COVID-19 has forced African universities to re-imagine their futures and seek out ways of adopting blended curriculums that utilize on-line learning formats but don’t entirely sacrifice classroom instruction, according to university officials brought together by the Atlanta-based IUGB Foundation for a Trans-Atlantic webinar May 20.
The IUGB Foundation is an outgrowth of an historical relationship between the International University of Grand-Bassam in the Cote d’Ivoire and Georgia State University. During the webinar, Amini Kajunju, the foundation’s executive director, expressed her support for their mantra “Proudly African With a Global Scope” as representing the common goal of the francophone universities participating in the conference.
“This conversation is showing that bilingual professionals are indispensable in the development of the continent of Africa,” said Ms. Kajunju.
Webinar participants also included Koffi N’Da, dean of the School of Business and Social Science at the International University of Grand-Bassam; Kader Kaneye, founder and president of the African Development University, Niamey, Niger; Leonard Wantchekon, founder and president of the African School of Economics, Cotonou, Benin, and a member of the affiliated faculty at Princeton University; Bertrand Assamoi, and Marieme Diop of the consulting firm Dalberg, which is based in Dakar, Senegal and sponsored the call.
The participants were unanimous in their belief that the historical divide between English and French speaking African countries must be bridged to ensure the development of the continent and agreed that the means to that end involved intensive bilingual instruction.
Since its inception with the support of Georgia State in 2004, the International University of Grand-Bassam’s mission of providing internationally recognized higher education through technology-enhanced English medium instruction seems extraordinarily farsighted.
The eruption of COVID-19 has forced educational institutions around the world, much less African institutions, to adopt on-line courses and to grapple with a wide variety of issues concerning their futures such as the development of partnerships especially with information technology companies and internet providers on behalf of the students, financing the general needs of the universities and on-line course development.
Dr. N’Da said that the International University of Grand-Bassam was able to place many of its courses on-line but that the shift was difficult for its 800 students who were caught off guard by the disruption and forced to go home. Those from regions with minimal internet access were particularly challenged, he added.
On the other hand, Mr. Kaneye said that he was surprised by the speed with which both the faculty and student body of some 200 students reacted. “The impact was beyond our wildest imaginations,” he said. “There was intensive learning of how to do it on-line and it was easier than could have been imagined.”
While Mr. Kaneye’s students were adaptable, he admitted that his university hadn’t received as of yet payment for the new on-line courses. With the development of widespread on-line learning, he said that he feared the students at the moment “feel that they don’t have to pay anymore.”
The costs of paying for the internet platforms, the provision of computers or other devices for students, and the development of the courses with both classroom and on-line applications all would take funding for which the universities would need the support of public and private sources.
Ms. Kajunju also emphasized the need to gauge the motivation of the students and the impact on learning.
The threat of COVID-19, they added, might change the desire of students to study abroad, which could have the positive effect of encouraging more locally-based development, more local innovation and more self-reliance.
But the shortage of both schools and teachers remains a problem, they asserted.