The use of m-learning - education disseminated and accessed by means of mobile devices such as smartphones - is one exciting potential way to boost the Senegalese education system. Senegal is one of several countries in Sub-Sahara Africa with an education system that is not accessible to all. This is reflected in the statistics relating to the Senegalese education system. Recent UNICEF statistics show, for example, that female literacy in Senegal is as low as 56.2%. Net enrolment in primary school is just over 76% with not all students making it to the end of their primary school studies. When it comes to enrolment in secondary school, the rates are just over 30% for both male and female students. Something needs to be done in order to ensure that literacy rates improve, especially for girls, and that all students get full access to education. Mobile learning is a powerful edtech tool for solving this problem. Before we can understand the benefits of m learning in Senegal, though, it is crucial to understand why the education infrastructure as it is is not working for all.
Several factors impact negatively on the education infrastructure in Senegal. Child labour is a key one, with many children being encouraged by their families to work to earn a living instead of going to school. This is due to high levels of poverty in Senegal, which is classed as one of the main low income countries in Sub-Sahara Africa. Around 37% of children do some form of work. In addition, the shortage of schools throughout the country (and especially in rural areas) means that many children need to walk many miles each day to get to school, which can make the journey to school seem less than worthwhile. Poor sanitation and healthcare can also mean that children miss many days of school, though healthcare initiatives from NGOs and other organisations are seeking to change this by providing vaccinations and treatments free of charge. When it comes to female students, high rates of child marriage also mean that many girls are taken out of school at a young age to stay in their husband's family home instead. As many as 1 in 3 women and girls in Senegal are, or were, married as a child. It is clear, then, that simply introducing a free mobile learning edtech initiative to Senegal (or indeed any online platform such as MOOC), will not solve Senegal's problems with its education system unless it is also accompanied by initiatives that counter poverty, child labour and child marriage.
Mobile learning and e-learning such as MOOC will only work in a given country if citizens of that country have the technology available for them to take advantage of these new online courses and other initiatives. Senegal has a very good telecommunications system, and when it comes to mobile phones in particular, subscribers to mobile phone services increased tenfold between 2005 and 2012 from 1.3 million to 13.3 million. Given that there are roughly 13 million inhabitants in Senegal, this suggests that a large percentage of the population has access to a mobile phone and all of the features that come with it such as educational apps. Nevertheless, in more poverty stricken areas of the country, initiatives providing free mobile phones to anyone who needs one to ensure that m-learning will be for all in Senegal. Interest in e-learning in Senegal has been growing, particularly as more and more cyber cafes spring up in Dakar and more and more institutions start offering online courses based in the country. These e-learning institutions are most usually not universities, but rather language schools or skills based institutions offering diplomas and e-learning experiences often in the short term.
Something is needed to address the crisis in Senegal's education system, and mobile learning could well be an important part of that. M-learning looks particularly promising when we consider the strengths of the Senegalese telecommunications network. However, it will be vital to integrate any new educational platforms introduced in Senegal with measures to combat the key educational hurdles facing young people including child marriage, child labour, poverty, and a shortage of schools and universities. Only then can mobile learning truly work for all.
Ghana is a country that does not have a coherent policy for education infrastructure. At the same time, rising rates of mobile phone use among the population make this country ripe for an m-learning revolution. School infrastructure in Ghana can be very poor, with inadequate ventilation, security features (for example, for laboratory equipment) safety for flooring and other issues. These conditions can make it especially difficult for learners with disabilities either to make it to school in the first place or to learn in comfort once they are there. M-learning is a viable nation wide solution to these defects in Ghana's present education infrastructure. M-Learning has the potential to reach all students in the country through the simple medium of their mobile phones. As a result, it would surmount the difficulties inherent in Ghana's less than perfect current educational infrastructure.
