At a time when online learning is being viewed as an alternative approach to education for students in Africa, the legality and authenticity of an online degree still persists.
One of the interesting things to happen in the world of the internet is the blooming of online courses globally.
Though distance education has existed for a long time, it has not been easy in Africa for lack of internet connectivity over the decades.
Today, the internet provides instant access to online lessons, reading materials, and teachers round the clock.
Take for example the case of Edtech which has changed the way we learn and how elearning can be useful for working professionals, home-bound new mothers, and students who cannot afford the high fees at the mainstream universities.
Education Prospects in Africa
It’s no wonder that online courses are a boom for many African countries.
The number of students from Sub-Saharan Africa who travel to countries such as France, US, and England in the hunger for knowledge is a fact that there is a large amount of talent in the region which remains untapped due to lack of educational facilities, employment opportunities, and other factors such as corruption, anarchy and lack of responsibility, just to name a few of the challenges in the African continent.
Only about 10% of those who complete schooling enter into universities as indicated on this graph. As aptly depicted in Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's ground-breaking book on race, Nigeria and women leadership, African students can get easily disheartened for the aforementioned reasons.
Whom Does an Online Degree Benefit?
One of the options which most African students have to consider is becoming an “online graduate” and having to compete with their much heeded counterparts in prestigious universities. When the less advantaged opt for an online MBA or any other online master program, they then have to compete at the employment level.
In the fight for equality in education across the globe, elearning is an excellent option under the following circumstances:
The following graph by ICEF Monitor provides a good understanding of how the enrolment numbers actually appear in many African countries.
- This opens up fresh opportunities for the youth, and gives them a chance to explore options which might not be traditionally available to them at local universities.
- For students coming from a poorer spectrum of society, online degrees are helpful because they offer a student the choice of working and learning at the same time.
- In countries where women become mothers at a young age, online courses offer them the chance to improve their job creation and employment prospects.
- Students who want to pursue a GRA program, the courses which require a laboratory for research might not be a good option for an online GRA program.
Questioning the Value of an Online Degree
Most MOOC (Massive Open Online courses) do not have the same value. Some definitely offer more value than others in terms of employment, while others are better at offering a higher standard of teaching through different elearning or Mobile app learning (m-learning) methods. A large number of such courses might not actually make the grade.
With that in mind, what does one look out for when considering an distance education?
- Accreditation – Before enrolling into any MOOC, check the accreditation of the university. This is a clear indicator of academic standard. It is also advisable to ensure that the accredition is recognised by universities, governments, and employers.
- Curriculum Coverage - The curriculum of the course is a good indicator of what the course would be worth. Whether the student would be actually learning anything worthwhile or loafing. It would also be a good idea for the student to compare the curriculum with that of the mainstream degree programs.
- Credits offered - The credits obtained in one course should be valid in another school in case a student decides to switch or refer to another institution. This is one area of research which should be done extensively.
- Support - School support services are essential for elearning. If the student gets stuck, it is important for them to have someone who can help. This is especially important for GRA students or those doing an online MBA. If the university is not very forthcoming about their support services, then it should ring an alarm.
- Medium of instruction - The medium of instruction is an important indicator of whether the programme would be suitable for a person or not. Some courses, especially online master programs, require a higher level of interactivity, while others can be less interactive. Whether the MOOC is conducted through a series of web videos or mobile app (m-learning), or through traditionally written material, it is important for the student to be comfortable with the medium of instruction.
- Financing - Becoming an online graduate should be affordable in the long run. Even if a student takes loans for financing their online course, they should be well aware of what they are doing and learn how the course they are undertaking will assist in repaying the loan, whether through employment or entrepreneurship.
By keeping these few pointers in mind, it becomes easier for students to take up an edtech course without being fleeced or cheated. Online education degrees would just require a slightly more rigorous research approach.
For those in turmoil of which course to undertake, organizations such as the African Virtual University also help students in pinpointing good programs.
Online education and African students
The opportunities for African students to join a MOOC and get a decent education has increased their prospects exponentially.
Many organizations such as eLearning Africa, African Virtual University, OkpaBac, Eneza Education, and MEST are quite active in ensuring that African students are able to use edtech in order to get an education which might otherwise be difficult to obtain.
Challenges being faced by students in Africa
One major hurdle is the dropout rate among students. With a high enrollment rate in elearning courses, unfortunately, a large percentage of students drop out in the middle of the programs. This could be facilitated by a lot of factors among them being socio-economic and lack of motivation.
The best way forward is to pair up with an online education with practical educators and guides.
Another challenge in elearning in Africa is the low penetration rate of the internet. The African continent only accounts for about 10% of the total internet usage of the world. In the following graph, it pinpoints the countries with the highest levels of internet penetration in Africa. In some remote parts of the continent, electricity and mobile network penetration is relatively low.
These are problems which need to be solved before edtech can become a reality for all of Africa.
A valuable online degree: Conclusion
However, for the students with access to these basic services, the idea of distance education is ideal. There are many good resources for African students for achieving higher education.
Even with all the hurdles, edtech is still an innovative way for students to achieve a quality education, and there are indications which show how enrolment in online courses will increase in the future.
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