The COVID-19 pandemic unearthed the fault lines for what could be a generational catastrophe in education.

Even before the pandemic resulted in school closures affecting over 1.6 billion students in at least 161 countries, more than 250 million school-age children were out of school globally.

In much of the developing world, the gap between the levels of learning that education systems provide, and the needs of students, communities and countries, has been steadily growing over the years.

Barriers to education in developing countries include political and security instability, costs, health and nutrition, distance to school, insufficient budgetary allocations to education, and poor-quality environments, content and processes. And now, even more school-age individuals are at risk of falling behind or dropping out of school permanently as the pandemic persists. This would widen inequality across an already unequal region with stark wealth, gender and social disparities, as well as stymie opportunity, innovation, and economic growth prospects—education is the cornerstone of building human capital.

In a recent interview with AfricaLive.net Dr Nicos Nicolaou, the founder and CEO of Unicaf, a leading higher education online platform with students in 158 countries, set out his vision for a more robust education sector supported by digital infrastructure.

“In August last year, the UN Secretary-General stated that the education sector must invest in digital literacy and infrastructure and look to evolve towards learning how to learn, rejuvenate lifelong learning, and strengthen links between formal and non-formal education,” said Dr Nicolaou.

“He suggested the need to draw on flexible delivery methods, digital technologies and modernised curricula while ensuring sustained support for teachers and communities.”

Optimising Higher Education

A sustained increase in demand for access to education across Africa is unavoidable as populations grow, and given the role of education in modernisation and development, it is critical that governments increase higher education opportunities.

“Central to the discussion on sustainable development is the imperative of equality in higher education opportunities. Universities should offer holistic and transformational education with high-level quality content. Learning should be stimulating, engaging and learner-centric, leading to successful outcomes for the learners. Universities should inspire learners to be global citizens, assume active roles in the society they live in, and contribute to a more peaceful and sustainable world,” says Dr Nicolaou.

“Taking into consideration that tens of millions of additional students will become of university age in the next decade and the fact that there are no plans to build hundreds of new universities in the continent, the only solution is online learning,” he adds.

“The skilful use of modern technologies can enhance teaching and learning effectiveness and, thus, may substantially contribute towards the goals and objectives associated with sustainable, inclusive growth and development.”

“Distance education can eliminate current barriers to higher education in Africa, imposed by space and time, and can dramatically expand access to lifelong learning. Using flexible delivery models, students will no longer have to visit a physical location at specific times and days. A modern higher education institution, such as Unicaf University, no longer has to be at any specific physical location but, through the use of technology, can exist anywhere, anytime for students who wish to access study materials and complete a particular academic programme fully online.”

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