Ghana has one of the best developed mobile phone markets in all of Africa. In fact, most Ghanaians do not only own a mobile, they also prefer to use their mobile instead of using a landline. Most Ghanaians also prefer to access the internet through their mobile phones rather than via a fixed wifi or cable internet system in the home. Though 3G coverage in Ghana is relatively new, this is also growing as well, which again suggests that the future of m-learning in Ghana will be a very positive one. MTN Ghana, Vodafone, Tigo and Airtel are the four largest mobile phone providers in Ghana, with MTN Ghana being by far the biggest provider (having cornered around 50 % of the market). With both affordable pay as you go and sim packages readily available in Ghana, m-learning has the potential to reach the whole of the country's population. Ghana is currently classed as a middle income country, which means that its citizens are usually able to afford items such as mobile phones. In addition, app literacy in Ghana is very prevalent, with exciting new apps for both learning and leisure (like Esoko and RetailTower) being developed in the country every year.
The secondary education system in Ghana is known as Senior High School, and it can often be supplemented or even (in parts) replaced by m-learning. What is particularly pertinent to know is that
ICT is actually part of the 'integrated science' section of the SHS curriculum, which means that new generations of Ghanaians are growing up with the skills that they need to learn via the web.
Though the buzz of the classroom environment can be something that benefits learners, as mentioned above, not all schools in Ghana are totally fit for purpose and thus m-learning is a viable
alternative to both the SHS curriculum and to TVET (vocational training) curricula that are offered after completion of the SHS.
When it comes to tertiary education, Ghana has 49 private universities and 6 public universities. Many of these institutions are focused around a specific subject, such as Agriculture. E-learning is already well integrated into the curricula of many of Ghana's top universities. For example, the University of Ghana has recently created the KEWL - Knowledge Environment for Web Based Learning - initiative. Many online courses are also available as part of the rise and rise of e-learning in the country. In addition, the edtech phenomenon of MOOC has really been taking off throughout Ghana and Sub-Sahara Africa. MOOC is an initiative which offers an online course to a large number of people and it is usually free of charge. This initiative is, as may be expected, particularly useful for low income or very poor communities in Sub-Sahara Africa for whom financial factors would otherwise pose a significant barrier to their ability to access education. As a result, mobile learning projects could simply adapt and build on the existing e-learning infrastructure in Ghana's tertiary education system.
The future of the power of m-learning in Ghana looks very bright. This is due to two key factors. Firstly, the existing educational infrastructure is - particularly at the secondary level - often physically and materially inadequate for students to learn successfully. As such, there is a clear problem here that mobile learning could solve. Secondly, Ghana's population is made up of some of Africa's most skilled, savvy and frequent mobile phone users. The ubiquity of mobile phones means that the uptake of m-learning strategies would likely be very high. Add to this the fact that many tertiary education institutions in the country are already using e-learning platforms and other edtech to teach students remotely (for example, through online courses) and the future of m-learning across the country looks very positive indeed.
M-learning, or 'Mobile Learning', has become increasingly popular in recent years with students participating in courses from all around the globe. The platform allows students to partake in courses offered by top universities and gain recognized qualifications through distance learning. Sub-Sahara Africa has come a long way in terms of development and education with more residents gaining a level of education which was almost unattainable in the past.
M-learning means to take part in online courses through mobile devices. E-learning is a general term for all online courses that are available via electronic devices such as computers. Both of these revolutionary methods of education are imperative in the development of education in less developed societies with a lack of educational infrastructure. With M-learning or E-learning, individuals from such communities with access to the internet can sign up to a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). These are flexible courses offered by well-established universities. Other types of E-learning and distance learning courses are available including those recognised at Bachelors and Masters level.
Edtech is a growing sector that assists those from less developed communities with access to mobile devices and apps gain an education with relative ease. Areas like Sub-Sahara Africa can benefit
greatly from Edtech advances due to its rapidly expanding mobile economy. By 2020 it is estimated that 540 million smartphones will be used in Sub-Sahara Africa, equating to a growth of approximately
380 million when compared to statistics gathered in the latter part of 2015. Mobile penetration is predicted to rise exponentially with the penetration rate of connections reaching 93 percent by the
The mobile ecosystem in the area is expected to have created 2.7 million jobs by 2020, which is a huge progression in areas that have been subject to deprivation for many years. It is also predicted that USD 20 billion will be contributed to public funding as a result of the success of the mobile ecosystem. Between 2014 and 2015 there were 15 new 4G networks launched including in areas that had no access to this type of connection before, such as Kenya, Rwanda, and Ethiopia.
