While I think that traditional PC will still make sense when it comes to creative processes requiring more input devices and power, the tablet touch interface seems to be most adapted for the first encounter of kids with ICT.
Sunday, September 8, 2013
In November 2010 I published a posting "One laptop per child...but what "laptop"?"explaining why it was important that schools in Africa that want to develop ICT awareness with their young students use the new mobile internet devices.
As opposed to traditional PC, mobile internet devices are more appropriate for Africa both from a technical and from a usage purpose point of view. Technically, those device typically have a longer battery life time which is a major requirement in a continent where access to electricity is difficult. But more importantly, mobile device is the way population in emerging market will access information. In India, the number of people accessing internet via mobile device exceeded those using desktop PC in less than 4 years.
Source: Mary Keeler, Internet Trends, KPBC, 2012/ StatCounter Global Stats, 11/12
This is why I suggested that tablets would be better for kids to use in schools than PC if there is such a choice. At the time of my posting, the OLPC organization was showcasing the picture of a new tablet (OX-3) that they said would be available for $75. It as later proven that the picture was a montage and that the product was far from being released anytime soon. Eventually, OLPC canceled the new tablet.
Well OLPC has now made that tablet available but only in the US in retail via Amazon, Target or Walmart for $149, twice the original target price. The same thing happened with their famous OLPC which end up selling for more than $200 while the initial target was $100.
The battery life time claimed is 6 hours, more than double the battery lifetime of the OLPC (see my posting on it: OLPC: from MIT lab to the reality on the ground). The new tablet however does not solve the problem of difficult access to electricity. I'm wondering what would it take to develop a solar tablet? Or a solar charger for tablets? Some have been announced but at prices that are unaffordable for developing countries.
OLPC XO Kid Tablet
A tablet interface is much more intuitive to use for kids than a PC mouse and keyboard. In the famous "A hole in the wall" experiment in India, educational researcher Sugata Mitra installed Internet connected PCs in a wall with a touch pad as interface in the middle of a remote village in India and was able to show that children were teaching themselves and able to use it without any external help.
Kids in India using "hole in the wall" Internet connected PC.
Probably inspired by that experiment, the OLPC organization tried a similar experiment in remote villages in Ethiopia simply dropping off tablet computers with preloaded programs and seeing what happens. Similar results were observed: "OLPC workers dropped off closed boxes containing the tablets, taped shut, with no instruction. “I thought the kids would play with the boxes. Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, found the on-off switch … powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child, per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs in the village, and within five months, they had hacked Android,” Negroponte said. “Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera, and they figured out the camera, and had hacked Android.”"
Tablets "engage the brain far better than traditional learning methods, in a way that's similar to the way it reacts during challenging video games". "Tablet software can cut high school learning from 4 years to 6 months" said Nolan Bushnell, the "father of modern video gaming", founder of Atari. This would address a major problem found in traditional education in Africa (see my last posting:Raising the Bar in Africa’s Higher Education Quality - The Impact on the ICT Industry and the Danger for Africa), i.e. the lack of stimulation of thinking and creativity. Also the mobility of the tablet makes it a better fit for access to digital books (similar to a Kindle device). This ultimately could help address the impossible cost and logistic challenge of school books distribution. This obviously assumes Internet access in the schools which is not he case in most of Africa. But optical networks are being deployed in many countries, particularly in East Africa. Rwanda has an extended 3,000 km optical network in place in a country not wider than 250km. But the last mile problem is not solved yet. But here again new solutions are about to emerge. Look at this Mawingu Indigo Telecom Rural Broadband Vision in Kenya linking tablets to broadband network in remote villages.
While I think that traditional PC will still make sense when it comes to creative processes requiring more input devices and power, the tablet touch interface seems to be most adapted for the first encounter of kids with ICT.
While I think that traditional PC will still make sense when it comes to creative processes requiring more input devices and power, the tablet touch interface seems to be most adapted for the first encounter of kids with ICT.
Thailand recently announced that it will supply 1.2 million tablets to schools. The tablets produced in China and Thailand will cost between $63 and $93. Similar project is taking place in Turkey.
