IGNOU spreads wings in Africa via tele-education

September 10th, 2010 - 2:45 pm ICT by IANS  

By Madhulika Sonkar
New Delhi, Sep 10 (IANS) The life of Francis Mbangwa, a Kenyan farmer in his late 20s, revolved around crops and fertiliser. He would eagerly wait for the harvest season, sometimes face a severe financial crunch because of a bad crop.

Today Francis is a marketing manager in a leading corporate firm in Kenya. The turnaround happened when Francis decided to pursue his bachelor’s degree from New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), said to be the world’s largest university.

“I always wanted an opportunity to expand my frontiers of knowledge. IGNOU came at the right time in Africa. It was through IGNOU that I got a glimpse of the Indian education system. The courses are well structured, affordable, with a focussed approach and a market value,” said Mbangwa in a documentary screened here.

In 2008, IGNOU signed an agreement with Telecommunications Consultants India Limited (TCIL) to begin its tele-education programme.

Now, it has been able to reach students in Ethiopia, Malawi, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Somalia, Rwanda, Senegal, Egypt, Ethiopia, Mauritius, Benin and Botswana.

The project is funded by the Indian government with a budgeted cost of Rs.5.43 billion ($117 million).

“It’s a collaborative move. We have set up connectivity terminals with Ethiopian authorities for wireless communication,” TCIL’s director of technical division Vimal Wakhlu told IANS.

Apart from tele-education, the joint initiative covers 53 member states in African Union, supporting tele-medicine, e-commerce, e-governance, infotainment, resource-mapping and meteorological services.

IGNOU has over 2.8 million students and offers 138 courses, most of them long distance. It runs nearly 3,000 study centres and also has 60 overseas centres.

According to officials, the tele-education network is highly popular among students for its academic and vocational courses. “Virtual remote classrooms have enabled a two-way interaction between the teachers and students through mobile telephony and various other tools,” an official added.

What gave the tele-education network a boost was the state-of-the-art infrastructure in distance education that IGNOU has attained over the years.

“Academics, logistics and other operational dimensions of the tele-education system have been the key concerns of its pan-African network,” the official added.

For Joyce, another Kenyan, IGNOU came just at the right time in her life.

The mother of two kids was disappointed when all the universities she approached asked her to be a full-time student. “It was not possible as I was working in a bank,” she said.

“I came across IGNOU’s distance education programme in Kenya. Trust me, this course has worked wonders for me,” she said, adding it was instrumental in her getting a promotion.

Silima Nanda, director in the international division at IGNOU, said: “We want to cater to all sections of civilians who want to get back to their studies. These people aspire to be self-employed and we at IGNOU want to give them a platform.”

The programmes under this network are vocational as well as academic, including masters in business administration, human resources, marketing, tourism management and environment studies and various other professional degrees.

Over 600 students have enrolled for these courses, while so far 26 students have already got their MBA degrees, which is the most popular under the tele-education network.

However, Mbangwa feels the programmes offered should be revised with the changing demands of the market.

“The Kenyan education system is very competitive; so these courses need to be customised from time to time which will suit the students and meet the highly demanding professions,” he added.

Joe Mwangi Mbuthia, director of the Centre for Open and Distance Education in Kenya, also praised IGNOU’s project.

“The partnership is excellent. IGNOU has been the best choice for our students because of the high quality study material. It has attained a status higher than any other public university in Kenya,” he said.

“We plan to introduce more courses. It has removed all barriers of topography for our students,” added Mbuthia.

(Madhulika Sonkar can be contacted at madhulika.sonkar@gmail.com)

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