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E-learning can deliver teachers in rural area

Education is a major factor in enhancing a country’s social and economic development as it aids in fighting against poverty and hunger. Since 1990 the percentage of pupils reaching grade 7 has improved from 64% in 990 to 82% in 2004. (UNDP 2005) The country has therefore gone beyond the Millenium Development Goals (MDG) requirement of pupils reaching Grade 5. On the other hand literacy rates have shown a decline from 75% in 1990 to 70% in 2004. The potential to achieving Universal Primary Education for boys and girls by 2015 exists.

According to the 2007 MDG Civil Society report education for women has been identified as key to their participation in national development. Education is crucial because it enhances the life opportunities of women, and their families. Girl’s education is critically important not only for harnessing the nation’s human resource for development, but also for raising the self-esteem and confidence, and widening the life choices of females, their access to information and knowledge.

Between the periods 2000-2004 the ratio of boys to girls have remained high but constant in primary schools but has decreased in secondary school and tertiary institutions from 2003-2004. Females still continue to have lower literacy rates 66% as against 79% for males while female literacy rates have steadily been declining between 1990 and 2000.

As we commemorate The Africa Telecommunication Day on December 7, theme “applying emerging technologies to empower rural communities towards attainment of MDGs,” it is important to realise that Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) can deliver teachers in education and also empower women.

21 years Amanda Banda is a Student of Education at Maclom Moffat College in Serenje, which is about 500 Km from Lusaka the capital city of Zambia. She first heard about e-learning at the first National Conference on e-learning in National Development held on March 15-17 March 2007.

“It seems to be a good way of learning but I really think it is too technical, expensive and a lot of work will have to be done.” Given an opportunity Amanda says she would go for an e-learning programme.

“We had internet access at our College but it is disconnected. I now access internet from a cyber café situated in one of the shops but the network is bad. Most of the times when I go there the lines are bad,” explained Amanda who has basic internet skills.

Amanda says that if e-learning has to work in Zambia, designers of e-learning programmes should also consider visually impaired people and those with learning difficulties. Amanda also observed that Internet operators should lower prices.

Amanda says she pays twice what people in Lusaka pay to access internet and this that already it is expensive if e-learning has to be supported in her area which is situated in rural Zambia.

The e-learning national conference held in Zambia from 15-17 March at Mulungushi Conference Center listed e-learning disadvantages as being the high Cost of ICT Products, high Cost of Internet connections, Zambia’s Trading arrangements, electricity, lack of computer training, plagiarism, lack of face 2 face interaction with teacher and student and also poverty. The main disadvantage was that there was no Telecom infrastructure that would support everyone in Zambia including people in the rural areas.

Advantages of e-learning included flexibility, convenience, self paced learning, tailor made courses and no strikes which are common in the Zambian education system of learning.

Meanwhile, Pricilla Jere, OneWorld Africa Director, explained that information communication technologies (ICTs) offer the most effective way to access knowledge when she talked about Women’s Empowerment using e-learning.

“Women’s empowerment is building the ability and skills of women to understand those actions and issues in the external environment which influence them and also to give them a voice,” said Jere.

She observed that ICTs transcend usual barriers such as time, distance, language and censorship. She explained that when used in convergence, ICTs allow hitherto left out communities to participate in economic, social and political spheres. ICT not only Internet but other tools used individually or in convergence can help in e-learning.

Convergence technologies include community radios, Internet radio, local area net-works, tele-centres, information kiosks and mobile phones can help in the delivery of e-learning to men and women. It also catalyses the process of change and reduce imbalances in knowledge distribution between rich and poor, educated and uneducated, rural and urban, and men and women.

Jere noted that ICTs have made it possible for women to control their own learning and thus e-learning can even help in implementing goal number three of the MDG which talks about promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women. It has often been said that educating women would mean educating the whole nation as at now many women are still illiterate in Africa.

E-learning would also help women to overcome barriers such as multiple roles by learning in their own homes at their own time and that it has created wider options and choices for women to learn. It was also important to note that e-learning programmes take into account specific needs of women.

In any development of an ICT training program, the peculiar situation of women takes should be taken into account. Africa needs to also focus on cheaper technologies that women can afford, so investment in ICT and rural development is crucial.

