In today’s Africa, most of the institutions of higher education can only provide places for only a small percentage of those who qualify.
This is because Africa does not have adequate resources—the money and the talent and the time—to do all the good things that might be done, that it would like to do.
Many institutions of higher learning in the region lack the public resources required in order to guarantee quality teaching and research.
But, the new African economy needs large numbers of scientists, engineers, technologists, trained and imaginative entrepreneurs, and the many technical specialists needed to support the new global businesses and industries.
Without such professionals and technicians our businesses and industries will not create the thousands of lower level jobs that are also needed.
African educational institutions will not be able to meet the increasing demands if their capacity is not strengthened urgently.
They need to be able to adapt to changes brought about by the emergence of a global knowledge society and information-driven economic growth.
As the number of African children going to school is on the rise, the demand for more and better teachers is noted everywhere: To achieve universal primary education by 2015, school systems in Africa will have to cater for nearly 180 million children in 2015.
All the evidence suggests that Africa’s educational needs cannot be met by attempting to build more brick-and-mortar buildings to house conventional schools and colleges.
Africa does not have the money to properly maintain its present schools and colleges, much less build new ones to accommodate all the qualified Africans who are looking for options to further their education.
Even if the buildings appeared, Africa foes not have enough trained teachers and professors and scholars to move into those classrooms.
We need to design a new educational system at all levels that prepares students for life and work today; a workforce education that keeps our workers continuously aware of the newest in their fields; we need to design a system of education that uses the spaces we now have—businesses, schools, churches and mosques, community centers—as places of learning, so that we do not spend what little we have on brick on mortar.
Recent evidence depicts clearly that the expansion and enrichment of Africa’s educational system can only happen if Africa is able to harness the power of information communication technology (ICT) to connect teachers and learners to the knowledge they need, wherever that knowledge exits.
Initiatives to date to harness the new communication technologies have made important contributions to the development of education on the continent.
But the pace of change in Africa toward the incorporation of ICT into the work of existing teaching and learning organizations and the creation of new ones needs to be radically accelerated.
The new communication technologies make possible a new kind of educational cooperative, one modeled on the idea of the “commons” familiar in British education: Oxford University, for example, is a consortium of 39 colleges, each with its own campus and privacy spaces, yet able to share important facilities.
The University of London has a similar model, with 19 colleges as members of the “common.”
The trend today is towards the “open campus” model where any institution with a legitimate educational mission would be eligible to join.
Each institution that joins would have its own online privacy space, its own online “campus” for instruction and administration and all activities, yet access to a rich array of shared facilities: a shared library, conference centre, and a growing number of workshops, institutes, and specialized facilities.
We need to commit ourselves to doing as much as we can to harness the power of these new technologies for education, and to spending as little as possible on the old technologies—on the brick and mortar for classrooms and lecture halls and dormitories and the rest of the expensive apparatus that drains resources away from the central needs—teachers and students and knowledge that can be communicated without brick and mortar.
The future of Africa is linked to the future of the computer, to the possibilities of all the new information and communication technologies to move ideas and knowledge to every corner of the continent; to create colleges and universities without walls.
Africa, then, must “leapfrog” the tradition of the school with walls and build a new educational system based on the new information and communication technologies, and on such pedagogies as experiential education and service learning.
Given the present possibilities, to accomplish the transition to a new educational system, there is the need for the establishment of an institution that will partner with institutions in Africa and around the world that are already schools and colleges without walls and are using the new pedagogies, to bring their programs to Africa.
Such an institution will create these partnerships and provide technology-oriented educational services to enable African educational institutions take advantage of the numerous opportunities brought about by information communications technology in education.
The computer and telecommunications—wires and wireless—can bring learning to all the villages and towns of Ghana.
The future is also happening faster than any of us can imagine Let us embrace the changing role of universities in the 21st century.
Let us all share the words of the late Sen. J. William Fulbright:
“We must try, through education, to realize something new in the world— by persuasion rather than by force, cooperatively rather than competitively, not for the purpose of gaining dominance for a nation or an ideology but for the purpose of helping every society develop its own concept of public decency and individual fulfillment.”
These transformations are as needed today as when the Senator wrote about them in 1977.
The educational professionals, agencies, and students will need to share technologies, expertise, and training if we are to move rapidly and affordably to the new educational era.
Progress will be slow or nonexistent if we insist on competing for the new tools and the new skills, or if all of the existing institutions approach the change alone, creating a patchwork of systems using assorted and incompatible technologies and pedagogies.