Monday, January 2, 2017

Attending eLearning Africa Conference in Egypt

Arriving in Cairo
In May 2016, it was my joy and privilege to attend the 11th eLearning Africa Conference in Cairo, Egypt. I was able to attend the Conference with the support of the e/Merge Africa Network of which I am part of the co-ordinating team. Travel to Cairo was almost like the legendary Cape to Cairo as I first flew to Johannesburg using South African Airways and then connected from Johannesburg to Cairo using Egypt Air. Those that have transited through OR Tambo International Airport before will realize that it is a busy airport and has a lot to offer the traveller who would want to shop, relax and eat a good meal before the next flight. I was able to meet my niece and the husband with their kids on my return flight from Cairo at the airport where we had a nice breakfast meal. Flying from Johannesburg to Cairo took a total of almost seven hours. We landed in Cairo at about 04 00 AM and settled in our hotel by about 07 00 AM. 

Conference Venue
The eLearning Africa Conference was held at the majestic Royal Kempinski Hotel. I would not be exaggerating to say that it was one of the best Conference venues where the eLearning Africa Conference has been held. Definitely it had one of the best rest rooms I have seen in a Conference venue with a place to hang coats and some warm face cloths to dry one’s hands after their business in the rest rooms. The meals were excellent and the Conference hosts were on point. Those that are familiar with Arabian hospitality know that they go out of their way to make visitors feel at home. This I experienced on the flight, at the Conference venue and at the hotel.

Conference Highlights
The highlights of the Conference were:

  • The Keynote speeches that were delivered.
  • The Spotlight sessions. I especially enjoyed the sessions that were done by Professor Johannes Cronje of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) and Dr. Maggie de Beukes of the University of Namibia. Prof. Cronje spoke on how he had taken advantage of the #feesmustfall Campaign in South African universities to engage with students, using technology with social media such as WhatsApp for example, during the students protests this enabling learning to continue uninteruppted . Dr Beukes spoke on how she had managed the change at University of Namibia in the Centre for Open Distance and eLearning so that all staff were on board. 
  • e/Merge Africa Pre-Conference Session: It was a delight to organize this session and lead a discussion where we tackled a Higher Education challenge that some participants were facing using a methodology called “Peer Assist”  
  • Chairing a session on Blogger Skills for Self-employed, Small and Medium Enterprises where two researchers made excellent presentations on: Africa Talks eLearning: A New Online Learning Platform for Journalists by Casey Frechette from the University of South Florida, USA and Facilitating Distance Learning in a Virtual Classroom: UNSSC Success Factors, Tools, Tips and Techniques by Moyomola Bolarin from the United Nations Staff College (UNSSC) in Italy.
  • Viewing the exhibition by Biblica Alexandria, one of the world’s oldest library. The Library uses technology a lot and  strategically through digital museums making it easier to view ancient Egyptian artifacts from various angles which can not be done in a physical museum. 
Exploring Cairo
It was a pleasure to explore parts of Cairo during our spare time and after the Conference. The Conference hosts organized a very powerful dinner for participants outside the Gize Pyramids. The performances and narration of the pyramids during the dinner was excellent. We also witnessed the launch of Sa Wawa an Innovation Company which was done in flamboyant style. 

Together with the e/Merge Africa team, I visited the Police Museum which afforded us a panoramic view of Cairo. We then proceeded to the Size Pyramids as we bypassed the majestic River Nile. Words do not give me justice to explain our experiences as I saw the ancient Pyramids for the first time. Suffice to say I was lost in wonder to notice such majestic construction which was done many hundreds to years ago before most parts of the world had experienced civilisation. We were as it were taken back in time as we rode on camels and horse chariots through the desert to have a clearer view of the pyramids. After this visit we visited a shop where were taken through the process of how painting is done on papyrus with all of us buying governors from the shop and also buying perfumes downstairs made from natural plants. What a historic and educative trip this was to Egypt, one of the leading tourist destinations in Africa! Below is a photo of Jerome, myself and Mohammed at the Pyramids.

