The cross-continental classroom: from India to Tanzania
The Government of India and the African Union launched the Pan-African e-Network Project in 2009 to enable Indian universities to share their expertise with their African counterparts. One hundred and fifty students at the University of Dar es Salaam are enrolled in these tele-education programmes, and the reviews have been encouraging.
Ludger Kasumuni reports
The Director of the University of Dar es Salaam’s (UDSM) Centre for Visual Learning, Dr Hashim Twaakyondo, explains that the tele-education initiative is a result of collaboration with three Indian Universities, namely: Amity University, Indira Gandhi University and the University of Madras, which provide live lectures for students in Africa. “It is interactive in nature, and the students are able to pose questions to the lecturers directly. They interact with their peers from universities in other African countries, such as Ghana, Rwanda, Uganda and Nigeria which offer similar programmes,” Twaakyondo says.
The programme, which was launched at UDSM in 2010, is apparently already yielding positive results. “The first intake consisted of 80 students who enrolled in a Master’s Programme two years ago. They are expected to complete their studies this year. There is also another intake of around 70 students pursuing undergraduate programmes,” says Twaakyondo. He explains that the Centre for Visual Learning, which is part of the College of ICT at UDSM, is embarking on mobilising more resources to enable more Tanzanians to benefit from the latest learning and teaching technology offered by this programme.
While the technology used for video conferences itself is not revolutionary, what is new in this case is the enthusiastic cross-continental collaboration of several African and Indian universities. The programme was initially launched in 2008, says Maximilian Makungu, Systems Administrator at the Centre for Visual Learning. “It was an initiative of the Indian government, in collaboration with the African Union. The plan is to boost ICT development and education in Africa. “At present, the lessons are given through videoconferences delivered via a powerful satellite erected in India, but at some point we’ll have lectures aired through satellite centres within Africa,” Makungu says. Over forty thousand students across Africa are enrolled in these courses, and countries involved include Cameroon, Uganda and Zambia.
The Coordinator of the Centre for Visual Learning at UDSM, Zedekia Musabalala, says that the Indian universities provide some books and other learning materials. Making a comparison with the students taking regular courses at UDSM, Musabalala says that students enrolled in the tele-education programmes are at a clear advantage where the learning process is concerned. The lecture rooms at UDSM are usually overcrowded with between 150 and 400 students crammed into a small space, thus making communication between students and lecturers difficult, Musabalala says.
However, those students taking the tele-education courses have a happier story to tell. Williafa Mlinga, a BSc Information Technology student, says that the tele-education courses not only afford students the chance to engage with the latest software and innovations in Information Communication Technology, but these courses are internationally recognised, thus giving UDSM students an obvious advantage over students at other local universities who are faced with out-dated ICT curricula. “An important feature of the courses is that they are run over two semesters every year and are flexible. This gives us an efficient learning environment,” Mlinga explains. “You can access learning materials through the Internet at any time because the lectures are also recorded.”
Mlinga, a civil servant, says that another factor making the tele-education courses attractive to students is the reasonable fees. The Master’s and Bachelor’s programmes set students back a mere Sh.1.5 million (about US$940) per annum, which is affordable for those who are employed. Mlinga is also impressed with the fact that there have not been any cases of cheating or examination paper leaks—a difficulty faced by many local universities. With tele-education, the risk of handwriting forgery and cheating is reduced because all exams are coded through a special computer system.
Another student, Ruva Tunze who is reading for an MBA in Finance & Control, told eLearning Africa News that through the tele-education course conducted with Amity University in India, she has learnt much about her specialisation—particularly fund raising and financial management. She says the video conferences are of good quality, so students are able to understand the lectures without difficulty and interact through live question and answer sessions with the Indian-based lecturers.
Salum Msongela is a second year student working towards a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) degree. He expressed similar views and reiterated sentiments about the tele-education programme offering a superior quality of education than that offered at local universities, which are often characterised by a poor learning and teaching environment. This is, in large part, because of overcrowding, sub-standard lectures, absenteeism amongst lecturing staff and a lack of adequate learning materials. ”With the tele-education video conferences, I’m exposed to the latest knowledge and also get to experience foreign cultures and learning attitudes. We’re gaining so much knowledge that can be applied in Tanzania.”