With the increase in connections, the popularity of apps has risen. Kenya is seeing a huge rise in download figures with regards to mobile devices. The Sub-Sahara is gaining significant interest from app developers of all kinds with huge corporations making momentous penetrations in the market. Mobile is currently the biggest platform providing internet access to Sub-Saharan populations.
Although there has been a decline in Application Service Providers (ASP), the effect that this has had on affordability of mobile devices has been positive. In 2015, a Chinese company introduced
smartphones into Malawi retailing at approximately 20 US dollars. The phones had the capability of providing residents with video calling, and internet browsing, a huge step in assisting the country
to contribute to the mobile market. Poorer countries are still slightly behind in the mobile market than countries with a larger middle-class population. This is due to the taxation applied on mobile
devices and the pay gap between men and women in these areas. However, with an increase in residents with access to internet, online education is becoming increasingly available. There are a number
of top universities offering courses free of charge. Although these courses tend not to be recognised qualifications, they do provide knowledge and education to those in less developed communities.
This can not only have an effect to the economic growth of these areas but also educate residents in a way that was previously unattainable.
Although there has been a good level of growth in poorer areas, mobile devices and e-learning would appear to be more affordable in more densely populated areas with a larger middle-class. Secondary and tertiary educational institutions are becoming more technologically advanced in some areas. For example, all public secondary schools in Botswana have internet access which enables students to benefit from e-learning in an educational environment.
Kenya is becoming a well-established and developed nation. With increasing mobile infrastructure and rising middle class, it is probable that M-learning will be hugely popular.
The middle class in Kenya makes up approximately 45 percent of the population and is rising each year. The literacy rate in Kenya is estimated at nearly 90 percent of the population. Although this
may seem low when compared to more developed societies, it is an excellent rate that would appear to be on the rise. With more individuals participating in all types of learning, the economy and
general public wealth should show a steady growth. This will allow more Kenyans to participate in online learning with a higher access to mobile services and overall wealth as a result of growth in
Online courses when undertaken through distance learning are generally much more affordable than gaining the qualification through campus based learning. Online learning is a fantastic tool for those in the Sub Sahara that wish to educate themselves in a variety of different subjects that lead to professional and fulfilling careers. With the mobile penetration rate showing a positive growth, the future of Kenya in terms of online education seems both plausible and probable.
Learning through mobile phones is a revolutionary new type of edtech that enables people to learn remotely. M-learning is particularly useful in countries where literacy rates are low, and where school children struggle to complete their education - whether due to poor school facilities, the prevalence of child labour or poor transport infrastructure making it hard for children physically to reach the classroom. Through their mobile phones, learners can engage with all kinds of courses, such as adult education courses, exam revision, diplomas, language qualifications and MOOC.
Thus, m-learning has great potential for improving a population's access to education in any region of the world. In West Africa and Sub-Sahara Africa in particular, mobile learning and edtech offers some very exciting possibilities.
But what about the specific case of Nigeria? Knowing whether or not these types of technology will have a positive impact on a given country will depend on many factors, including the population's mobile phone use rates, existing educational facilities, the economic situation of the country and the quality of telecommunications infrastructure. So, let's look more closely at each of these factors for Nigeria.
Nigeria has a well-established and wide ranging mobile and satellite phone network, especially when compared to other countries in the region of Sub-Sahara Africa. With its telecommunications
industry having recently been deregulated, Nigeria offers both many new opportunities and many new challenges for mobile and e-learning. Mobile phone penetration rates in the country are currently at
30%, which of course will limit the numbers of communities that can access online courses and other e-learning materials through their mobile phones. However, these penetration rates are forecasted
to improve over the coming years, with the number of mobile phone users in Nigeria predicted to exceed 23 million by 2019. Those people who do have smartphones are generally au fait with a wide range
of smartphone based technology, including apps.
