Distance Learning for Developing Countries

There are millions of people around the world, right now, who wish to access higher education but cannot. For example, in Sub-Saharan Africa, only 6% of all eligible students are able to access higher education (UNESCO). Online learning is one way of distance learning that presents an extraordinary opportunity to help address disparities in access across developing countries. It allows anyone, anywhere in the world, to study without requiring governments or private parties to expend heavy investments required in establishing and expanding traditional universities. Online learning allows for a more equitable and accessible higher education system whereby rural students can complete their studies without leaving their communities and students working to support their family can take advantage of a flexible study schedule.

Yet, the use of Internet technology in education within developing countries can be challenging. In places with minimal infrastructure the application of this solution is not always straightforward. There are problems to consider such as the fact that many in developing countries do not have computers or individual Internet access, and if they do, it is usually not with broadband Internet. Broadband in developing countries is expensive relative to annual salaries. Many students study in Internet cafes, a good number of which do not have broadband Internet.

Fortunately, the challenges of broadband restrictions and study in Internet cafes instead of personal computers can be overcome. Quality education can be achieved with technology and delivery modes that do not need broadband and are sensitive to public cafe studying. Using open technology such as Moodle, open educational resources that are not necessarily audio or video, peer to peer learning, and asynchronous study for anytime, anywhere learning students are enabled access to quality learning inside Internet cafes and places without broadband.

As governments and private parties alike invest more in the provision of Internet access and broadband availability in developing countries, and private computer ownership becomes more established, advanced technology can be added to the learning experience; however we are a long way from this point. At present, disparities in higher educational access can be addressed with attention to the manner and material delivered. Sophisticated technology is not required. Indeed, there are solutions available, right now, for those long denied the right to access higher education.