I returned from an eye-opening conference held in Addis Ababa about e-learning focused on the developing world. Rebecca Stromeyer, a member of GBSN’s Board of Directors organized this even, which attracted some 1,200 participants. This was the 10 th anniversary e-Learning Africa. I take my hat off Rebecca, whose passion generated a worldwide community of individuals and organizations focused on e-learning.
While the conference spanned all levels of education, much of the discussions touched on higher and adult education. During the very stimulating closing plenary debate, opposing spokespersons argued respectively in support of universities and of vocational training, as the higher priority for Africa. Significantly, participants voted in favor of vocational training by a large majority, a telling comment about the relevance of traditional academic institutions to the challenges faced by developing countries in the 21 st century.
The conference strengthened my conviction that what is needed in order to address more effectively the colossal problems of youth who are unemployed for want of marketable skills is radical change in the way knowledge is imparted. Most higher education institutions including business schools operate under an excessive number of constraints, most notably: government regulatory frameworks which stifle innovation; requirements by accreditation bodies which often reflect the realities of advanced economies rather than of developing countries; very limited and often declining budgets; the perceived need to devote large resources to research which generates mainly journal articles which hardly anyone reads; last but not least, the ability of university leaders is severely constrained by their faculties’ stock of knowledge and willingness to contribute to institutional change (viz. John Kenneth Galbraith’s quip: “most people have a profound stake in that which they understand”). As a result, the “academic industry” is rather supply-driven in the sense that what students as well as potential employers want and need is often neglected.
E-learning of various kinds offers a way switch to a demand-driven paradigm, putting clients – students and potential employers – in the driver’s seat, and so reducing costs dramatically, while enhancing relevance. Indeed, if more than a tiny élite is to be educated, e-learning is the only option. Business schools can either ignore this imperative, and continue to cater to small numbers of students, or they can take the lead in e-learning and become change agents. When I was in Manila in March, I heard the following complaint from a number of deans: in a relatively poor country such as the Philippines, how can a business school impart high-quality skills on a financially sustainable basis when few students can afford to pay more than US$ 3,000 a year, if that ? These deans were under the impression that adding e-learning to their offerings would require capital investments in IT which were way beyond their reach.
What I learned in Addis is that this ain’t so. Donald Clark, an e-learning entrepreneur and thought leader mentioned many proven ways in which this can be done. Peter Bamkole, founder and director of Lagos’s Enterprise Development Center, a superb institution spun off by Lagos Business School sees future faculty acting as “conductors” rather than lecturers. Jonathan Cook, founder of the African Management Initiative is building a pan-African community of learner-managers who, to a large extent, contribute to and benefit from peer learning.
GBSN will continue to emphasize e-learning as the most promising way to grow the number of skilled local managers and entrepreneurs in the developing world. Our network makes it possible for business schools that are leading the e-learning way to share their experiences with other schools around the world. I am looking forward very much to GBSN’s annual conference, which is taking place in Manila November 4-6 on the subject of “disruptive models of education of the developing world”, and hope that many of you will participate.
Guy Pfeffermann is the Founder and CEO of the Global Business School Network