The seventeen (17) new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) recently adopted by the United Nations (also known as the Global Goals) imposes challenges on countries, to ensure, among others, inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’.
Also, the African continent, through the African Union has established its own development agenda known as “Agenda 2063”.
This is an approach to how the continent should effectively learn from the lessons of the past, build on the progress now underway and strategically exploit all possible opportunities available in the immediate and medium term, so as to ensure positive socioeconomic transformation within the next 50 years.
It is a call for action to all segments of African society to work together to build a prosperous and united Africa based on shared values and a common destiny.
It emphasizes, among others, an Africa whose development is people-driven, relying on the potential of African people, especially its women and youth, and caring for children.
Achieving these goals will require the training of millions of new teachers and upgrading the skills of non-professional, and underqualified teachers already working in schools.
The training needs of teachers is great, and urgent, and require a radical rethinking of traditional ways we train our teachers if we are to meet Africa’s need for an enlarged and enriched education for all to prepare our teachers and the continent to achieve the SDGs.
Fact is, we need more colleges and universities, more lecture halls and classrooms. But, if we are truly to transform education, we must be prepared to rethink the entire educational system.
To meet the educational needs of the broad mass of the population, we need to build a new kind of higher education, one without walls; one that can connect with knowledge and skill wherever it is in the world.
One such model is Open and Distance Learning (ODL). This has emerges as a supplement to the traditional educational system based on brick and mortar within Africa and other parts of the world.
Open and distance learning could be made the primary vehicle for the expansion and enrichment of our teacher educational system.
To do this, we might begin by bringing together a design team made up of both ICT professionals and academics and charge them with the creation of a master plan for making such an option possible.
Institutions such as the African Council for Distance Education, the African Distance Learning Association, the Commonwealth Of Learning (COL), the British Council, and NEPAD’s commitment and plans to support innovative education in Africa are some indicators to attest to the central role played by ODL in education in Africa.
Educational leaders in Africa are aware of this fact and have made tremendous progress in addressing not only the educational needs of teachers but, have implemented various measures to ensure that no child of school going age is deprived of this basic human right.
A good reference point in Ghana is the educational reform which acknowledges the critical role of teacher quality to the success of the new initiative and commits to improving the conditions of service of teachers to motivate them to give of their best.
The upgrading of all the public Teacher Training Colleges in Ghana and the selection of 15 of such institutions for specialised Science, Mathematics and Technology education, and the use of Distance Education to upgrade teachers skills while still at post are clear indications of the Ghana government’s commitment to this noble cause.
ICT-enhanced ODL will enable Africa to train more teachers within a reasonable time frame, and address the needs of not only teachers but non-traditional learners (workers, housewives, etc.).
In most parts of Africa where a disproportionate proportion of teachers live in very remote areas, generally in isolation, an ICT-enhanced educational system offers the best education to teacher education in the 21st century.
This is one way to bring to our teachers in a timely manner, critical skills they need, with little money spent on brick and mortar and the conventional apparatus for housing learning.
Teachers can now be anywhere and be part of a virtual learning community.
ODL will create opportunities for the large number of teachers who require further and continuous education. This has been demonstrated by some of the mega universities around the world, universities with enrolment over 100,000 students.
The National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), the only provider of ODL at the tertiary level is Nigeria’s largest tertiary institution in terms of student numbers. It offers over 50 programmes and over 750 courses.
Also, the University of South Africa (UNISA), Africa’s premier ODL institution has over 100,000 students.
We should resort to the use of several ICT-driven tools – e-Learning (electronic learning), m-Learning (mobile learning), and u-Learning (ubiquitous learning)- to enhance the skills and knowledge of our teachers. Adopting these tools will add quality, reduce overall costs, and raise the profile of our teacher education programmes in Africa.
Africa will loose momentum if we fail to move ICT to centre-stage in the education of our teachers.
It behooves on all major stakeholders (end users, ISPs, network operators, regulators, equipment vendors, etc.) to be part of this crusade.
Dr. Osei K. Darkwa