Whereas a lot of strides have been made by some countries in the Southern hemisphere to bridge the digital divide that had existed between them and the countries of the Northern hemisphere, there are still many countries in the Southern hemisphere, particularly Africa, which have a lot of catching up to do. One would argue without any fear of contradiction, that the most significant factor that has made our world today a “global village” is the use of information communication technology. Through this technology, some educational institutions in the developed world have maximized the delivery of quality education not only to their own people, but also to people living in distant lands. Thankfully, some educational institutions elsewhere in emerging economies have not been left behind either.
Information and communication technology as a tool, undoubtedly, eliminates distance as a barrier; it has a great potential to increase access to quality education at a minimal cost. Let me share some two examples from our own experience at Regent.
At the time I was writing this article, there was an MBA thesis defense going on at our City Campus here at Regent. The examiners were located in the Netherlands, at the Maastricht School of Management (MSM); the candidates (two of them) were located in Accra, at our City Campus, Graphic Road. These students were those who, for some technical reasons, could not defend their theses when the defense was physically conducted at our campus here in Accra in 2010. Since then, these students have completed their theses and needed to defend it. The external examiners did not have to travel to Ghana in order to conduct the required defense. Through the use of Skype’s videoconferencing facility, coupled with a good internet connectivity, the defense went on successfully. At the end of the defense the examiners retired briefly for the necessary consultations and discussions, and in less than ten minutes they came back online with their results and other recommendations.
Another example is of interest here. Some of our teaching assistants have been enrolled in an MSc Information Security degree programme offered by Lulea University of Technology, Sweden. The students are here in Ghana. The faculty is in Sweden and the whole Program is offered through a virtual campus. Every student has a unique ID which allows him to access the course material and relevant information on the Students’ Portal. Electronic books are provided as part of the information on the Portal. Every assignment is put on the Portal to be accessed by the student. Schedules are provided for students to be able to meet with their lecturers online for real time lectures. After every discussion, assignments are submitted in line with agreed deadlines. Facilitated by the lecturer, forums are created for real time discussions, critiques, etc, among the students. These students are scattered around the globe. Examinations are conducted online. During such examinations, the invigilator is able to monitor the students through web cameras. The results are provided online after completion of a module. The lecturers provide students with their email addresses and telephone numbers to enable the students to contact them for assistance should the need arise.
The foregoing are some of the ways the modern world delivers long distance education, using the power of technology. Unfortunately, most of Africa today is too slow to respond to these modern trends. In Ghana for instance, our understanding and delivery of “Distance Education” has virtually remained unchanged for decades. It does not seem the institutions which are currently engaged in this, are ready or willing to adapt to these global trends. They are therefore not in hurry to develop the requisite manpower which will spearhead the necessary changes in the form and delivery of distance education.
In our modern world, it is the institutions that make use of technology, especially, information communication technology that will continue to be at the forefront. It is therefore not surprising that the first nine of the top ranking Universities in Africa are all located in South Africa, according to the recent rankings by the Cybermetrics Lab. This should not come to us as a surprise. In South Africa, ICT infrastructure has well advanced ahead of the rest of Africa. Educators here are making great use of it in their delivery of education. Consistently, over decades, USA has been a global leader in information and communication technology. The educational institutions here have become part and parcel of that culture, and have therefore used it to a great advantage. So United States has consistently stood at the forefront as the bastion of world class universities. Thankfully, some educational institutions in emerging economies like China and Republic of Korea, have seized the opportunity, and they are literally flying to reach the forefront as well, through technology.
Since 2004, the Cybermetrics Lab publishes the Ranking Web of World Universities twice in a year, January and July. The publication covers more than 20,000 higher educational institutions worldwide. The aim of this, according to the publishers, is to motivate both institutions and scholars to maintain a web presence that accurately reflects their activities. As one would expect, the release of these rankings generates quite a lot of interest especially among the academic community. In Ghana, the January 2011 rankings for instance, has elicited mixed responses, ranging from delight to utter surprise and consternation. Why? It appears some had wished that the older institutions, with all the support they get from the central government, will perform better than the new institutions. For instance, whereas KNUST takes the premier position, University of Ghana takes the second position; whereas Regent University College takes the third top position, UCC takes the fourth position, University of Education, Winneba, takes the 7th position, and the Presbyterian University College takes the fifth position. Curiously, institutions like GIMPA, UMAT, UDS, do not feature at all on the first 10 top ranking universities in Ghana, whereas Ashesi, Valley View and Central appear on the list of the top ten.
One glaring picture that comes out from the rankings is that most of the institutions in Africa (perhaps, with the exception of South Africa, which occupies 314 position on the world rankings) have to make a lot of investments in ICT infrastructure and its full deployment at all levels in our educational set ups in order to catch up with the rest of the world. The good news is that when it comes to the use of technology, it does not matter whether we are dealing with older institutions founded several decades ago, or new institutions established less than a decade ago.
Technology is not a respector of persons, age, institutions, 3 traditions, and nations; it is uncompromisingly neutral! Both traditional and new institutions will do well to reckon that technology is one single factor that has made the “global village” phenomenon a modern reality, and it is the most efficient way of doing business today. It is therefore imperative for both old and young educational institutions in our nation to embrace it as a critical factor and work hard to integrate our operations into this global phenomenon.
We cannot claim to be part of the global village and continue to do business as usual; if we persist in doing business as usual, unmindful of the forces that are shaping educational institutions in this globalised world, we will inevitably become fossilized whilst the rest of the world moves on triumphantly on the wings of technology. As educators at the tertiary level, we will do well not to forget that somewhere beyond our shores, in the realms beyond or outside our control, someone is reckoning our existence, our operations, and our performance, as we articulate them in the virtual world. Though the conclusions of these empiricists may not be in line with our self-imposed wishes and expectations, we will do well to accept that wishes and expectations alone may not be enough to take us to our desired destination.
Regent University College as an institution, therefore considers it imperative to urge all stakeholders in our constituency, to continue to strive towards increased use of technology, especially information communication technology, in the pursuit of our objective of becoming a world class institution in our modern world, which is controlled and directed by technology. To this end, our concentration as stakeholders, should not be how well we are doing nationally but rather, how well we are doing globally. This should be our preoccupation and our collective imperative!