Virtual university bridges digital divide

May 19, 2000

George Eshiwani, vice-chancellor of Kenyatta University, will tell a conference session on universities and the global sector that the African Virtual University provides the continent with a way to avoid marginalisation across the global digital divide.

Professor Eshiwani, who is also chairman of AVU International, said that in a continent where demand for higher education outstrips supply, and where colonial educational models have more than served their purpose, AVU is a technology-based initiative that promises to improve the delivery and quality of educational programmes to students in key areas such as science, engineering and business management.

"The project is unique in the sense that it attempts to use, on a large scale, the power of modern information technology to increase access to desperately needed educational resources in Africa," Professor Eshiwani said.

AVU's integrated infrastructure of satellite and computer technologies allows the transmission of video and data resources, and provides the flexibility to incorporate existing and emerging interactive tools and multimedia resources to support student learning and network operations.

A combination of live and videotaped instruction supported by textbooks and course notes is provided by affiliated institutions in the United States, Canada and Europe. Partner institutions and other organisations in Africa provide administrative, academic and technical staff to support operations and students in the classroom. Transmission from Africa has recently started.

"This truly global project represents a unique cooperative venture from the World Bank as the sponsoring organisation; academic institutions worldwide as programme developers and providers; technology service companies as uplink, transpolar and network operations providers; academic institutions in Africa as partner institutions and potential content-providers; and public and private organisations worldwide as supporters of and contributors to the project," Professor Eshiwani said.

AVU was launched as a pilot operation in 1996. It started broadcasting in English in July 1997 and in French in March 1999. It has set up 25 learning centres in 15 countries.

By January 1 of this year, it had amassed a total of 2,500 broadcast hours, more than 12,000 enrolments on its semester-long courses, and approximately 2,500 enrolments in 24 executive business seminars.

AVU has provided 1,000 personal computers to learning centres and set up 3,000 email account-holders and a digital library of about 1,000 journals. Test broadcasts of AVU's programmes via national television have been conducted successfully in three African countries.

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