Distance learning on computers via the internet, or electronic learning (e-learning), has been hugely successful in recent years not just in the big cities of Europe and America but also in more remote places such as the Australian outback or sparsely populated areas of sub-Sahara Africa. This is particularly true in Ethiopia where there has been a huge investment in the telecommunication infrastructure in the past decade. M-learning (as abbreviation of mobile learning) is the mobile optimized version of distance education.
More than 100 Mio people live in Ethiopia; this catapults it to the top of the landlocked countries. Economically, it is one of the rising stars of Africa. Since years, Ethiopia shows steadily high economic growth rates. Socially, the average age of the Ethiopian population is below 18 years. This means there is an extremely strong part of young people. One big challenge is the very high rate of illiterate people. Such, the education of the young people is one of the top priorities. Broad access to education is ensured in the urban areas, whereas the majority of the Ethiopian population lives in rural areas.
The charm of modern edtech via mobile phones is that technology brings education access there where it is needed: rural areas.
Mobile penetration throughout the country is still relatively limited. Whereas, the Ethiopian government’s Growth and Transformation Plan is expected to see the number of mobile subscribers rise to 100 million by the year 2020. With the rise in use and popularity of mobile phones and other electronic devices comes the opportunity for a huge percentage of the population to avail of the latest in distance learning techniques: M-learning (“Mobile learning”).
The edtech environment in Sub-Sahara Africa
Learning online on computers is nothing new but the new education technology (edtech) of m-learning means that students can now avail of numerous online courses (MOOC) on mobile phones, tablets and other hand-held devices. This new edtech brings e-learning to a whole new audience that were previously unable to access distance learning courses due to inadequate internet coverage or just a lack of available computers, which has been a major stumbling block to students in sub-Sahara Africa over the years.
A further huge boost to the use of mobile devices for study and recreational purposes is the recent massive increase in the international bandwidth and huge improvements in fibre optic infrastructure. Prices have also dropped dramatically making mobile devices more affordable for more and more people.
M-learning and Massive Open Online Courses
As mobile devices have become faster and more advanced, edtech has raced to keep up with the technology and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) are growing both in number and in popularity with students throughout the world. MOOCs provide the user with a choice of thousands of courses from the simplest spelling programmes to university degrees in medicine or electronics. Only introduced in 2008, they are now the accepted standard in Mobile learning and the most popular method of distance learning since 2012.
The biggest advantages of using MOOCs as a means of e-learning are obvious. Courses are available to anyone with a smartphone and internet connection and studying can be done at a time and in a place that suits the student best. Most reputable educational apps will provide interactive support from teachers, regular grading and advice and the time saved on travel is also a huge advantage. Just as mobile phones have developed rapidly in recent years, so has edtech and, with it, e-learning and the growth of MOOCs.
Advantages of M-learning
Probably the two biggest advantages of m-learning are the time and money saved. No longer is a student tied down to attending a college or school at preset times as distance learning can be availed of at any time in any place. Quite apart from the freedom involved and travel time saved, Massive Open Online Courses are relatively inexpensive compared to formal school, college or university courses and most reputable courses are accompanied by internationally recognised academic diplomas or certificates upon completion.
Future of M-Learning in Ethiopia
As being one of the poorest countries in the world there will be for sure no dramatic rise on mobile based education applications in Ethiopia. The major part of the population can simply not afford such higher education courses. First, basic education has to be established and the economic growth of the last years needs to result in widely spread higher incomes.
Nevertheless, m-learning can be the needed sign of hope at the horizon. According to the World Bank the country’s per capita income was 590 USD in 2015. Compared to the investment of 20 USD for a starter online course it is obvious that there is a big gap.
On the other hand, it is evident that there is the need for a substantial improvement of the higher education system in regards of low access hurdles and certified knowledge. Moreover, with a growing economy there should be free means, which can be invested in the education sector.
Summary for distance learning in Ethiopia
- Ethiopia is the second-most populous country in Sub-Saharan Africa with a population of 100 million, and a steady population growth rate of approx. 2.5%
- Ethiopia is also one of the world’s poorest countries. The country’s per capita income of $590 is substantially lower than the regional average.
- The Ethiopian economy shows high growth rates since years
- Education is vital to professional success and also important in everyday life. Smartphones now give everybody an equal chance to improve their academic and social skills even those who may have previously been limited in their choices.
- M-learning and e-learning are not part of some futuristic plan; they are very much the here and now in the world of education and now is the time to take advantage of the available smartphone technology. Choosing an e-learning course is easy as there are countless thousands available but choosing the right course is vital.
- Distance learning is mostly much more affordable than gaining the qualification through campus based learning
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