By Moses M. Mwebaze
It is an annual Africa gathering, the largest of its kind in the areas of digital learning, skills, and knowledge development. The conference brings together like-minded people from the continent of Africa and around the world to share knowledge and experiences. Among the aims of this novel gathering is to advance the use of technology in education and training. This should be a great opportunity because the continent in most regions has and still suffering the effects of COVID19 not being prepared to teach learners away from mortar and brick settings. Well, many argue that eLearning is possibly not for Africa, looking at the prevalence of technologies at both institutional and individual levels. Possibly, they are right or wrong not once!
The conference showcases what Africans, African institutions, and others are doing to advance the use of technologies to support teaching, training, and learning. These practical initiatives already work for the people in a specified location and attending such a conference is the means to learn about the best practices and what others have achieved. I was impressed by the strives made by numerous innovators. That said, there are merits and gaps worthy of identifying with the purpose of embracing best practices and remedying challenges respectively.
The annual conference is hosted on the continent of Africa where VISA denial to participate is unlikely for almost all the citizens of the continent. We all know this is a problem that does not exclude academicians, innovators, and entrepreneurs. This is an opportunity for Africans and African Institutions to exploit and showcase what is developing in the field of education and technology. Equally, learning from other continents is paramount for our education systems.
The cost of attending a conference within the continent is relatively reduced compared to participating in a conference in Europe, UK, Asia, U.S.A, or Canada. This includes the cost of transport and accommodation. In Kigali for example, one could move from a hotel away from the conference venue for a dollar or less on a motorcycle (Boda Boda).
For Africa to unite for development causes, the mantra that is only heard in boardrooms of high-level meetings, there is a need for cross-border interactions and the building of small cohesion blocs such as the eLearning fraternity and others. This nature of collaboration creates a network of practitioners that permeates through borders. eLearning Africa presents the opportunity for the continent to merge and pursue a development agenda that links technology and education.
Detriments for Action
Foremost, whereas the conference is hosted on the African continent, participation by Africans and African institutions is still lacking. This is evident in institutional participation and exhibition. Africa-born initiatives seldomly feature in the exhibitor’s category. Institutions from other continents feature predominately in the exhibitions and that is not a bad thing but where is Africa? We missed out on the first to the third industrial revolution by being absent not by choice. The fourth industrial revolution is presenting us with space for participation to evolve and we are missing it by choice!
In addition, probably this is tagged to the prevalence of academic institutions at the gathering. It is okay to have as many edtech entrepreneurs but to effectively link technology to education principles, there must be a fusion of academics at all levels(Primary, secondary/High, tertiary-college/university) to participate. That way, we are holistically nurturing but also creating awareness about the use of technology in education. Studies indicate that majority of educators on the continent lack information about the use of technology in education. Likewise, entrepreneurs and innovators in the education space miss out on the component of sound learning principles.
Lastly, I must admit that the conference put a couple of unique ICT for education innovators from the continent at the forefront of the presentation. ICT is clearly seen to be promoted on the continent to support education and training. I want to highlight that when it comes to technology in education, ICT skills are not the end game. There is enough evidence to prove that educators, even those with proficient skills in ICT missed the mark during the COVID-19 pandemic. There was a need for educators to be skilled in sound pedagogical principles (Digital pedagogy) to effectively support learning using technology. I think this should be looked up when qualifying presenters.
In conclusion, I must commend the organizers of this unique gathering on the continent of Africa and also call upon the education and training fraternity to advocate and promote such a gathering for the common good of transforming education and training on the continent. This calls for active participation including African entities and the African Union religiously developing a habit of financially sponsoring individuals, academic institutions, and exhibitors to attend. We may not intend to participate in many gatherings of similar nature but if we single out eLearning Africa for the continent education and technology, we should be evolving together with other continents.
If I was asked about what to improve/add to the conference activities, I would suggest including a country session where each country’s members (not selected)form a round table/forum discussion to talk about the country’s challenges aligned with the theme of the meeting, undertake a commitment to pursue in the next 12 months(advocacy, policy influence, activities identification, and documentation among others) and come back next time to share about the gains and challenges.