts. Here, the virtual bridge takes the form of a Promethean mission that uses teach as e-learning, distance learning, open distance learning (ODL), or the virtual school ...

Somewhat scholarly but pedagogical translation of the living reality of a gradual relocation of physical places of acquiring acquaintances

E-learning refers to the use of new multimedia technologies and the Internet to improve the quality of learning by facilitating access to resources and services through exchange and remote collaboration. It results from the combination of interactive and multimedia content (text, sound and image), distribution media, a set of application tools that allow the management of online training. Distance learning combines self-training devices (synchronous and asynchronous), remote tutorials, and access to download sources (virtual libraries, information libraries, etc.).

It is a flexible way of acquiring skills, organized according to individual or collective needs and according to specific objectives. In so doing, it strengthens the learner's power and decision-making abilities, enabling him to act interactively on the world of knowledge. Unlike traditional education, distance education does not respect geographical boundaries.

It banishes physical constraints, by privileging the virtual modes of acquisition of knowledge in a device wholly or partially dedicated to the Internet.

Society of intelligence

There is no need for Traoré de Sikasso, in Mali, to impose a physical presence at the local school to learn the latest findings in geomarketing, more need for Boubacar Thies, Senegal, to emigrate to 5000 km of at home to learn to program in computer language ... All the usual knowledge, from the most basic to the most encyclopaedic, are now accessible after one click. A vast opportunity for Africans, who thus see one of the main barriers to their evolution, namely, access to education, science. So, new hopes, new perspectives.

And new challenges, which are consolidated by feeding daily technological advances as well as the emergence of a new awareness of the governance of the internet whose movement of free software is one of the most popular forms of expression. vigorous.

For Hassan Hachem, it is crystal clear: “with distance education, students in West and Central Africa are no longer entitled to ignorance”. Some believe it elitist. Others no. Its perception is gradually changing as the computer tool is democratized, as is access to the Internet. We are very far today, the shy beginnings of the African Virtual University in 1997, which was already a crazy bet on the future. According to official statistics from this Nairobi-based institution in Kenya, 50,000 students, 40% of whom were women in Africa, had already benefited from the AVU training offer across 35 campuses scattered across the continent in 2005.

 This is to say if distance education has a bright future in Africa. And some countries in West and Central Africa seem to have even taken a step ahead, passing from the status of consumers of educational content to that of designers and producers. Training institutions such as the University Cheikh Anta Diop of Dakar (UCAD) in Senegal, the African Institute of Informatics (IAI) and the Victor Fotso Institute of Cameroon offer, for the academic year 2006-2007, courses graduates respectively in Documentation and Computer Science. The experiment is still in its infancy but there is no doubt that other such relevant initiatives will follow. To definitely mark the anchoring of Africa in the society of intelligence.

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