By Megan Driscoll
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Expanding Access to Education Through e-Learning
The African Virtual University (AVU) was launched by the World Bank in 1997 with the goal of increasing access to education throughout the African continent. It was transferred to Kenya in 2002, and has since become an intergovernmental organization established by a charter signed by Kenya, Senegal, Mauritania, Mali and Cote d'Ivoire. However, AVU's reach isn't limited to those countries: It has 53 partner institutions in 27 countries, reaching across political boundaries to serve students in French, English and Portuguese-speaking Africa.
Over the past 13 years, AVU has focused heavily on e-learning, managing a digital library and building a consortium of African educational institutions. Recently, the organization concluded the Multinational e-Learning Project, which was funded in part by the African Government Bank. The project's goal was to develop teacher education programs in math and science that could be disseminated through e-learning.
Working with a dozen universities in 10 different countries, the AVU developed the local technological infrastructure needed to utilize e-learning, then trained university faculty to use the e-learning system and develop content for it. Finally, the organization developed its first original degree program.
Under the guidance of governmental and university leaders from all 10 countries, as well as international experts, the AVU designed a bachelor's degree program in education that could train teachers through the new e-learning platforms. The hope is that the program will improve education at all levels - not just higher education - by strengthening the teacher pool.
The first class in the program just enrolled in the fall of 2010, so its full impact remains to be seen. However, the AVU also developed two certificate programs for existing teachers that have already had almost 300 graduates. One of the certificates addresses the very basic computing skills that many of Africa's teachers lack. The other trains teachers to integrate information and communication technologies into the classroom.
Opening the AVU
It was during the Multinational e-Learning Project that AVU launched their Open Education Resources (OER) project. The AVU and its partner institutions decided to release all of the 73 modules that make up the teacher education program as OER in order to make the fully developed courses available for free to students who can't afford to enroll in a formal degree program. Ideally, this would extend the reach of the teacher training programs even further.
However, the biggest challenge that AVU's OER project currently faces is reaching students in Africa. Early analytics have indicated that most of the people using the resources are from other parts of the world - of the top 10 countries accessing the site, only one (Kenya) is in Africa.
Nevertheless, the AVU OER portal is a remarkable achievement. Not only did they develop content through a multinational collaboration, they convinced all of their governmental and institutional partners to make it freely available in three different languages. Currently, the AVU OER team is maintaining the resources and working on training more local users in the hopes of gaining broader reach inside the African continent.
Stay tuned for Study.com's interview with Bakary Diallo, a rector at AVU.