In the framework of the DIRECCT and AU-EU D4D hub projects, two EU-funded programmes that support people-centred digital transformation in Africa, a two-day workshop was held in Abidjan to support the development of e-learning in West Africa and to set up an extensive sharing network.

Ministerial meeting

Led by the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF), the workshop brought together 7 UEMOA countries, so 5 ministers of higher education, representatives of Guinea, many university rectors as well as actors involved in the development of e-learning in the region took part in the exchanges: WACREN, the French Development Agency, the Belgian cooperation agency Enabel, the AU-EU D4D Hub and the ADC, Wehubit and DIRECCT programmes.

The emergence of a West African e-learning exchange network

The challenge: to encourage the emergence of an e-learning exchange network between West African countries, and more particularly the production and sharing of online courses, their free access, joint training of teachers, institutional collaboration between virtual universities, etc. This pooling of skills, tools and knowledge will benefit students first and foremost, as the vast majority of them do not currently have access to online courses.

West Africa is one of the very first French-speaking regions to launch such an initiative. It is initiated and supported by the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie. “This initiative is part of the common values shared by the EU and the African Union. In this framework, the right to education for all citizens is part of human rights, the backbone of the European Union’s external action,” said the head of the European Union’s cooperation department, Massimo Scalorbi, at the opening of the workshop.

A digital response to the challenges of higher education

Higher education in West Africa faces many challenges; for example, face-to-face study centres are difficult to access for students, both in terms of transport and available places. Each year, we have about 55,000 new baccalaureate holders, which means that today, for every 4 students who arrive in higher education, we have only one place,” said the Minister of Higher Education and Research of Togo, H.E. Ihou Majesté N. WATEBA.

Online education appears to be one of the possible answers because it allows for wider access to higher education. During the workshop, many avenues were discussed to improve connectivity, particularly with WACREN which has already provided quality solutions to several African universities. The training of teachers is one of the keys to the successful development of online courses, their quality is one of the guarantees of appropriation by students.

The ADC project – Africa Digital Campus – implemented by the AUF is currently working on this component of e-learning. During the workshop, a study on the different economic models was also presented and discussed. The sustainability of e-learning depends on its economic viability, several modes of financing exist and must be studied from the design of virtual systems.

The projects are important and strategic; for the ministries, it is essential to implement them as a priority. The Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research of Côte d’Ivoire, Adama Diawara, called for the commitment of his peers: “We must take advantage of the opportunities that digital technology offers us to provide answers to the major challenges of education. The integration of ICT into academic practices appears to be a viable and credible solution.

Commitments to make collaboration more concrete

The commitment of the parties was materialised through the recommendations described in the final press release (available here), which set out the actions to be implemented in each country, such as the strengthening of human capital, the improvement of infrastructures and training; and through regional actions mainly aimed at facilitating synergies between countries on actions, means and legislative frameworks.

At the end of the workshop, the regional director of the AUF, Mrs. Ouidad TEBBAA, indicated: “Our objective is to set up a framework of dialogue with the creation of a network of exchanges and sharing of experiences to reinforce and enlighten the decision-making. In fine, it is a question of pooling resources to be more effective.