The time to switch from OLPC to tablets is now and it is unfortunate that the new XO tablet is not available yet in developing countries. The OLPC device is a Netbook. Netbook is already an old paradigm, Netbook sales have been declining for the last couple of years, replaced by tablets. However OLPC seems to continue pushing the sales of old OLPC (designed in 2007). Particularly here in Rwanda where they are even pushing for the building of an OLPC factory. It seems that they need to have their unsold stocks paid for by poor countries while they sell their tablets in the US where nobody would buy the old OLPC. It is unfortunate, to say it diplomatically!
Seeya later alligator...
Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Raising the Bar in Africa’s Higher Education Quality - The Impact on the ICT Industry and the Danger for Africa
“Education, and higher education in particular, is the fulcrum and pivot upon which all other developments rest and rotate around. In the words of Andrew Carnegie, 'Upon no foundation but that of popular education can a man erect the structure of an enduring civilization'”
– Professor Olugbemiro Jegede, Sec. General, Association of African Universities, 2012
We describe the general context for the economic environment of Africa. We begin broadly, but we highlight the unique obstacles in ICT sector development that result from the current higher education system. We discuss the current challenges in higher education and we argue that tertiary education can sustain market-driven growth, especially in the ICT sector, if governments, universities, and their partners improve access to and the quality of higher education using new and innovative approaches to develop the sector.
Finally, while there are no easy answers or blueprints we elaborate on five focal points that offer simple and inexpensive techniques to improve higher education outcomes across the continent. While we are focusing on Higher Education in Science and Technology (HEST), most of our recommendations can be adopted more broadly for other subjects of study.
While this paper addresses the problem on a continental level, we are conscious that every African country faces its own set of distinctive challenges and opportunities.
Africa’s Booming Economy
Business in Africa is getting serious . The continent's markets have grown at unprecedented rates for the past decade; a consumer class with significant purchasing power is forming . At a time where Europe and the United States are in a more-or-less chronic state of stagnation (recent EU numbers declared a second recession in just four years , and the US is still trying to recover convincingly from the financial crisis of recent years ), Standard & Chartered bank forecasts that Africa's economy will grow at an average annual rate of 7% over the next 20 years, slightly faster than China's .
Opportunities abound for foreign investors and African entrepreneurs alike . But there is a consensus that, while they certainly form key parts of the picture, growth in the region has to be about more than oil and minerals, and will require more than just highways and factories. In 2010, Howard W. French of Columbia University concluded that: “All things considered, resource-based or infrastructure-driven development [...] appear unlikely to lead to a meaningful African renaissance" .
In particular, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) can be a powerful tool to boost economic growth by increasing efficiency, providing access to new markets or services, and creating new opportunities for income generation. “ICT enables economic growth by broadening the reach of technologies such as high-speed Internet, mobile broadband, and computing; expanding these technologies itself creates growth, and the fact that technologies make it easier for people to interact and make workers more productive creates additional benefits.”  The impact of ICT can be even more dramatic in Africa where its use is still emerging. It is estimated that even a 10% increase in broadband penetration can deliver a 0.1 - 1.4% boost in GDP .
Africans believe so too. South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe addressing leading ICT enterprises at an ICT conference in Cape Town in June 2012 said that “while primary or traditional industries remained important, the biggest commodity in the world today is knowledge, and the ability to generate, access, and distribute knowledge have become key determinants for a higher developmental trajectory for any nation. African countries can provide the innovators for future technological development in ICT that can in turn continue to drive economic and social development on the continent, through developing innovations and applications relevant to the needs of our peoples."
Africa’s Workforce’ Skill Gap
Africans are innovative and familiar with the problems they face in their own environment; much more so than Westerners. The problem is not lack of innovation, but rather lack of skills.
Human capital is freely available on the continent in the shape of a huge young, but largely unskilled, workforce. Increasingly highly skilled labor is required as the African market mature and grows – labor that is in short supply on the continent. In 2012, global HR specialists Going Global reported that "More than half of South African CEOs report it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit workers and the shortage of skilled candidates is the most significant recruitment challenge" . A 2011 report by Dahlberg for the Initiative for Global Development "Pioneers on the Frontier: Sub-Saharan Africa's multinational corporations (MNC)"  echoes the skilled labor supply-demand gap challenge for MNCs operating in the region. In most sub-Saharan African countries, about two-thirds of all young workers in the labor market—95 million people—lack the basic skills needed to be competitive in the labor force .