Some observations
  • Cairo is one of Africa’s most populated cities. We stayed in New Cairo with a population of 5 million while old Cairo has 20 million people! Imagine that!
  • Egypt has strong family ties. Outside our hotel we would see families coming to relax and have meals every evening. In old Cairo we saw families having tea in the streets as late as midnight when we were returning form the Conference organized dinner.
  • The strides made in ICTs especially ICTs in education were evident during the eLearning Africa Conference. There is much that other African nations can learn from Egypt with regards to use of technology in teaching and learning. 
  • The Egyptians are very hospitable and love to welcome visitors. 

Vocational Education and Training Development Symposium in Namibia

Group Photo of Symposium Delegates at College Hotel

In the last week of August 2016, I attended a Vocational Education and Training Development Symposium at the Namibia University of Science and Technology in Windhoek, Namibia. The Symposium organised by the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) and the University of Röstock, Germany was supported by the Volkswagen (VW) Foundation. The Symposium brought together representatives from 16 countries to establish networks for increased opportunities for research and collaboration between VET practitioners. The symposium was held under the theme “Current situation and development of further education research in Vocational Education and Training in Sub-Saharan Africa”. 

Objective of Symposium
The main objective of the Symposium was to develop a framework for the establishment of a training system for Vocational Education and Training (VET) at postgraduate level in Sub-Saharan African universities. Participants were drawn from various higher educational and Vocational Education and Training institutions, Government departments and regulatory institutions. 

Official Opening
The Symposium was officially opened by the Vice Chancellor of the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST), Professor Tjama Tjivikua. He noted that Namibia needed to take cognisance of the fact the role VET needs to play in Namibia to achieve Vision 2030, was dependent on the quality of systems, instructors and facilities. “Professional skills alone are not adequate to churn out well-trained artisans. There is a need to train instructors in Technical Education Didactics for the effective transfer of skills.” 

Prof. Friedhelm Eicker, University of Rostock and Prof. Bernd Lennartz, University of Siegen who were Chairpersons of the Symposium highlighted the background of the Symposium. They noted that TVET experts of various theoretical and practical fields and especially TVET junior scientists from South Africa, Mozambique, Ethiopia and other African states  find it difficult to analyse and reflect the existing situation and foreseeable developments of TVET in Sub-Saharan Africa. Therefore, it is difficult to bring the Sub-Saharan achievements, the findings and the results into the international scientific discussions on TVET and to the TVET networks. The Symposium therefore offered a unique opportunity to participants from Sub-Saharan African countries and from other countries to initiate the discussion about TVET and the education and further education of the vocational educators. 

Ullrich Kinne, Deputy Head of Mission at the German Embassy in Namibia, underscored his country’s reputable vocational education system which he encouraged others to emulate. He emphasised the need to address challenges that hinder the growth of the sector in Sub-Saharan Africa, such as the lack of qualified staff  and the high number of dropouts. 

Keynote Presentations
Four (4) keynote presentations were made by eminent scholars and researchers. 
The symposium had parallel sessions held on 23rd and 24th August 2016. On 23rd August with a total of thirty papers presented at the parallel sessions with the following themes: 
  • “Vocational Education and Training – Basics for Teaching and Research in Vocational  Education and Training at Universities”.
  • Establishment of a VET-system with focus on further education – presentation of ideas on the motivation and establishment of a further education system, especially in universities in Sub-Sahara Africa
  • What are concepts or conditions of success for a networked VET learning and teaching (oriented on competence, working practice, flexible, etc.) and especially for a networked further education system in VET? 

Symposium Discussions

The discussions, the examples and the statements showed that it adopting cannot concepts of Vocational Education from Europe, the Anglo-American or the Asian education market was not a viable solution for African nations. It is also not productive to aim at a common African solution. Each African country has its own experience, ideas, possibilities and political agenda, what results in certain financial resources, administrative structures and pre-developed education frameworks. Zhao Zhiqun from China observed: “The regions must create individual strategies for TVET.”

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