E-learning strengthens educational capacity

Enhancing ICT competence and capacity in bio-entrepreneurship education is central for reaching a wide number of students in sub-Saharan Africa. PBL-BioAfrica has started on this task by investigating teachers’ current usage of digital learning platforms in Kenya and Zambia through surveys and focus group interviews.

Text Varpu Somersalo Photo University of Nairobi

Issues in online teaching

An online survey about teachers’ pedagogical competences received more than 90 replies from teachers in Kenya and Zambia. Each partner university conducted focus group discussions in which 4–6 deans, lecturers and ICT staff members participated.

Based on the survey and the focus group discussions, the need for improving usage of digital platforms in bio-entrepreneurship education became evident. All partner HEIs (Higher Education Institutions) already do have online platforms in use, but equipment and software are often out of date or inadequate. Connectivity is also problematic in remote teaching; although the internet connection might be excellent on university campuses, the quality of the connections varies in teachers’ and students’ homes and off-campus offices.

Another issue that came up was the attitude towards online teaching among both teachers and students. Due to the pandemic, a large part of teaching has been forced to take place online, and the situation has been unpleasant to many. Teachers and students struggle with keeping the lectures as interactive as in classroom teaching, and using digital platforms often causes additional work for teachers.

“While some universities have trained their lecturers and students on using the online platforms, questions of motivation and converting the courses to e-learning mode need to be addressed. This is because many course units are yet to be converted for e-learning delivery”, says Dr Samuel Ruhiu, University of Nairobi.

“With the onset of COVID-19 restrictions, many lecturers have been forced to deliver their ‘normal’ lectures through the online platforms without the supportive interactive features of e-learning, which may not be engaging for students. There is therefore need to train the lecturers on converting their courses to e-learning mode, and to motivate them to invest the time and effort required to do the actual conversion.”

PBL-BioAfrica for strengthening distance learning

PBL-BioAfrica is a project for strengthening bio-entrepreneurship education capacity in Sub-Saharan Africa through problem-based learning. Promoting online learning and open distance learning (ODL) are central subthemes in order to strengthen the capacity significantly. It is in the heart of the project to contribute to UN’s no. 4 in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which is to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

“ODL has a crucial role in reaching this goal. Through utilising online platforms, we will be able to educate a much larger number of young Africans than through traditional classroom teaching”, says PBL trainer Ulla-Maija Knuutti, Häme University of Applied Sciences.

In addition to enhancing teachers’ competence in online teaching methodologies, the managerial staff in the partner institutions will receive support in creating or improving a holistic e-learning strategy.

“The aim is that the staff will not only learn online teaching techniques but also understand the wider PBL method and delivery. This is needed for the systematical development of e-learning in bio-entrepreneurship education”, Dr Ruhiu explains.

The curricula will be reformed in cooperation with university management to better support online and hybrid teaching and student-centred teaching. Another important goal of PBL-BioAfrica is to create an active network among sub-Saharan African HEIs that teach bio-entrepreneurship. In this network, universities can continuously share the proven best practices in their local context and improve education collaboratively even after the project period.