E-learning Africa (eLA) 2012, the continent’s largest conference of high level policy-makers, decision-makers and practitioners from education, business and public sectors will take place in Cotonou, Benin, on May 23-25.
A similar continental conference took place in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, last year and was attended by 1,702 participants. Our staff Writer JUDICA TARIMO interviewed Tanzania Global Learning Agency (TaGLA) interim Executive Director Charles Senkondo on how Tanzania will benefit from the continental conference and its relevance to Africa’s future. Excerpts...
QUESTION: What role does Tanzania Global Learning Agency (TaGLA) play in this continental event and what are the benefits to Tanzania?
ANSWER: TaGLA is a member of a Global Development Learning Network (GDLN) and the Association of African Distance Learning Centre (AADLC). It plays a key role in eLA in various capacities including an advisory role in the eLA board, sponsoring the conference through AADLC including scrip review, linking videoconference sessions and an exhibition.
This is an international conference, which provides an opportunity for Tanzanians to explore and get exposure to best available educational technologies and practices in the world and a platform to profile our country worldwide.
TaGLA will provide an opportunity to connect Tanzanians through the videoconference to selected sessions, inspire Tanzanians to access available conference materials online and engage them through the social media like facebook, twitter and TaGLA’s website during and after the conference. It is also planned to showcase during the AADLC exhibition and a special presentation during the eLA conference.
Q: How will the participants, who will not be able to travel to Benin but who have registered to participate in the eLA conference, access it?
A: The government has shown interest to host selected sessions through videoconferences similar to the way we did in several pre-conference videoconference sessions linking other countries in real-time in May last year during the eLA conference in Dar es Salaam. TaGLA will facilitate similar sessions for Tanzanians to participate in these selected sessions. Details of these sessions will be made available shortly through eLA and TaGLA's websites.
Q: Last year, Tanzania hosted a similar event (e-learning Africa 2011) and one of the speakers was from the then Tanzania Global Development Learning Centre (TGDLC). Is TaGLA also represented this year?
A: TaGLA was involved in last year’s eLA international conference in many ways. TaGLA played a role as a secretariat to the national organising committee and hosted key parallel sessions during the international conference at TaGLA. This year’s presentation by TaGLA will be made through a special AADLC/GDLN session.
Theophilus Mlaki, who is ICT consultant and national coordinator of Swedish Programme for ICT for Developing Countries (SPIDER) and chairman of the Board of the Dar es Salaam ICT Incubator supported by the World Bank under the InfoDev Programme, has been an active player in ICT and an advocate of using technologies for development, including what TaGLA is doing.
This year, in addition to Mlaki's key note address, there will be several presentations by Tanzanians and a special session jointly organised by AADLC, where TaGLA will be featured to share experiences on the use of technologies for training and knowledge sharing in Africa and across the world.
Q: What exactly is eLA and how is it utilised?
A: eLA is an electronic learning forum using various types of technology supported learning including radio, television, internet, satellite transmission and the most recent-emerging mobile technologies. It is through such technologies that knowledge can be captured, stored and disseminated efficiently.
Through engagement of ICT tools, Tanzanians are able to capture the vast knowledge existing in villages, towns, colleges and universities in form of documentaries, cultural events, various internet tools disseminated instantly or stored for future use.
The challenge is on the limitation that exists on urban-rural diversity of technological availability and affordability. However, the emergence of mobile, solar and other alternative technologies presents a great opportunity that will see an exponential growth of knowledge accumulation and there after its dissemination using technologies, which further e-learning in Tanzania.
Q: Is e-learning meant to replace conventional learning?
A: It is evident that technology supported learning provides flexibility to choose where to learn from, when to learn and vast choices with ability to focus only on what you actually need to learn. With emerging technologies, a reality is coming that many will prefer technology supported learning due to the advantages brought with it, including low cost, choice from best resources, advantages of peer relations with other learners during learning and many more.
A modern class of today may have technologies linking to learning peers with multiple applications run, the trainer linked to vast resources, bringing real life examples, video and audio capability and real time interaction whenever needed and thus enriching a learning process.
Everyone would like to enjoy this type of learning, a limitation has been the affordability of such technologies everywhere, of which, will drastically reduce the need to sit in a crowded class or lecture room, when affordable innovations are in place. So, it is just a matter of time and the future is very close.
Q: Is an online programme, which e-learning is part of, a credible learning system one may rely on? Has TaGLA facilitated the awarding of or has it awarded any online students in this regard?
A: TaGLA brings in an experience of over 12 years in online learning. Partnership with world leading partners has given a wide range of experiences enriched and polished by the way we have been able to resolve existing local challenges facing learners.
One fact exists, that is technology enables things to be done quite fast and at the desired precision that conventional approaches had never thought of just like in a conventional classroom, technologies bring about better options and solutions that achieve effective engaging learning. New tools and software discovered enable appropriate recognition and support to learners and trainers.
Accreditation bodies work hand in hand with technology providers to harvest opportunities brought about by ICT. It is through awareness and engagement in ongoing changes through which Tanzanians will take advantage of the benefits brought about and overcome lesser weaknesses observed, that are even worse in conventional learning.
We always remind ourselves that, when technologies allow us to do things much fast and safer, criminals also think of using the same technologies to reach the same audiences with the same speed. That is why the government is putting up checks and balances just like having in place institutions like TaGLA to ensure the risks are managed if not eliminated.
Q: There is now a lot of competition in the job market. Can a job applicant with online credentials really be able to compete with the one with similar credentials in the conventional system?
A: The question made is misleading. One would think the credentials obtained through online learning are inferior and I would totally disagree with such a submission. Just like in conventional learning, we have reputable institutions offering reputable credentials and those that leave a lot to be desired.
When we come to e-learning, we have similarly both. Technology makes it easier for reputable as well as other institutions to reach our region and make the speed even faster when our public is not enlightened. It is up to the receiver to ensure there is appropriate recognition of the source and the ultimate content through relevant bodies. Just like in conventional training, we need to ensure we are informed of the choices we make.
Q: What should be done to improve e-learning in Tanzania?
A: It is imperative that we need to work jointly in changing the mindset of our people, that in the modern world, knowledge is gained faster through technologies and everyone needs to be on board.
The government is putting in place supportive infrastructures, regulations and supportive institutions that accelerate e-learning. Friendlier technologies are in place, we are on the right track and we need to take a leading position by taking advantage of benefits brought by technological innovations.
There are also vast opportunities existing in private initiatives like ICT infrastructures, mobile phones, TV and radio stations that can accelerate e-learning through partnerships with content providers. An example is availability of free bandwidth at night, that many learners can utilise to download learning materials and for trainers to make uploads.
Many Tanzanians do use some types of technology to communicate in their daily life, multiple social media exist, that enhance peer communication and it takes an extra step to bring it all to Tanzanians by deploying friendlier technologies.