In terms of the affordability of mobile based e-learning technology, this will differ for different sections of society. Nigeria has one of highest economic growth rates in the world (averaging at 7.4%) and yet it has poverty rates that are very high. Around a third of the Nigerian population is defined as living in poverty, with over 100 million people currently attempting to get by on less than $1 every day. Elites tend to be concentrated in urban areas, and it is in urban areas that the best mobile phone coverage, and highest rates of mobile phone use, are concentrated. As such, new solutions for e-learning will need to be found for the impoverished populations of Nigeria (i.e. those people who arguably stand to gain the most from the introduction of m-learning initiatives) and especially those who live in areas with poor mobile phone penetration rates.
In terms of its education system, Nigeria has what is known as a 6-3-3-4 system which means that students spend 6 years at primary school, 3 years each at junior and senior secondary school, and 4 years at university. Nigeria's education is well established and it has some of Africa's best universities including the University of Lagos, the University of Nigeria and the University of Benin.
MOOC, online courses and other edtech to be accessed through mobile phones has great potential in Nigeria. One way that it can be used is to complement the existing education system. Nigeria's well established universities, for example, could implement online learning opportunities for remote learners. However, in terms of increasing literacy and education rates among Nigeria's poorest populations, there are several challenges to overcome. The first is the low prevalence of smartphone use among many Nigerians, a third of whom are (as we have seen) living in poverty. The second is the low rate of mobile phone penetration in the country. Economic solutions are needed alongside eductional ones in order to meet these people's needs. However, statistical forecasts suggest that mobile phone use in Nigeria is going to continue to increase over the next few years, thus providing more and more opportunities for mobile learning (m-learning) to be implemented in this country.
With wealth increasing in Sub-Sahara Africa, now is most definitely the time to explore the potential for edtech to revolutionise e-learning in this region of the continent. This article explains some of the implications of recent studies and statistics relation to edtech in Tanzania, and formulates some strategies for implementing m-learning technologies in this country.
Tanzania has a well established education infrastructure, in terms of both its secondary and its tertiary institutions. What is more, student bodies are increasing in numbers. The University of
Dar es Salaam, for example, which is one of the 30 public universities in the country, had a student body of just 2, 000 back in 1991. Today, that number has increased more than tenfold to around 15,
000 students. The story is similar across the Tanzanian education system. What is also notable about this university, however, is its committment to e-learning.
In fact, Dar es Salaam university has just opened an 'Open and Distance Learing Centre' around 80 km from the main campus. The purpose of this centre is to provide opportunities for remote e-learning, for instance via online courses and technologies such as MOOC. It is safe to say that this adaptability, this willingness to take part in the m-learning revolution, has contributed substantially to the continued success of this university. Crucially the Open and Distance Learning Centre is used not only for remote learning for people who cannot reach the main campus, but also for self-learning for people who are enrolled in the main campus. This demonstrates the flexibility and versatility of edtech solutions.
There is a rising amount of local and regional companies which provide products and materials for online courses and exam preparations, the classical fields of m-learning. This African providers guide illustrates a list of edtech startups in several countries.
Mobile phone and satellite coverage is already increasing in Tanzania, as it is through much of Sub-Sahara Africa. The laying down of the Seacom fibre optic cable along the east coast of Africa, moreover, will also help to improve internet access throughout the country. Though only around 6% of the world's smartphone users (a study from the World Bank shows) are situated in Africa, that number is increasing all the time. That means that the foundations for m-learning and other forms of online learning ought to be laid right now, so that the online educational infrastructure will be ready to use as more and more young Tanzanians feel the need to do so. Over the next few years, more and more regions of Tanzania will get connected to the Seacom fire optic cable and this will open up more and more opportunities for taking part in MOOC and other edtech.