Specifically, the continent faces a dire challenge when it comes to well-trained professionals in science and technology. While about 50 percent or more of students enrolled in tertiary educational institutions in fast growing countries such as Korea, China, and Taiwan are enrolled in science, engineering, technology (SET) or business, only about 20 percent of tertiary education students in Africa are enrolled in these subjects . In sub-Saharan Africa, there are only 83 scientists and engineers engaged in R&D for every 1 million people compared to about 1,000 to 1,500 in the developed world . The disparity is enormous.
The ICT Challenge
In spite of a sluggish world economy, the demand for skilled ICT engineers and developers remains high outside of Africa . According to a 2013 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the US there will be two jobs available per every graduate with a computer science degree over the next ten years , pushing a substantial number of African students to travel overseas in search of quality education to obtain ICT-related degrees and jobs. But only 30 percent of Africans studying abroad return to the region after graduation  to the detriment of African start-ups and investors looking to implement projects on the continent. Moreover, the degree they obtain overseas may not be particularly well suited to the challenges faced in Africa, reducing the probability that they will return. Expressed differently, over 20,000 qualified Africans have worked abroad every year since 1990 . Developed countries are thus hosting more than 1 million Africans holding higher education degrees. To fill the human resource gap created by this brain drain, Africa employs up to 150,000 expatriate professionals at a cost of 4 billion dollars per annum .
As a consequence, despite Africa’s largely endogenous growth, Africans are not reaping as many rewards from the plentiful opportunities on the continent as they could, in particular in the ICT sector.
To elaborate, let us review Africa’s experience inventing mobile money. While the idea of M-PESA, a mobile money system, was born in Kenya by Kenyan innovators, the technology is owned by Vodaphone, a British Company. Vodaphone managed M-PESA’s technological development by outsourcing the job to Sagentia, a global innovation, technology and product development company in Cambridge, UK; rather than developing the product locally amid its inventors. Eventually Vodaphone tasked Safaricom, a Kenyan telecommunications corporation, with the operational management and commercialization of the product, but ultimately Vodaphone collects the royalties.
M-PESA is simply one example of Africa’s endogenous innovations. Much has been written about the revolutionary impact of cell phones that enabled Africans to technologically leap-frog. The continent has overcome the challenge of limited infrastructure by attaining connectivity on a par with any developed country, seemingly overnight . That same handset driven revolution continues to push the envelope by enabling mobile banking, mobile agriculture, and mobile healthcare applications in countries such as Kenya, Niger and Senegal, and unique innovative applications tailored to meet African needs for information sharing and transactions to thrive.
Unfortunately Western companies, mostly MNCs, are the ones who profit from these technological developments since the innovators are ill-equipped to capture their brain-children’s promise of profit. The ICT market in Africa seems to replicate the old colonial relationship between Africa and the Western world. During colonial times, the metropolis exploited Africa by importing natural resources from colonies and exporting finished manufacturing goods or selling unsustainable factories. Now the developed countries import human resources and innovations from Africa and export hardware and software developed by their global IT companies, often selling solutions that are inappropriate for the region and that require expatriate resources to implement and maintain.
Apart from lacking resources, it is the skills gap between Africa’s ICT professionals and those in the West that obstruct Africans from reaching their full technological development and profit potential. Vodaphone was able to take ownership of M-PESA because local companies could not access the appropriate human capital and other resources that could build the technology beyond its initial inception.
The Role of Higher Education in Africa’s Economic Development
Higher education has a unique and important role to play in resolving the skills gap in Africa. A Harvard University study published in 2006 by Bloom et al ("Higher Education and Economic Development in Africa")  was among the first to document the importance of tertiary education on economic growth and poverty reduction. Building on that research, UNESCO in 2006 declared that: "Expanding higher education contributes to promoting faster technological catch-up, improving a country's ability to maximize output and decrease the knowledge gap and poverty in the region. There seems to be an increasing recognition of a positive contribution of higher education to economic development, and there is a strong case for expanding the base of tertiary education in the developing world." 
