I once had a friend, we shall name her Nomsa. We were discussing some of the challenges we were facing in the job market and how to overcome them. For Nomsa, it seemed like a while ago when she had to decide to choose which university she would attend. Nomsa was spoilt for choice as she had done exceptionally well in her final high school qualifications and would have been accepted for any course that she wanted to study. However, the universities back home, at that time had limited options in the field of nanotechnology or even electronic engineering. She had always wanted to pursue a career in medical diagnostics development as she believed technology could shorten the health gap between developed and developing countries.
Nomsa had already secured a scholarship to study an engineering degree at my local university. Instead, she applied abroad and was accepted at a university in England with a partial sponsorship. She accepted the offer and went on to pursue a career in medical diagnostics development in the UK. However, when she decided to return home, she found herself ‘overly- educated’ and her qualifications seemed irrelevant. As Nomsa and I investigated several career options for me, we thought of studying further to update my skills to meet the local needs. However, we were faced with two challenges, we couldn’t enrol mid-year and did not have the money to enrol in a full-time course.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I would have never imagined myself studying online. I had previously believed people who pursued degrees online did not get the ‘full university experience’. In some way it is true. After all, when you study online you do not get the full immersion experience of being in a new place or country. There isn’t the dreaded culture shock neither do you get to interact with your classmates. I could go on and on about how different the experience is, but online learning has its advantages that I recently discovered during the pandemic.
It is still an education!
I used to overemphasise the need to relocate when you study abroad. When I look at it now, it is the education that you go abroad to pursue and not the change of environment. There are cheaper ways to travel, discover the world and have a change of environment. Online education can be self-paced, is very flexible and you quickly learn new critical skills without having to relocate. I had been experiencing some stagnation in my career. I had spent two years out of a job and my skills started to seem ‘outdated. Instead of spending thousands of dollars pursuing postgraduate studies to make myself more ‘employable’, I spent a few hundred dollars doing an online skill and was able to secure an opportunity in my intended field. Yes, the mode of delivery is different and will never supplement the real-life experience of attending a course, but the material you learn is all the same.
It is a convenient and affordable gateway to access education from expensive institutions.
Let’s face it, most of our local institutions do not have all the desired courses that everyone would be interested in. There are just not enough skilled people and not enough resources on the continent. With online education, you widen your learning scope and can access courses from some of the best institutions in the world. A few years ago, Harvard and MIT started a project called Edx. I remember enrolling for one of their online courses on “The Science of Happiness”. The course provided me access to some of the leading minds in psychology. That’s what online education gives you – access. Online education increases access to knowledge, expertise, and skills affordably.
You can make it whatever you want it to be.
If there is one thing that I have learnt with the COVID-19 pandemic, we are an interconnected global network. Most things are now accessible online, at a price of course. Online education can be a platform for networking with like-minded people, a platform to learn new skills or even a business idea you want to implement back home.
There are so many reasons why we should all try our or at least encourage someone to use online education as a route for education. For me at least, online education has allowed me to refine my technical skills as well as educate me on the topics that interest me. In Africa, the costs of data are one of the largest deterrents to online education. Access to information is becoming expensive, it’s a fact we can’t ignore. In case you didn’t know, in 2016 the UN General Assembly passed a non-binding resolution that access to the internet is a human right. The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of the internet as a tool to widen educational access. I hope, African governments put in place policies that improve access to the internet at affordable rates so we can all enjoy the benefits that online education has to offer!