Expanding Education Opportunities through Online Training
During a workshop held in Cotonou on August 27, 2015, in the context of the “eLearning Benin” project developed by young professionals at the World Bank Group, the Vice Prime Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, François Abiola, highlighted the challenges that online training could help Benin resolve, namely, “the increasing student enrollment in the national universities, the limited number of professors, insufficient lecture halls and other rooms to accommodate students on university campuses, the implementation of the Bachelor-Master-Doctor (LMD) system, among others.”
It is therefore not surprising that the objective targeted by the “eLearning Benin” project is to promote online training and contribute to expanding learning opportunities for Beninese students by making a full range of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) available to them, several of which are free. The website launched by the project already includes around 20 resources for distance-learning programs offered by prestigious universities located around the world.
“The benefits of this project are multifaceted. Not only does it allow students to pursue useful degrees at prestigious universities such as Harvard, Yale, and MIT, but it also allows students to supplement their studies with specialized training programs, particularly in areas for which training is not available in Benin, but for which there is demand in the job market,” explains Boulel Touré, Senior Economist at the World Bank Country Office in Benin.
Despite the potential advantages of this project, the World Bank and partner institutions remain realistic. A number of obstacles must be addressed before the benefits can become widespread, in particular the availability of electricity and access to a high-quality, low-cost internet connection. Skepticism, on the part of some students and professors, particularly when it comes to putting their courses online, must also be addressed.
With respect to internet access, new investments in international connectivity under the West Africa Regional Communications Infrastructure Program (WARCIP), financed by the World Bank, are set to make considerable improvements.
Leveraging the “eLearning Benin” Project to Improve University Education
Members of the “eLearning Benin” project have organized work sessions with representatives from public and private universities and tertiary institutions partnering with the project to promote the adoption of these new technologies. They also worked together to determine to what extent a number of the courses offered in these institutions could be adapted to online training.
One initiative that emerged from these meetings is “Medecine Online,” which will work with 1,000 students from the University of Parakou’s Faculty of Medicine, in northern Benin. The goal is to identify a number of courses that can easily be adapted to this type of training, to make professors aware of the learning materials and courses offered online, and to make the resources needed to facilitate this type of learning available to students. “We hope that ‘Medecine Online’ will help relieve the congestion in our lecture halls and allow students to better organize their education,” said Arielle Ahouansou, a medical student at the University of Parakou, and one of the project promoters.
A Project by Youth, for Youth
The idea for the “eLearning Benin” project was born among a group of young professionals working for the World Bank Group, some of whom are from Benin. It was one of the award-winning projects that came out of the Youth Innovation Fund, which helps young staff of the institution implement innovative development projects for youth in its member countries.
“If Beninese youth are willing to spend money to access social networks, I think they will also be willing to explore the possibility of taking courses online, and even pay nominal sums to have access to educational resources that will help them have a better chance of securing a job,” said Larissa Y. Kougblenou-Siebens, a Business Management Information Technology Analyst at the World Bank, when explaining the motivation behind the launch of the project.
Raphaël Darboux, Technical Adviser to the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research in Benin, is thrilled that “eLearning Benin” is a youth initiative. “Young people are very open to new technology and there is not a young person today who does not have a smartphone, a computer, or an email address. However, many young people in Benin may not make the connection to use these tools to structure or enhance their education. We believe that this initiative, which comes from the young employees at the World Bank, has a better chance of success because it is truly an exchange among youth.”
The “eLearning Benin” project strengthens the support already provided by the World Bank to higher education in Benin, particularly in the context of the African Centers of Excellence in Science and Mathematics (CEA-SMA), currently under way at the Institute of Mathematics and Physical Science at the University of Abomey-Calavi.