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Wrong priorities, policies hinder e-learning

By | April 12th 2010 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

By Fredrick Obura

Despite a technological revolution sweeping across the country, e-learning is yet to pick.

Pundits say the growing interconnectivity, if well harnessed, has the potential turn around the face of education — ensuring access and quality of education through e-learning.

As Kenya joins the league of technological powerhouses in the region, thanks to the undersea cables, attention is now shifting to changing policies and enhancing technology infrastructure and electronic curriculum to facilitate e-learning.

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While scholars argue that e-learning is yet to take root as an acceptable form of learning in the country, they hold that it is a matter of time before it explodes.

Adequate infrastructure, rapid advancement of ICT sectors, globalisation and changes in demographic profile, increasing demand for knowledge workers, and government incentives are the major forces responsible for e-learning growth in developed countries.

In some of these countries, e-learning is a big industry roping in millions of money.

In 2005, Singapore, which is experiencing a rapid growth of e-learning, is said to have earned up to $106 million.

The huge pool of skilled work force in Singapore is partly attributed to e-learning.

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But before this happens in Kenya, scholars say stakeholders must empower teachers, ensure quality of online content and supervision of learners online.

They have challenged governments within the East African region to develop friendly policies to promote e-learning in schools and colleges.

According Mr Andrew Gakiria, the National Coordinator of the Kenya Institute of Education-based Kenya e-Learning centre, inadequate policies on e-learning stands in the way of efforts to embed ICT in education sector.

He says strong policies in the universal computer access, strategic partnership, and human capacity development would help in propping up computer-based education in the region.

"Good policies and strategies would help stimulate the recent wave of massive expansion in and access to university education," he says.

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Maseno University Vice Chancellor Prof Frederick Onyango says e-learning would help address the growing demand for higher education and knowledge in the region.

"The demand for higher education in the region far much outstrips the institutions’ ability to soak up everybody," he says.

"The one sure way for institutions to meet this demand is through e-learning programmes."

He says wide use of computers in learning in developed nations has helped improve quality and access.

"The adoption of computer-based learning, if speeded up locally, promises a corresponding growth in access and quality of higher education in the country," Prof Onyango says.

"E-learning would particularly prove popular with those in employment but seeking to further their education," he said.

Onyango called for innovative strategies that acknowledge the critical role of technology to learning and teaching.

"Such strategies, if widely adopted and implemented in learning institutions, would empower the learner to take responsibility for their own learning and construct knowledge with fellow learners."

The Vice Chancellor, Kenyatta University Prof Olive Mugenda said e-learning has become a global trend and called on the region to follow suit or risk irrelevance in a competitive world.

She, however, says the access to computer-based learning could only be achieved if Government created an enabling environment.

"Policy makers must reward efforts geared at supporting e-learning," she says, adding content developers should be given incentives.

Cost of software

"The cost of software for instance needs to trimmed to enable content developers come up with more interactive learning materials and promote wider access," Mugenda says.

"At the moment, most institutions lack resources to invest in human capacity and the infrastructure."

She says in moving towards adopting e-learning, institutions have mistakenly invested heavily on computers and related infrastructure at the expense of capacity building for lecturers and e-content development.

"Whether or not these investments have yielded improved efficiencies in learning, teaching and research in Kenya is an issue that I hope will be of key interest to policy makers, and that certain home-grown practices might emerge," she says.

She says Government should prime their attention on teacher training institutions to improve human resource capacity and increase the number of educators of e-learning curriculum.

Human resource

Besides human resource capacity, e-learning modules are also limited by other challenges of infrastructure.

Electricity, for instance is largely limited to urban areas. Experts have, however, pointed out that perhaps the greatest hurdle is the employers’ mindset and perception on degrees acquired online.

Onyango says the challenge of assessment for courses delivered on-line must be addressed by spelling out stringent quality assurance provisions for the entire e-learning programme development and implementation process.

"It is through vigorous assessment that qualifications obtained in courses offered through e-learning would be recognised both by providers of higher education and other players in industry."

S. Venkatraman, an official with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) says proper laws would promote digital rights management and address copyright issues likely to hit the digitised learning materials.a

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