Similarly, the pandemic has prompted Ethiopian schools and higher education insitutions to resort to technology supported delivery of courses following order of closure of all schools and higher education institutions on March 16th, 2020. To stave off the specter of a wasted academic year for tens of millions of students, the Ethiopian government moved quickly in developing a COVID-19 response plan which prioritized the continuation of education delivery and engagement using technology. For tertiary level students, the plan envisions to promote digital technology to ensure the continuity of teaching and learning during this global health crisis.
In view of that, the Ministry of Science & Higher Education (MoSHE) developed a digital learning platform for university lecturers to upload courses and recordings, and an online digital library platform for both public and private institutions. The Higher Education Relevance and Quality Agency (HERQA) that is under MoSHE, also issued a directive to regulate delivery of online courses by colleges and universities of the country. The directive sets out basic principles for online education governance and requirements that license applicants must meet.
Online classes however, are just the beginning of a long overdue digital revolution of higher education. Beyond the pandemic prompted urgent and vital need to build capacity for distance learning, the digitization of higher education is foundational to the government's recent strategy to digitally transform the Ethiopian economy. Benefits are far reaching for students, teachers, higher education institutions and the country's economy as a whole.
Digital learning offers immense opportunities for improving access to higher learning in Ethiopia where the national higher education and vocational training enrollment rate currently stands at less than 20%. Even though this represents a significant achievement in the last two decades, Ethiopia is still a long way from making tertiary education available to the majority of its burgeoning youth. Digital technology allows higher education institutions to expand their reach by promoting open learning and distance education with the added value of allowing students to study online from any place, eliminating physical location as an obstacle for accessing higher education.
Beyond access, digital learning also opens avenues for targeted and personalized learning approaches that takes into account each student’s strengths and weaknesses. Using Big Data analytics and Artificial Intelligence data can be collected and analyzed to provide insights that personalize education and optimize learning outcome. Professors will be able leverage data to gain greater insight into their students’ progress and customize their teaching methods accordingly. Institutions of higher learning will also be able design early warning systems to identify students at-risk of academic failure to offer interventions that improve retention and graduation rates.
It is well known that Ethiopian higher education institutions have infrastructural challenges such as lack of laboratories to offer their students practical and learning experiences especially in subjects that require students to not only have theoretical knowledge but also practical experience. Immersive technologies such as Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) offer viable alternatives to the expensive physical infrastructure by creating immersive learning environments that enable students to experience even the rarest of occurrences. Beyond bridging the resource gap, such technologies provide a more dynamic approach to learning that is more attuned to the demands of an increasingly tech-savvy student body.
Furthermore, digitization enables higher education institutions to effectively respond to the increasing pressure they face to enhance career outcomes for their students and create better linkages with industry. This is an enormous undertaking that requires constant monitoring of employer needs, market opportunities and designing data-driven interventions to help students pursue their dream employment or entrepreneuship careers upon graduation. Higher education institutions must ensure that the education they provide exposes students to current industry practices and market challenges. This necessitates that their curriculums incorporate cross-sector skills such as critical thinking, creativity, communication, teamwork and project-based learning that engages students to solve real world problems. Machine learning and A.I. have proven to be effective in aligning learning objectives with the needs of the local economy. Furthermore, a variety of digital platforms can be used to connect students with companies in different industries based on students’ skills and project experience. They also enable companies to effectively scout for graduates with sought after skills.
Digital learning offers so many undeniable benefits to students, teachers, educational institutions and the overall Ethiopian economy that should be an integral part of educational system. All this can only be accomplished through strong and sustainable public-private partnerships and continuous collaboration between MoSHE, the Ministry of Innovation & Technology, the Jobs Creation Commission, technology platform providers and institutions that foster entrepreneurship such as centers of excellence, startup incubators and accelerators, to create the necessary linkage between higher education, innovation and the Ethiopian economy.
The pandemic has exposed deficiencies in the world's educational system and has accelerated the move towards effective and decentralized learning. In this ever-growing digital age, we can ill-afford to exploit digital technology to expand the reach of our educational systems to more young citizens who need tertiary level education to drive our much delayed integration into the global economy. The time to start is now for digital learning is way of the future.
Author Michael Tesfaye Hiruy