After years of explicitly steering funding away from universities in favor of primary education, the World Bank in 2009 concluded that, "[...] maximizing productivity and achieving competitiveness will depend upon success in augmenting human capital and raising its quality. The key to economic success in a globalized world lies increasingly in how effectively a country can assimilate the available knowledge and build comparative advantage in selected areas with good growth prospects, and in how it can enlarge the comparative advantage by pushing the frontiers of technology through innovation."  Everyone, it seems, at last agrees that higher education plays a pivotal role in sustaining growth and development.
Quantity and Quality Gaps in Higher Education
Higher education outcomes in Africa leave much to be desired from the institutions charged with delivering educational excellence. As discussed above, many graduating jobseekers do not have the skills that industries seek in candidates. The problem is twofold: higher education in Africa suffers in terms of quantity and quality.
Quantity wise, Africa has one university for every 1.2 million people. In comparison, the number of inhabitants per university in North America is 100K, in Europe it is 125K, in Latin America 105K, and in Asia 572K . At best, higher education in Africa is 2 times less accessible than in Asia. At worst, the continent’s higher education is more than 12 times less accessible than in America. We know that 65% of Africa's population is less than 25 years old and therefore demographic pressure further exacerbates the chasm.
In 2008 the World Bank noted that only 5 percent of the relevant age group in Africa attends university, compared to the world average of 25 percent. In a 2009 speech to the Africa-US Higher Education Initiative Partners Conference, National University of Rwanda Rector Silas Lwakabamba declared: "We all recognize that basic education is indeed important. However, it is also increasingly evident to policy makers and educators that a sustained focus on higher education is necessary to achieve a 10% [university] graduation rate – a minimum for any country to ensure the possibility of sustainable development" .
A 2010 follow-up report from the World Bank  examined the financing of higher education in Africa. It is the only region in the world that has experienced a decrease in the volume of current expenditure per student by 30 percent in the last 15 years. This is mainly due to the dramatic increase in the number of students that could not be matched by public expenditures. This growth is fueled by demographics and the Millennium Development Goals’ (MDGs) focus on primary and secondary education. Between 1991 and 2006, the number of students in higher education more than tripled, rising from 2.7 million to 9.3 million. This was an annual increase of about 16%, but public resources for expenditure only grew by 6%, and the same report concluded that "in most Sub-Saharan African countries, enrollment in higher education has grown faster than financing capabilities, reaching a critical stage where the lack of resources has led to a severe decline in the quality of instruction and in the capacity to reorient focus and to innovate. Public funding in most countries is already overstretched, and alone it will not be sufficient to respond to the growing demand for access to higher education while delivering a level of quality that provides students with the skills necessary to succeed in current and future labor markets."
Quality wise, there are only three African universities in the “Academic Ranking of World Universities” of the top 500 best universities in the world, and all three are from South Africa. To have an idea of the ranking of Sub-Saharan African universities (not including South Africa) we must rely on automated rankings like Webometrics. In that ranking, the first university from sub-Saharan Africa emerges 1080th, indicating a significant gap in quality of higher education in that region.
To provide quality instruction and research, one significant measure of the capability of the professoriate is doctoral-level certification. In Africa, doctoral-level faculty are the minority, sometimes with percentages as low as 20%. In addition, studies have shown a disturbing trend at several universities of a slide in the proportion of academic staff with doctoral degrees, and an increase in the proportion of staff with only a bachelor’s degree, symptomatic of the further decline of the quality of African universities .
When the “sage on stage” is relatively unqualified to teach complicated material, it is no wonder that education is often limited to the first two stages of the Bloom's classification of cognitive skills. Bloom identified 5 stages of cognition, or in other words, critical thinking: remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate and create. In many African schools, students are expected to only reach the first two stages and are thus evaluated based on their capacity to remember and repeat the content of the course. That rote learning, while useful for some topics, is devastating in engineering education. Bloom’s classification promotes additional next higher forms of thinking in education: applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating rather than just remembering facts. Identifying and solving problems, thinking critically, developing creative solutions, these additional skills are critical to develop a generation of innovators and entrepreneurs but they require different and adapted teaching methodologies and higher faculty to student ratios in order for students to be able to develop those skills.