It is important that every African government create an atmosphere which will ensure active participation of women in ICT decision-making processes at all levels. Looking at policy issues it should be clear that women must not only be considered in the ICT agenda, they must be actively involved in setting that agenda.

There have been so many pilot projects in Africa which need up scaling and replication so that many women can take part in the information society. All stakeholders must include a gender perspective throughout the process of planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating ICT initiatives, especially ones that seek to address empowerment of women as ICTs is a cross cutting issue.

It should however be noted that in the same way ICTS open up opportunities for women, if poorly planned they have the potential to marginalise women even further. There must be therefore a multi-stakeholder approach that includes partnerships between government, private sector, civil society and donors for effectiveness.

It is important African women embrace ICTs as they offer women the opportunity to be entrepreneurs globally both in rural and urban areas. This includes mobile phone services to tele-centre management as well as e-commerce. There are also eemployment opportunities which have now opened in companies that employ women across borders to work using the internet.

Forum for African Women Educationalists of Zambia (FAWEZA) Rose Banda said e-learning would bridge the gap of shortage of Teachers and Lectures in Zambia’s institutions of learning.

“There are teachers and lecturers shortages in all levels of education. The shortages, especially in rural schools are a glance reality. In some instance, the situation is such that one teacher single-handily attends to several grades which over burdens the teacher and therefore affecting his output and productivity,” said Rose.

It was clear that the result of this needs a new approach to provide education. Rose said her concern was on equitable participation of females in all spheres and levels of national development which includes ensuring that girls and women acquire education for development.

She emphasised on the need for governments, industries and civil society to ensure that by 2015 Educational For All (EFA) goals are attained through use of e-learning.

The main objective of e-learning Africa was to build capacity on ICT for Development, Education and Training explained Leopold Reif, Chairman, Hoffmann & Reif Consultants in Germany based at e-learning Africa in Kenya.

Reif explained that they have been establishing the most relevant and most comprehensive international annual Pan-African capacity building event for all stakeholders engaged in ICT enhanced education and training in partnership with an African government.

University of Zambia Prof. Thomson Sinkala said that an e-learning was possible in Zambia and advised participants to the e-learning national conference to act now. “Let is act now, otherwise if we don’t make a difference with the knowledge and tools at our disposal, we don’t matter to ourselves and our future generation,” said Prof Sinkala.

Evelyn Hone College Lecturer Alexander Museshyo saw challenges of e-learning as being access to the Internet as this form of delivering education requires that an individual must have at least access to a broadband connectivity which is limited in Zambia.

Museshyo observed that there is an issue of cost of acquiring the education itself- its a known fact that over 80% of the Zambia population is living under abject poverty -therefore very few people can afford acquiring education through e-Learning.

He added that there was an obstacle of affordability of computer hardware and software. Another obstacle to e-learning in Zambia was people’s attitude to this form of learning- some people are generally resistance to change and therefore, e-Learning being a new form of delivering education may not be easily accepted as an alternative way of learning

It is a fact that e-Learning can produce a fundamental change in Zambia’s education system by providing alternative ways of learning- from “school house based” models to various forms of “network based” models.

However, many issues have to be taken into consideration before Zambia can fully embrace e-Learning as a form of delivering education.

A member of the E-learning committee in Zambia, Moses Mwale observed that the policy frameworks provide a common understanding as regards direction and enhance development opportunities, but there are challenges that must be considered in order to take advantage of the opportunities that Policy frameworks can provide.

He urged the participants of the e-learning conference to focus on what they want to see in the development process and set priorities as this was a chance to include issues that concerns us in education. He said it was necessary to promote and make understand the issues of ICT (advocacy) and identify the change agents who would include Teachers and Lecturers to be part of the common goal and drive what we think is important such as e-learning.

He said it was a challenge to implement e-learning in Zambia because there was also no support for the process prior to drafting and after drafting policy. He also noticed lack of ICT expertise and knowledge to the policy with regard to new issues such as Open Access and e-Learning specific challenges.

Since the majority of the world population had remained untouched by the IT revolution, concern was expressed that the huge potential of ICT for advancing development of the developing economies has not been fully captured, thus manifesting the “digital divide”. For bridging the digital divide, it is imperative to put ICT firmly in the service of development, for which urgent and concerted action at the national, regional and international levels is required.

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