At the eLearning Africa Conference in Dar es Salaam held recently, I managed to sneak in to one of the presentations after having been introduced by my colleague Siro Masinde to a Gerald Henzinger, who works at the Catholic University of Mozambique at the Center for Distance Learning. Having been back for a few weeks now and thinking about what I learned there, I am certainy glad that the most recent eLearning Africa newsletter mentioned the presentation and the work Gerald is doing in Mozambique as it was fascinating. I just simply managed to forget. I managed to miss Dr. Winters part of this presentation (which I am kicking myself for), but will hopefully make up for that in the future.
The presentation was on New Technologies in a restricted environment, environments with financial, technological, and, in Mozambique’s case, massive geographical limitations. As the newsletter pointed out (via quotes from several of the participants), mobile learning in this context is being driven by a huge demand for distance education. Countries like Mozambique (zoom out on map below to see the stretch of the country along the coast and just imagine the limitations and difficulties that places on traditional communication and transportation infrastructures) have a particular need for distance education due to the considerable transport times needed to get to localized educational centers. 5 hours or more is not uncommon, as the presentation points out.
So, the focus, rightly so, keys on the most widely accessible form of technology (mobile SMS) and works from there focusing on developmental/practical needs. One of the first projects mentioned was a teacher training program for teachers in remote areas who lack electricity/Internet. The Center for Distance Learning sends bulk SMS messages to teachers throughout the region and allow them to communicate with other staff, other students, or the university on the subject matter they are teaching or even for administrative issues. A nice example of using mobile technology for making a community of practice more cohesive. Instant peer and authoritative support and presumably a good dissemination network for best practices.
What stood out about Gerald’s presentation (perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising, but it was to me) was the demographic of the student. Skewed older (33), working, predominantly male (74%-26%-I wonder if this parallels traditional education throughout the country or is it particularly heightened in distance education?), and far away (40% have to travel more than 5 hours to get to contact sessions). As good a case for distance education as any. So, with these factors and the ready availability, we see ingenuity leading to learning. There are thousands of these examples throughout Africa, but it was very good to see someone speaking (I imagine the entire panel was speaking this way) on the level of implementation. Please see the presentation below, but it is nice to see some mobile learning examples coming from Lusophone Africa (Angola & Mozambique).
It was just refreshing and encouraging to see developments like this, especially efforts rallying around and in direct response to such a need. I imagine this can (and probably already has) be extended to other aspects of need, including literacy, environmental stewardship, even medical care, both inside and outside the formal educational structure. I wish Mozambique the best in these efforts.