The apex of Bloom’s cognition classification is “creating.” In the engineering and ICT context, students should be challenged to create semi-complex and relevant projects. However, as a graduate school professor I have learned that my students who were once enrolled in bachelor-level programming language courses (e.g. a C or Java course) have reported that their most complicated assignments were in fact ridiculously simple. For instance, assignment projects included: “Write a program that simulates a calculator” or “Write a program that prints ‘Hello!’ on the screen.” Ultimately, professors fail to task students to solve even a single real business related problem that stimulates their critical thinking and creativity.
Insufficient resources also hamper ICT teachers and students’ ability to deliver and receive high quality education. My students explained that oftentimes they have no access to a PC or five students share a single PC. As a result, many students may graduate from a programming language course without ever running a program on a computer. This is like learning to swim by book without ever jumping into the pool.
In addition, ICT curriculum content is often outdated and not adapted to the business needs in the region. For instance, many IT departments in universities teach artificial intelligence (AI) courses, copying the curriculum directly from Western universities . One wonders what AI can do to address Africa's problems? Yet at the same time, you rarely find courses on mobile and wireless technology or mobile software development, although both are critical for Africa. During a recent visit to a school of computer science in a major South African university, one faculty recognized that their curriculum had been unchanged for the last 20 years!
In summary, difficult access and poor quality of higher education combine to create major disadvantages for the development of Africa. There is a profound mismatch between the degrees offered and the skills required by the African labor market. All of this should be seen in light of the extremely high rates of unemployment in Africa, even for those with university degrees. Collier and others write extensively about the implications of youth - often male - unemployment on social unrest; it should be a significant consideration for a continent all-too-familiar with conflict.
Limitations of Existing Traditional Approaches
Government with Foreign Aid
Governments are often facing the impossible challenge of addressing the quantity problem of university access while at the same time improving quality of education. Attempts have of course been made to address the issues surrounding higher education in Africa. While the bulk of economic activity on the continent remains untaxed, African governments have recently started seeing a sustainable tax base from business activities . This offers some discretionary funding to spend on higher education, but unfortunately there are a multitude of competing demands made on limited funds. Ultimately, other investment choices are persistently deemed as higher priorities than tertiary education.
Besides taxes, other attempts have been made to address the issues surrounding higher education funding in Africa. Ultimately, the source of most of Africa’s higher education funding is foreign aid from foundations, trusts, grants, etc. (e.g. the "Partnership for Higher Education in Africa" initiative that invested $440M in higher education from 2000-2010). But often they come with strings attached. Governments endure significant external pressure from aid agencies that inhibit their ability to freely choose where they may spend their borrowed budgets. The MDGs aim to ensure that by 2015 children everywhere – boys and girls alike – will complete a full course of primary schooling. But the MDGs fall silent on the issue of higher education, which pressures governments to allocate funds towards primary, rather than university, education. This, coupled with a history of IMF-imposed structural adjustments programs funneling funding away from higher education towards basic education as part of debt forgiveness programs, helps explain why funding for higher education has declined steadily over the past decade as enrollment increases substantially.
One might also argue that the funds made available for higher education are misallocated. Governments concentrate on the quantity problem of university access. Most investments are directed at real estate and university and technology center construction has become a flourishing business in Africa. Announcement of mega tech city projects are popping up from Kenya to Ghana . But the quantity gap is so significant that it cannot be solved in the short or medium term and it should not be addressed at the cost of quality. In fact priority should be given to quality. But addressing the quality issues is tougher than building universities and the political pay-off is arguably lower. Yet those quantity investments will be wasted and result in empty buildings and/or contribute to a growing unemployable workforce if the quality problem is not addressed. If governments would only divert a small percentage of the $billions they are planning to invest in those mega projects, they could at least start addressing the quality gap. It would require hiring of highly killed faculty, updating curriculum, etc. to address problems identified earlier.
