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AFRIK-IT  May 1997

AFRIK-IT May 1997




Max Freund <[log in to unmask]>


African Network of IT Experts and Professionals (ANITEP) List


Mon, 5 May 1997 03:02:41 -0400





text/plain (230 lines)


by Asare Kofi

   ACCRA, Apr. 30 (IPS) -- African women, long deprived of

information, education, and training can look to advances in

information technology to bring learning to their doorsteps.

   By tailoring programs to meet the needs of women, distance

learning could help them acquire relevant skills to become better

informed on issues and well equipped to do their jobs, according

to participants at the April 27-29 International Conference on

Technology and Distance Education.

   The conference, held here, was organized by the U.S.-based

Worldspace, Inc., which plans to launch a program for disseminating

distance learning materials in Africa via a satellite radio system.

   Academics and educational administrators who spoke to IPS noted

that many of the students already on distance learning programs

are female, including married women.

   "Distance education is for the disadvantaged in the first place,

those who are looking for a second chance in education," says Mary

Ngechu of the Department of Distance Studies, College of Education

at the University of Nairobi, Kenya. "And women are the most

disadvantaged educationally since many of them do not complete

their education."

   The University of Nairobi, which has 14,000 regular students,

currently has about 1,600 students registered for its distance

learning program. And thanks to distance education, women farmers

in a remote Kenyan village can now learn about virtually any topic

they want.

   This program started as a means of getting farmers research

findings from the university, which they previously had no access

to. Unlike in formal education programs, says Ngechu, the students

decide what topics to listen to, based on their immediate needs.

   Participants also say that distance learning offers

opportunities for many of Africa's working middle-level

professionals to upgrade their skills and hence improve their


   "It is an empowering tool for those who drop out of the schools

or do not even start," Ngechu says. Also, distance education caters

for women who are in seclusion, such as Muslim women, since with

the help of technology, the lectures can be delivered in their

living rooms.

   Women also face the problem of lack of access to information,

which the University of Nairobi program also seeks to address.

Because they lacked access to the radio (which is monopolized by

the men), women farmers were unable to access information on

research findings which have bearings on their agricultural work.

   To overcome this difficulty, designers of the Farmers Program

created a radio program which was broadcast on a frequency known

only to group members. According to Ngechu, members listened to the

broadcasts, which were on topics selected by the farmers

themselves, and members of the group ensured that each member

applied on her farm the methods discussed on each broadcast.

   The results have been quite impressive, says Ngechu. "After a

year, we found that 70 percent of the farmers had adopted the

technologies in agriculture and in health (such as for treating

malaria), and the success rate was very high."

   The women chose to start from agriculture, moving on from there

to health and other issues relevant to their needs. "It's a way of

reaching women (who constitute about 80 percent of the farmers in

Kenya) and giving them information which is important to our

agriculture, health and government so that they can understand

these thing and be able to make decisions for themselves," she


   At both the University of Lagos, Nigeria and the University of

Namibia, Windhoek, women constitute a majority of the students in

the distance learning programs.

   "It's a great opportunity for women, particularly the married

ones, since they do not have to leave their homes," says Professor

Joshua Ojo, the director of the Correspondence Open Studies

Institute (COSIT) of the University of Lagos. The program has run

for about 20 years, turning out graduates in various fields,

including women.

   At the University of Namibia, women constitute between 90-95

percent of the students in a distance learning bachelor degree

program in nursing, says Dr. Tonny Dodds, director, College of

External Studies at the university.

   "I think that there is evidence worldwide that distance learning

offers women more chances for higher education, from which they

have been isolated," he says.

   The college also runs a teacher-education distance learning

program, under which teachers who were previously trained in the

Afrikaans language under apartheid South African rule are being

retrained. Dodds says that in both programs women constitute the


   Despite the appeal of distance education, especially with the

technological innovations taking place, there are still many

difficulties with delivery. It has the advantage of reaching a

large number of students, but, as the Namibian program

administrators found out, the dispersion of students over a wide

area creates an additional problem for its effective running.

   With nine learning centers scattered around the country, and

only about 30 percent of the external students living in Windhoek,

a majority of the students are scattered about the country, some

more than 200 kilometers away from the centers.

   Worldspace's delivery system is expected to address the problems

of distance learning programs, including those created by such a

wide dispersal of students.

   Many of the participants at this week's conference say the

radio, because of its pervasive influence on the listeners, remains

an effective medium of communication. Besides, they point out, it's

more widely distributed in Africa.

   According to the 1996 United Nations Development Program (UNDP)

Human Development Report, based on 1992 estimates, there were 144

radios per 1000 people in sub-Saharan Africa, compared to 23

televisions per 1000.

   Yet, Worldspace's radio system has one feature that limits its

appeal: it's not interactive. Because it retains the one-way

communication feature of the existing radio sets, in addition to

the costs (about $150 per set), it may mean that more face-to-face

meetings between teachers and students will be needed on the


   This is a feature of distance learning that many of the

administrators have already taken into consideration. With the

majority of the students being women, says Dodds, arrangement for

learning centers have to be made in such a way that women who are

working can attend.

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