The challenge of online studies
On 27 November 2020, the German Academic Exchange Service (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst – DAAD) organised the Virtual Fair on Online Studies. This enabled participants and representatives from higher education institutions throughout Germany to exchange ideas about digital learning, gather information material and watch videos on different topics, such as the everyday life of students in Germany.
There was previously a lack of such an online instruction service in many African countries. Online studies are still rarely part of the learning culture. Students are largely used to the campus atmosphere and lectures in an auditorium.
Transformation due to the corona pandemic
The corona pandemic has however redirected the trend. Almost all universities have partially introduced online courses or have totally switched their studies to this format. We spoke to a few of those affected.
Glamy Junior from the University of Bouaké in the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire holds a DAAD scholarship and has been receiving funding for his Masters in German Studies at the University of Nairobi since August 2020. Both these higher education institutions have introduced online courses due to the special situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The online courses at the University of Bouaké – now Université Alassane Ouattara – from which Glamy received his ‘licence’ (comparable to a bachelor's degree) were the subject of much criticism, especially since many people felt the system or the time needed to implement it took too long. The Google Meet app was used at the University of Nairobi. Glamy Junior found it to be reliable: ‘It's easy to access. You can even join courses without needing to have your own account.’
Financial and technical barriers
Alassane Traore, another student in the German Studies programme at the University of Nairobi, describes the difficulties faced by his alma mater, Université Joseph Ki-Zerbo in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso: ‘We don’t have any online courses at our university. Only initial concepts that haven’t yet been implemented for various technical, organisational and financial reasons. Both lecturers and students need advanced training in online courses.’
Online courses meet with particular criticism when there are insufficient funds to realise them efficiently. The ARTCI (Autorité de Régulation des Télécommunications/TIC de Côte d‘Ivoire) reports that in 2020 the number of 4G internet users in the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire rose to 58.51%. The situation in many west African countries is even more challenging than in the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire. One gigabyte of internet capacity costs around two euros in Burkina Faso or Benin, for example – yet many people there only earn about one euro a day.
Digital opportunities in Nairobi
Merveilles Tazou is 24 years old and read German studies at the University of Yaoundé 1 in Cameroon, which has introduced an online course due to the corona pandemic. Merveilles is now undertaking his master's degree online at the University of Nairobi, which has developed its own e-class. Platforms like Google Classroom, Zoom or Google Meet are also being used. The courses take place directly online and attendance is mandatory. Documents to be read are also made available online. Students receive the link to a course no later than a day before and they each have to connect via computer.
Merveilles believes the most important thing is that the courses can take place at all: ‘Of course there are sometimes connection problems or other technical hurdles. It's awkward every time, but we always succeed in running our sessions.’
Special benefit for DAAD scholarship holders
DAAD is providing a one-off ‘digitisation allowance’ to help holders of scholarships finance the costs of their online courses, such as expenditure on computers and other hardware or internet costs. The head of DAAD Regional Office Nairobi, Beate Schindler-Kovats, is in contact with those receiving DAAD funds: ‘The holders of DAAD scholarships in the new intake to the German Studies master´s degree course are still in their home countries, where they are studying online. They haven’t even had the chance to personally meet each other or those of us in the DAAD regional office. We hope those being funded can nevertheless study successfully and that our special DAAD benefit (the "digitisation allowance") is supporting their virtual instruction so they are well mentored.’
The students are very pleased with this special benefit, but are just as excited about the prospect of face-to-face courses in Nairobi. It remains to be seen whether this attendance phase will arrive, however, since ultimately we still haven’t heard the last of the corona pandemic.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR AND ALUMNUS
Gabriel Kombassere, 23, is a Germanist. He successfully completed his bachelor's degree in his home country of Burkina Faso and is now studying for a master's degree in literature and regional studies. He is a freelance journalist and the author of five books. His latest book, ‘Séquelles et autres nouvelles’ (Sequels and other news), was published in August 2020. Gabriel Kombassere writes for the Alumniportal Deutschland and a student magazine in Ouagadougou.
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