The 8th WACREN Conference held in Accra was a resounding success, bringing together stakeholders from across the research and education ecosystem to discuss and unveil new solutions for the challenges faced in the digital education landscape. In this edition, we highlight some key initiatives and discussions from the conference that are shaping the future of digital education in Africa.

The COVID-19 pandemic was a rude awakening for the education ecosystem across the World; sub-Saharan Africa felt it more. Since the pandemic, attention has been devoted to digital education, and this is making RENs in Africa indispensable in the quest for scalable digital education in Africa. The journey to scalability has been a checkered one – with successes, challenges, and lessons all in the play.

As a regional REN, WACREN, through its Digital Education Programme, has begun to explore and provide solutions to the digital education deficits by helping to close the digital gaps through the national RENs. The Programme is WACREN’s multi-prong approach leveraging the power of the REN to ensure more sustainable pedagogical continuity.

Closing the Connectivity Gap: A Priority for Digital Education

Digital education thrives on reliable broadband internet. However, according to UNESCO, 82% of learners lack reliable internet access in Sub-Saharan Africa. The situation makes it difficult for educators and students to participate in online learning programs, access educational resources, and collaborate to undertake research germane to national and global concerns. As a result, students in areas with poor internet connectivity may not have access to the same educational opportunities as their peers in areas with better connectivity. This further exacerbates existing educational inequalities.

The World Bank recommends a minimum speed of 100Mbps-1Gbps should be available to all university campuses in Africa to address the increase in academic data traffic, e-learning processes, and the development of new computer applications and platforms. Under the AfricaConnect project, WACREN has connected six countries (out of 22 countries in its region) to its backbone. The least bandwidth a country currently gets is 155 Mbps and the highest is seven (7) Gbps. 90% of the countries are sea-facing; the challenges bedeviling the extension of connection to landlocked countries is quite gargantuan but efforts are being made to scale that. Millions of educators and learners across the region are experiencing relief from unreliable, expensive, slow, and lightweight bandwidth. Now they have access to unlimited possibilities.

WACREN is on an advocacy drive to draw in more investments and favorable policies from governments and international donor organisations to tackle the connectivity issue by supporting NRENs.

Empowering Education: Enabling Widespread Adoption of Video-based E-Learning

Digital education, especially e-learning and distance education thrives on not only infrastructure, and equipment but also video-enabled pedagogy at the delivery end of the chain.

According to a study by the African Virtual University, video-based e-learning is effective in increasing student engagement and motivation. Video provides an effective way to deliver engaging, interactive, and personalized learning experiences to students, and can be used to supplement lectures, provide real-world examples, and demonstrate complex concepts. Because of this, WACREN is revolutionising its video service offering in a way that will meet current demands and dynamics.

WACREN has created an innovative video-based content delivery system to support pedagogical delivery throughout the region. The WACREN video kit is currently undergoing pilot testing as part of the Africa Digital Campus project in Benin and Burkina Faso. This tool empowers educators to easily create and deliver content while fostering a sense of ownership. Additionally, WACREN has developed a web-based video streaming and archiving platform that allows educators to create and manage videos with collaborative features.

WACREN is also looking into integrating data science and AI technologies that can be used to analyze student data and provide insights into their learning progress, helping teachers to identify areas where students are struggling and provide targeted support. AI-based tools can also be used to personalize learning experiences for individual students, ensuring that they receive the support and resources they need to succeed.

Enabling Secure Access to Local and Global Resources

With digital education, knowledge is locked up in the online space; but the ‘right people’ with the ‘right credentials’ should access the ‘right resources, tools, and services, securely – to both the knowledge seeker, the service provider and institution where the knowledge seeker is based. This is where identity and access management platforms come in to federate the digital identities of users in a trusted, secure manner.

However, some universities do not have an organised way of assigning and federating digital identities for their community of academic users. This makes identity and access management quite impossible. Against this background, WACREN has developed a simple campus identity management service called BonafID. Pilots are underway at Université Virtuelle de Côte d’Ivoire (UVC)I and some institutions in Nigeria through a local NREN – Eko-Konnect. The goal is to prepare higher education institutions in Africa to participate in the federation.