Educating Africa, Virtually

New grant aims to help African teachers harness power of the Internet to try to educate a struggling continent.
November 17, 2005

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation announced a $900,000 grant Wednesday to support the Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa consortium, which is led by Nairobi’s African Virtual University and Britain’s Open University. The money will help develop “Open Educational Resources,” an online bank of educational materials to help train African teachers in basic curriculum areas including literacy, math, science and life and health skills.

Cathy Casserly, Hewlett’s technology program officer, explained that the portal will offer free course materials and other educational content from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Chinese Open Resources for Education, and other educational institutions.

Kuzvinetsa Peter Dzvimbo, rector of the African Virtual University, said via a live Webcast from the World Summit on the Information Society, in Tunis, that while the portal’s content will be particularly geared to educators, anyone with an Internet connection will have access to the online educational resources.

“Africa today is yearning for more teachers in math and science,” said Dzvimbo. The virtual university is a hub for a network of African universities working together to support open, distance and e-learning initiatives via 57 learning centers in 28 African countries.

“The grant will allow us to train teachers -- the impact will be large in the developing world,” Dzvimbo said. “We launched the teaching the teachers program to directly address the enormous challenge of educating and training the millions of teachers needed in sub-Saharan Africa.”

The Development Gateway Foundation, an organization that aids developing countries by building partnerships and information systems, is hosting the “Open Educational Resources” Web portal.

“The portal is ready to go as soon as the materials are ready [to be posted],” Alan J. Rossi, chief executive officer of the Development Gateway Foundation, said at the press conference. “Our goal with this new portal is to encourage more citizens and universities in the developing world to tap into the wealth of free, educational resources available online so more people have a shot at improving their lives and their future.”

Dzvimbo said that while he’s pleased to be collaborating with various American professors and students with strong interests in promoting education in Africa, he also hopes to involve more African teachers themselves in developing the resources they need.

The Web-based initiative, which Dzvimbo said he expects to be fully functioning by the end of 2006, will first be implemented in Tanzania and South Africa. As more developing nations secure access to the Internet, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, Dzvimbo said he expects the resource to become “invaluable.”

“These two innovative activities (the Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa and Open Educational Resources) will provide access to high quality content drawn from throughout the world,” Marshall Smith, educational director of the Hewlett Foundation, said in a statement released before the event. “This is critical in areas such as Africa, where lack of infrastructure and the high cost of education prevent millions of people from raising the quality of life in their communities.”


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