A Critical Perspective on the Challenges for Blended Learning and Teaching in Africa’s Higher Education

A Critical Perspective on the Challenges for Blended Learning and Teaching in Africa’s Higher Education

Alfred T. Kisubi (University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2014-8.ch009


This chapter challenges the readers’ thinking forward in some essential areas of educational change driven by the international imperative for Information and Communication technologies (ICT). It grapples realistically but also hopefully and creatively with many of the seemingly intractable difficulties that people involved in African change encounter, especially during this ICT age: Government policy makers and their usually politically handpicked higher-education administrators who see education reform as a national security priority, but, nevertheless, cede the responsibility of not only financing, but also implementing reform to international donors, who seldom serve Africa’s interests, but push their own agendas disguised as global development “aid.” These international “development” agencies inadvertently subvert equity oriented change efforts and substitute them with those of a comprador team of global and local state elite gainers, who push the responsibility of development through the state’s means of coercion down to the local, scarcely funded entities, such as the African higher education institutions (HEI). This wanton, undemocratic devolution or “structural adjustment,” results in the African HEIs, and governments’ extensive and deep-seated failings that make any hope of improvement appear to be far beyond reach. This chapter illustrates how and why that happens and makes suggestions for solutions.
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Higher Learning Institutions In Africa: An Overview

The first universities in Africa were modeled very closely on European origins, particularly in Anglophone and Francophone Africa, where the overall purpose “of these institutions was to provide the necessary indigenous support staff for the colonial administration.” Within these institutions “there was an overemphasis on the arts and humanities, with little attention given to the science, technology, economics and other professional subjects” (Nga’mbi, 2006, p. 15).

This colonial mission changed with the gaining of “independence” by African nations. Instead, African universities were expected to serve the interests and join in the development agendas of their respective countries. According to Mamdani (2007), writing about Makerere University in Uganda, “the first serious discussion on the need to reform this elitist colonial institution was at the time of independence in 1962. It focused on two issues: first, the need to Africanize the academic staff, and then, the relevance of teaching programs” (p. 2). The turmoil that followed independence may have stalled African universities but since the rejuvenation of the continent, through the movement for multiparty democracy following the end of the Cold War, there has been renewed interest in higher education in Africa, particularly after the years of neglect. However, the Foundation Partnership (2004) reports that some universities have shown a higher aptitude for engaging innovative reforms than others, and sees the former as “on the move”, towards transformation, both from both an institutional and wider society perspective (Nga’mbi, 2006).

These institutions now offer innovative and diversified curricula, including vocational and professional education programs, greater subject choice (rather than specialization), and an emphasis on African culture, not only through the humanities and social sciences but also through incorporating important aspects of indigenous knowledge into courses in medicine, technology, and architecture (Foundation Partnership, 2004; Nga’mbi, 2006).

It is in light of the current state of the African university that some have argued that innovative reforms offer the best way out of the crisis. In light of broader contemporary global issues, such innovative changes would include “massification of higher education; globalization; the rise of the knowledge society and the information driven global economy; the changing labor market; the impact of new ICTs; the internationalization of higher education and finally, the growing demand for higher education institutions to function as market-like organization in the context of fiscal constraints” (Nga’mbi, 2006).

The potential of ICT utilization in Africa’s economic development and its ripple effects is there, and when and if that happens, both African and overseas’ universities will benefit in many ways. For example, in spite of all the country-specific challenges, a project is underway to integrate communication through harmonizing ICT infrastructure across Africa. It is envisioned and envisaged that the project will contribute to bridging the current digital divide. The political will seems to be on course, too. The formation of the African Union (AU) is a step in the right direction because it brings the 54 African countries closer to the dream of African unity, which began in 1900 with the spirit of Pan-Negroidism, a.k.a Pan-Africanism.

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