Economic Realities And Electronic-Mediated Instruction in Africa

Lefebvre (1991) states that as telecommunication networks begin to saturate the physical environment, this will result in a period of social transformation which is characterized by the capacity to effect one's daily life, language, and space (p. 54). Global structuring, with its different allegiances and arrangements of information, capital, time, and space, is forcing educators to consider new concepts in curriculum visioning for the next century (O'Riley, 1996, p1). These developments and trends are changing the texture of developing countries, but will they impact the continent of Africa with the same positive force for change? Africa has been described as a land of radical scarcity and the commonwealth of poverty because virtually all African countries have a problem meeting the subsistence needs of their citizens; can they realistically access electronic-mediated instruction (Agunga, 1997, p. 2)?

The problem of developing electronic-mediated instruction in Africa has many related issues

(a) leap-frogging technology often results in short-lived gains, (b) inadequate venture capital results in economic dependency, (c) inadequate infrastructure to support new technology makes for an unstable platform for development, and (d) integration of Western values and culture often conflict with African ideology. Africa wants technological developments because they have heard that telecommunications has proven to be an important engine of economic development (PR Newswire, 1998, p. 1) and without access to technology, Africa will become disenfranchised or marginalized from full participation in a global society (National Commission on Higher Education, 1997, p. 4).

Leap-frogging technology is when Africa moves from limited or outdated to state-of-art technology. Agunga (1997) states that leap-frogging is when Africa enters the information revolution when it hasn't even caught up with the industrial revolution (p. 2). A case in point is QUALCOMM's 70 million dollar contract to install a digital wireless system in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) when presently there is no telephone system in the DRC (PR Newswire, 1998, p. 1). Leap-frogging technology in Africa is often motivated by boastful arrogance that lacks the resources and infrastructure to sustain these developments.

In 1996, a study reported that United States spent $9.5 billion in venture capital for information technology (Agunga, 1997, p. 6); this figure is more than the revenue of most African countries. Due to the fact that most African countries can't afford electronic-mediated instruction, Africa expects information rich countries will give information poor countries the essential technology and that creates a system of both political and economic dependency on the West. Agunga states, "it is a capitalistic exploitative venture designed to make the West the economic center of the World and the U.S. its metropolitan capital" (p.6). Africa thinks it's being empowered to enter the information age when in reality it has become a servant to the West.

If most electronic-mediated instruction depends on telecommunications, how can you develop new educational delivery systems without first developing the telecommunications?

In Uganda, less than 50% of the communities have telephone service (Barlow, 1998, p. 50). It is the author's experience that the roads of Africa are littered with the grave yards of tractors because technological developments were introduced before trained personnel or the essential infrastructure were in place to sustain the new technology.

Developing electronic-mediated instruction via the Internet will open new gateways for Western ideology, values, and morality to be introduced to Africa. Traditional Africa cultural values, morality and traditions will be gradually broken down (Agunga, 1997 p.7). There is also the fact that Africa leaders in their pursuit of power often restrict sources of new information as another means of oppressing their people. The result of absorbing cutting edge technology is that traditional patterns are disregarded and new ways often lead to dysfunctional citizens who are empowered with unfamiliar tools that alienate them from their society.

Solutions that enable Africa to become a meaningful participant in a global society through utilization of electronic-mediated instruction must come on Africa's terms, timetable, and where talents exist that can maintain and sustain these new developments.

Barlow's (1998) recent tour of Africa left him with the conclusion that one makes the assumption that telecommunications needs to reach every office and home before good things can happen and that will not happen in Africa (p. 45). Full Internet access in Ghana costs $50/month which is $20 more than the average monthly salary of a Ghanaian (p. 46): only the rich can afford it. Agunga (1997) also believes that utilization of the Internet should first be introduced in higher, tertiary and basic education institutions (p. 2). New developments must be first instituted in countries like South Africa where the telecommunication infrastructure now exists. A wholesale transfer of cutting edge technology to Africa will not be sustained unless Africa feels the need and determines that it has the resources and personnel to develop or acquire new technology. Africa must decide what is appropriate technology for them and the latest technology may not be better for Africa (Barlow, p. 4). What works in the West or what Africa wants, isn't necessarily what Africa can afford or needs.


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