Due to the pressure of the demand for more universities and the difficulty of government to support the investment needed, private universities have flourished across the continent as a supplement to the government-run tertiary education system . Some of them are local initiatives; others are partnerships with foreign schools. In this latter case, most often the private university is a partnership with a European or American university leveraging their brand to attract students. However the quality of education is often inferior to the quality of the Western partner university. The imported curriculum is taught by local instructors with the support of visiting professors. The latter only come to Africa for short periods of time, inhibiting their ability to understand the real needs of the region and integrate these needs, and creative teaching techniques, to exemplify and solve them in the imported curriculum. Also, in part because it is cheaper and easier for these private entities to educate humanities graduates rather than e.g. engineers, they increase the gap in HEST.
New innovative approaches
It seems that traditional education approaches are entrenched in a long history of failure in the region. They fail to deliver a quality education and fight a losing battle to close the higher education quality gap between Africa and the rest of the world.
It is obvious that new approaches are required. “The traditional structure, in which universities supplied the entire value chain from knowledge-generation to course delivery, is breaking down. Instead, specialized players are emerging. Knowledge generation is very costly and only well-endowed schools or schools that have access to sufficient public funds can afford that ‘stage of production’” . A new paradigm of government-industry partnerships in the realm of education involving companies and organizations to fill critical skilled shortages in Africa may offer an opportunity to improve higher education quality delivery and close the quality gap .
New partnerships, and the innovative institutions they produce, implicitly or explicitly promote the more sophisticated strata espoused in Bloom’s cognition model. They also engage the private sector to develop closer linkages between industry and education, ensuring that improvements in higher education have direct positive impacts on local economies. In tandem, they support the integration of students into the regional workforce, resulting in high employment rates of their graduates. By raising the bar for higher education they can make a significant contribution towards a renaissance in Africa.
We are here highlighting a non-exhaustive list of three such partnerships. The first of these partnerships elicited Centers of Excellence (CoE). In October 2007, the Connect Africa Summit recommended the establishment of five CoEs in each sub-region of Africa to support the development of a critical mass of science and technology skills required for the development of the continent. As a HEST strategy, CoEs deliver tertiary and vocational training on a regional basis.
Rwanda is spearheading the initiative for the East Africa Community with the opening of an ICT CoE in Kigali with financial support from African Development Bank. In order to fulfill this ambitious goal, the Government of Rwanda strategically targeted Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) to establish and operate a master's degree-granting program in Rwanda because of CMU's strong culture of research and innovation . This is the first time that a world class university is opening a campus in Africa with onsite presence (as opposed to online courses) and resident CMU faculty assigned to Rwanda from Pittsburgh (as opposed to visiting professors). The uniqueness of this ICT COE project is its integration with the development of an ICT industry in the region through functions like an innovation incubator, a mobile research center and executive education programs. Other CoEs are being established in Tunisia and Mali.
Alongside Rwanda, Ghana is on the frontier of higher education innovation. Ghana’s Ashesi University is the first university in the country to adopt and blend the Liberal Arts method of education with majors in Computer Science, Management Information Systems and Business Administration. Its goal is to educate African leaders of exceptional integrity and professional ability: “An Ashesi student is able to apply critical thinking and quantitative reasoning to approach complex problems, demonstrates skills in data analysis and modeling, sees things from multiple perspectives, and has awareness of a broad range of concepts and ideas that have personal, local and global significance”.
Ghana’s Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) leverages the experience of business executives and professionals through an “alternative education” approach. MEST’s entrepreneurial program is designed around three phases: training, incubation and mentorship. At MEST, these experienced professionals successfully train young students to become software entrepreneurs, fulfilling their vision to “create wealth and jobs locally in Africa.”
The major challenge for these new innovative approaches is to deliver world class quality education while being sustainable to reduce dependency on donor funding.
An example of such a successful sustainable institution is the International Institute for Water and Environmental Engineering in Burkina Faso. It was created 40 years ago, it is accredited in Europe and its engineering degrees are internationally recognized, and more than 95 % of their students find a job within six months of graduating. “This unique rate in Africa is the result of a factor combination: the quality of our training programs, our partnership strategy with companies, backbone for an adequate training of qualified human resources adapted to the market needs, and finally our aim to offer solutions that meet the continent challenges.”
