Just about everywhere in Sub-Saharan Africa, universities, and higher education in general, are facing various kinds of difficulties. They include the exponential growth in student numbers over the years, cramped and inadequate lecture auditoriums, lack of documentation, shortage of teachers for certain subjects, insufficient resources to cope with all these demands, and so on.
The consequences of this situation include a drop in the quality of education, inability to provide mass training and difficult learning conditions.
The future of higher education will thus be endangered if nothing is done to overcome these problems.
The emergence of the new information and communication technologies, and above all their use as a teaching medium, is perceived, rightly or wrongly, as a “miracle solution” to the problems of providing university access for the greatest number of students and improving the quality of training in universities and institutes. Today, moreover, there are many distance learning programmes on offer worldwide from universities or specialized bodies which give satisfactory results. Would it be right to think, however, that the new information and communication technologies will provide definitive solutions to the problems described above? Do these solutions replace or supplement existing facilities?
And how can they be used to best possible advantage? How does one go about implementing a distance learning project in a difficult economic context, that is, how can technologies and platforms be selected which take into account the teaching methods used and financial constraints whilst pursuing the objectives of improving the quality of teaching, learning conditions and independent learning and, at the same time, providing education for the greatest number?
The technologies in use that we have selected are videoconferencing, digital video, teamwork and the virtual office.
A platform for open and distance learning is a software package that provides assistance in the conduct of distance learning. This type of software includes the tools required by the three main users (teachers, students, administrators) of a range of equipment intended for the remote consultation of educational content, the individualization of learning and distance tutoring.
After an inventory and comparative study of a wide range of platforms, we were able to highlight a very strong correlation between cost, technology and education methodology.
Arouna Ouedraogo, 2 January 2003
Translated from French by UNESCO