Importance of e-learning for developing countries


Deploying e-learning to developing countries might initially sound paradoxical. After all those are countries that lack the infrastructure found elsewhere, so how could they support the state of the art in learning?

It turns out that the state of the art might be more forgiving to the lack of certain infrastructures, than past methodologies. And, even more importantly for developing nations, much more cost effective.

It’s something that we’ve seen in play these past 20 years. Poor African countries that lacked a wired telecommunication infrastructure, for example, found it easier and cheaper to adopt mobile telephony, to the point that 80% of the population owns a cellphone and even has access to data services.

E-learning is like that, in that it reduces costs traditionally associated with education (such as for classrooms and educational material), to the point that it becomes affordable to a developing nation. A connection to the internet, an LMS deployment and a few cheap PCs are all that is needed to give kids access to a vast array of educational material.

E-learning is also uniquely suited to some other challenges those nations face, such as deficient highway systems which make transporting kids from remote rural areas difficult (let’s not forget that some of the earlier uses of e-learning in the 20th century was to educate kids living in remote areas in the vast Australian expanses).

Besides basic education, developing nations can leverage e-learning for skills acquisition, something extremely important for countries that seek to increase competitiveness and employment, making them more attractive to foreign investments but also fostering a business and entrepreneurial culture adapted and catering to local needs.

In fact the sharp rise of e-learning adoption seen in African countries (which we’ll discuss below) can be partly attributed to the increased needs of their corporate sector, and the resulting need for skilled employees.

It’s not all roses though.

E-learning strategies used in Western countries cannot be adopted wholesale by developing countries, as the latter lack high speed internet access, cheap bandwidth, trained IT personnel, and, depending on the country or the area, even stable access to electrical power.

The initial cost of an e-learning deployment, too, while much reduced compared to building a traditional school and equipping it with schoolbooks and learning material, can still be quite substantial for a developing country, a poor prefecture or even war-stricken zones. In this case, international organizations (such as UNESCO) and NGO efforts, like the One Laptop Per Child initiative, can help tremendously.

Another challenge is in motivating students, which can be problematic in traditionally rural areas that weren’t open to education before.

E-learning might be an asset in this regard, as students have been reported to get especially engaged with their computers, to the point of being able to hack them in a short time (without anybody teaching them how to) in order to expand their capabilities.

The revolution has started

Market research already reveals Africa as the leader in e-learning growth, with a forecasted 15% annual growth rate for the next 4 years, and individual countries such as Senegal and Zambia exhibiting up to 30% growth in e-learning reach and deployments.

There are several recent developments that helped facilitate this growth, the major one being state investments in the internet infrastructure, and especially fiber optic connectivity between regions, that lowered internet access costs to reasonable levels (previously satellite access, which is prohibitively expensive, was the primary connectivity medium).

Other factors that we see play out in Africa and other developing regions, in Asia and Latin America, is increased competition between telecoms and ISPs that lower prices to attract customers, resulting in increased adoption of internet and mobile technologies. Especially the latter is expected to play a large role in advancing e-learning in developing nations.

Despite initial hurdles and challenges, the future looks promising for e-learning adoption in the developing world. In fact, if the current growth rates continue, some developing countries might soon pass Western countries in e-learning adoption.

Decreasing internet costs and access to cheaper, more sophisticated, computers and tablets, will only help in this regard. And the new, better educated generation that will emerge, will help bootstrap an even more advanced system for the next one.

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  • nyirendac

    Nice post. I am a Malawian national but I am currently working as Computer Engineering lecturer in Namibia. I would like to get in touch with people who are running e-learning projects in African countries. I would like to learn from them and start up a project in my country, Malawi.

    • Benjamin Gary Law

      Dear Nyirendac,

      I am part of an organisation called Enactus Sheffield, based in the UK. We aim to tackle social issues in different parts of the world by creating sustainable, scalable and commercially viable projects that also empower people to continue to tackle the problem.

      After reading some of your discussions I am interested to hear your ideas on setting up an e-learning project in African countries. Although we are not experts in technology I believe that by working together with the expertise you have in computer engineering and your knowledge of Malawi, we can create something that could tackle the problems that you wish to solve.

      More specifically, I am interested to know if you could describe a specific problem in a specific area in Malawi, as it is very hard for us to implement projects without knowledge of the area, the culture and also the specific problems that each community experience.

      If you find this opportunity interesting, please do get it in touch with us through our email, and then perhaps we could set up some sort of Skype call. Even speaking to you about specific problems in other African countries would be invaluable as we set up all kinds of projects. For example Technology projects that tackle health issues, or projects that deal with recycling or maternal care etc.

      Here is our email:


      Best Regards,

      Benjamin Law

      • nyirendac

        Dear Benjamin,

        Thank for getting in touch. I definitely find the opportunity that you suggesting to me very interesting. I am interested in initiating an E-learning project at Mzokoto Primary School in Rumphi District in Malawi. I grew up in this area and did all my primary school education here. I will will put up a preliminary paper, in which I will explain the issues that you have mentioned above. I will send it to you after the festive season.

  • kiplagat1

    Great insight E-Learning is the way to go i am working in Kenya Nyirendac has a point it should not only be in Malawi where we can introduce this IT technology but in the entire Africa region more so in rural areas to enhance IT empowerment in terms of IT revolution.