And one more option has now come online it seems -- literally -- in the form of distance learning or the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). While MOOCs are making the buzz these days, they are subject to some healthy skepticism  particularly about their value for Africa where they face major challenges like inappropriate language, affordability of required hardware and Internet access, hardware malfunctions, power outages, intermittent Internet connectivity, and inadequate bandwidth.
More importantly, more than others, African students are looking for role models and inspiring teachers that cannot be provided by technology only. However ICT offers the opportunity to overhaul access to resources and change the nature of the teacher-student interaction. “Soon faculties will be lecturing less and tutoring more, along the lines of the ‘flipped classroom’ model in which students are assigned videos and online materials for their homework, and come to class in order to discuss what they saw with their teachers” . This should allow learning to move from the “sage on stage” model to higher level of cognitive skills in the Bloom’s model.
Focal Points for Improving Higher Education Outcomes
Innovations in higher education are taking shape in isolated pockets throughout Africa. There have been many studies published about improving higher education in Africa, several of them referred to in this paper. But clearly, African universities and governments could also benefit by taking advantage of “low hanging fruit,” or simple and inexpensive methods for improving higher education outcomes across the continent. The following five proposals are just that: suggestions for process changes and measurement methodologies that double as tools for improvement. These proposals are neither complex nor expensive; and although we focus on HEST, they could be used more generally.
The five proposals are as follows:
1) Improving teacher effectiveness
Most universities in the US have teaching excellence centers where faculty and instructors can get support and training to help them improve as teachers. The centers’ staff people collaborate with instructors to design and implement meaningful educational experiences for students that leverage innovative teaching methodologies and technologies. In particular, they organize orientation programs for new incoming faculty to ensure consistent teaching quality in the university. Finally, these centers also train faculty to be quality monitors for their colleagues. Each faculty is then required to be monitored by one of his peers once a year with the purpose of providing positive feedback for helping him/her improve his/her teaching.
Governments should dedicate part of their investment to support the creation of such teaching excellence centers in each university. Universities should also provide attractive and motivating salaries to those faculties who demonstrate improved quality teaching through these trainings. Quality improvement can also come from the diaspora academics who return to Africa attracted by the fast growing economy and the development of the IT market .
2) Feedback for course improvement
Aside from measuring students, universities should develop mechanisms to improve the quality of courses taught by its faculty members. Several websites exist that allow students to rate their instructors, such as “rate a prof” or “rate my professors”. Some media are even using data from those websites to publish a list of schools with the worst professors! Here we need to be cautious as it is difficult for those websites to identify sincere from fake ratings. The last thing you want is for a student to vindicate his/her (maybe rightfully) low grade by trashing the grading professor on those sites.
Instead, we would recommend for each university to introduce their own similar rating systems such that students registered for a course are given the opportunity to rate that course after they received their final grade for that course. Most universities in the US have such a system in place. At Carnegie Mellon University students are invited at the end of each semester to rate the courses they attended on a voluntary and anonymous basis. What is important here is that the result be used not to penalize individual professors but rather to help them improve the quality of their teaching by learning from student feedback. This can also be used by academic committees to promote outstanding professors and encourage others to improve their teaching quality, potentially inviting them to “teaching excellence” seminars. For these systems to be successful they should be implemented with the voluntary collaboration of the faculty themselves and the results from course surveys and their use for course improvement need to be communicated back to the students .
3) Engaging industry in curriculum development
Any university must have a curriculum review committee who determines course offerings for any given academic program. These review committees are usually comprised of professors and department heads who review program and course criteria from a solely academic perspective. University schools should also have an advisory board made of representatives from private sectors that correspond to the fields of instruction. The curriculum review committees should then share their curriculum information with and get advice from the advisory board made of private sectors representatives- the people who ultimately would recruit the students. In that way curriculum review will involve department heads, professors and private sector representatives; they will then include the individuals managing the educational institution, the instructors delivering the material, and the professionals who ultimately would recruit the students after the program. They could influence curricular content in an effort to endow today’s students (and tomorrow’s workers) with the skills necessary to strike equilibrium between the labor supply and labor demand in their industry. We realize this may be a controversial suggestion for traditional academics, but at this stage Africa cannot afford the luxury of universities delivering graduates who cannot be employed immediately because they lack necessary industry skills.