As Africans living in very rural areas continue to struggle to afford smartphones, many commentators suggest that e-learning initiatives ought not to be implemented until the economy has developed sufficiently in these remote areas to enable populations to buy the technology that they need in order to take part in online courses. However, I suggest that there is another way to think about this matter - i.e. by reversing the factors of economic development and m-learning technology. Particularly with respect to Tanzania, it is the case that implementing new technologies for remote learning right now will actually help to stimulate positive economic development. So, rather than waiting for economic development to happen before we can start the m-learning revolution in Tanzania, we should implement mobile learning right now so that (on the contrary), the economy will start to pick up.
This overview of mobile learning in Tanzania has produced two key conclusions. Firstly, existing education infrastructure in the country, particularly at the tertiary level, is already starting to integrate e-learning with its more traditional pedagogical strategies. Secondly, online courses and other remote learning opportunities can actually drive positive economic development in this country rather than simply rely on it. This suggests that Tanzania is a country whose population is ready for mobile learning, increasingly savvy with MOOC and other educational technology, and ready to use new pedagogical technologies to make a positive difference in the economy of both Tanzania and of the region of Sub-Sahara Africa as a whole.
What is the potential for e-learning via smartphones via online courses such as MOOC and other mobile based edtech solutions (collectively known as m-learning strategies) for East Africa? Home to key mobile phone using economies such as Kenya and Egypt, East Africa has great potential to start off with. But, how might mobile based learning change the educational landscape of East Africa? East Africa is a varied region of Africa, comprising some booming economies and others that are struggling, some of Africa's top economies and some countries that are classed as very low income. So, one key question to ask here is whether it is advisable (or even feasible) to implement a region wide solution for all of East Africa or to take things on a country by country basis.
Globally, more and more people are accessing the internet through their smartphones and other mobile and touch screen devices, preferring the convenience and flexibility that this provides. Obviously, this has implications for m-learning too: as populations become more and more au fait with app based technology and mobile sites, people can learn and gain qualifications wherever they are using e-learning technologies. Smartphone usage is climbing by around 50 percentage points a year at the moment in both the Middle East and Africa, and Sub-Sahara Africa (including East Africa) is a growing market.
In terms of East Africa in particular, the subscriber base of mobile phone users has grown by 21% in recent years. In addition, the East African mobile phone provider OneM has (in 2016) developed technology that enables even mobile phone users who do not have smartphones to access the internet (for example, pages such as Wikipedia) for a small fee. So, the future definitely looks very promising for the world of e-learning and online courses such as MOOC in Sub-Sahara Africa.
Access to traditional classroom style education has been improving in East Africa over the past few decades, as data collection from UNESCO shows. Nevertheless, it is still the case that only around half of school age children actually attend school in several East African countries. This is reflected in literacy rates. In Madagascar, for example, UNESCO found that the overall literacy rate amid school age children was still only 65%. On the other hand, in the Seychelles, school attendance has been very high over the past couple of decades with over 99% of children consistently in school and literacy rates of over 99% as well.
Thus, it is clear that whilst some East African nations are very much in need of an additional boost to their education infrastructure, in others, this is not the case. In countries such as Madagascar, Tanzania and Uganda, for example, factors such as child labour, child marriage, poverty and poor educational facilities mean that very few children attend primary level education - let alone secondary education. Here, perhaps remote learning would help to boost literacy levels as children and adults could both learn at home.
In many ways, it is difficult to discuss the future of m-learning in East Africa as a whole as this region of the continent is so varied.
As we have seen, we have Kenya on the one hand which is home to several thriving tertiary education institutions such as Kenyatta University and Mount Kenya University. On the other hand, some rural areas of Uganda have literacy levels that are well below the half way mark.
Thus, it seems that edtech will need to be adapted to suit the particular location. However, the growing trend of mobile phone usage in East Africa as a whole looks very positive. So, it is definitely safe to say that mobile platform based e-learning can be a very useful feature of the East African educational economy. However, as the countries in this region differ so widely from each other in terms of their educational infrastructure, the sophistication of their knowledge based economies and their school attendance and literacy levels, there will no doubt need to be adjustments made.