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China eyes education technology in Africa

| November 14, 2012 | 0 Comments

Having secured transport and infrastructure exports across the African continent, China is now ‘roaring’ to get into the educational technology sector in Africa, reported vendors attending the recent eLearning Africa Conference in Cotonou, Benin. A large Chinese delegation was part of a current United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO)-backed project that aims to share that country’s experience in education technology with Africa.

China has reason to feel confident about what it can offer, say analysts. In just a decade, its college and university enrolment figures have shot up from below three million to over 10 million students a year, and its primary and secondary school enrolment figures have doubled over 20 years. The literacy rate for 15 to 24-year-olds is at 99%.

But the country has also been quick to note potentially worrying issues in some parts of Africa, says journalist Steven Haggard, who interviewed visitors to the Benin conference. “The Chinese noted the creativity in mobile platforms, and the originality of the showcased technology-based learning projects on the continent. But everyone fretted about lack of scale and impact, and breakdowns in service delivery of basic resources like electricity. Initiatives must touch millions of people immediately. That’s the test of value in China.”

Gao Qinli, a director of Beijing’s Open University, agrees. “I don’t think there’s much we can do yet to help education [in large parts of Africa]. It’s not just that there’s no power or computers. We can sort that out. But I don’t see the basic discipline in the society. Things are so slow, as though no one really wants things to happen. We don’t know how to work with that.”

Many African countries are grappling to improve school access and teaching quality, so it’s not surprising that education technology has been on the back burner. But, says Haggard, in Ghana, Ethiopia and Rwanda, for example, increased bandwidth means that more people have access to the internet and other digital platforms. Now, new challenges emerge, like the lack in many countries of legal infrastructure to safeguard intellectual property and guarantee quality content, and the scarcity of software skills to create superior digital curricula – meaning that much of Africa will look to the West for content. And, says Haggard, China will be first in line to capitalise on those opportunities.

Category: e-Education, Summer 2012

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