Another approach to better integrate industry needs with academic education is for professors to get more involved with private sector people. The ultimate objective is to provide students with the opportunity not only to learn, but also practice what they learn. This can be done in different ways: inviting private sector guest speakers in their courses, organizing "real" internships for students in local and regional businesses, asking industry for problem ideas that can be used in class for students to address, and so many others.
4) Aptitude Testing
The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is an aptitude testing tool. It is intended to measure some individual characteristics that are important for graduate study: reasoning skills, critical thinking, and the ability to communicate effectively in writing. These are some of the higher cognitive skills from the Bloom’s model that we identified earlier as lacking in Africa’s higher education. We acknowledge that there are many other different criteria for success in graduate education that are not measured by GRE such as motivation, creativity, interpersonal skills, subject matter knowledge, financial support, etc.
The GRE test has been used for many years and has improved over time to a point where it is now recognized as valuable graduate admission criteria by most universities. The test is managed by independent organizations guaranteeing the fairness of its results.
Some people will argue that these tests are not appropriate for African students. I reject the notion that African students should receive simplified tests. This test is taken by students from all regions, and rather than lowering standards for Africans, we should help African students raise their skills to a globally competitive level. One of the advantages of these tests is that students around the world take them to gain admission to American universities and the best universities in Europe. This will allow Africa to compare its students to the best students in the world. There is no reason why African students cannot compete against others if we can improve the quality of higher education in Africa.
One challenge here is that the cost of these tests can be prohibitive for individual students. Perhaps these costs could be integrated in the university tuition. Another challenge will be to familiarize students with these tests during their studies to get prepared. There is a lot of literature available out there with tutoring material for these tests and that can be used for tutoring at the university.
How then should we use the results of these tests? Few countries in Africa have functioning national learning assessment systems, depriving policymakers of the flow of information needed to guide reform. By integrating the GRE test at the end of undergraduate SET education, it can provide some measure of the students’ abilities evaluated by the test like reasoning and critical thinking skills. The aggregate statistics of all GRE scores from graduating students from one university can then be used to monitor university progress year after year
Obviously, the result of these GRE tests can also be used by students to apply for graduate studies in universities worldwide.
5) Organize and mobilize alumni networks
Alumni organizations are well developed in American universities. They serve many purposes: develop a network of alumni that can be tapped into by graduating students for employment support, by the university for fund raising, and for other purposes.
Alumni organizations were not possible in Africa in the past as they required good communication structure that was either lacking or too costly in Africa. ICT and social networks have now reduced that cost to almost zero.
While African universities can use it for the same functions, my suggestion is slightly less conventional. Africa cannot afford to continue investing in universities that deliver students that are unprepared to work in the country, let alone the regional economy. Alumnus networks can be used to track the employment of students after they graduate. Statistical data can then be easily collected to show the percentage of students finding jobs over the years after graduation, the level of income they earn, and the types of jobs they are hired for. This, in turn, can be made publicly available granting some monitoring of the data to prevent fraud. It will help parents to identify and select the best university studies for their sons and daughters.
These are not magic bullets, but the advantage of these ideas is that they have no or small costs associated with them, they are easy to implement and can only improve the situation.
Africa’s higher education is facing the challenge to “respond to the growing demand for access to higher education while delivering a level of quality that provides students with the skills necessary to succeed in current and future labor markets" . In particular, the skills gap is significantly impacting the development of an ICT industry in the region. If not addressed, it will increase Africa’s dependence on the Western world at a critical time. Indeed the West is no longer the sole source of technological breakthroughs, and the West is no longer the dominant growth market for ICT. In fact, many people are now saying that Africa is the place where there will be an explosion in technological markets and innovation that will outpace anything that has been seen before anywhere else in the world.
The technological breakthroughs that are going to be the foundations of the ICT industry in Africa will come from inventors and entrepreneurs who work in Africa and understand the technological challenges and needs that are unique to Africa. More than ever before, now is the time and the opportunity for Africans to control their future in this ICT industry before someone else does it. There are many "someone else’s" vying for the same market but Africans should not fear that competition because this time they have the home field advantage but quality higher education is the required road to success.
Kigali, September 3rd, 2013
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