Category Archives: Science and Technology

Education in the electronic age: Open source digital libraries as a way to overcome education inequality in Africa

Across Africa, Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) are continuously metamorphosing the academic landscape irrespective of the rapid global shifts that are affecting education. Like elsewhere, ICT facilitates knowledge search, acquisition, sharing, production and distribution albeit at an arguably smaller scale. Higher Education Institutions in Africa are developing innovative learning networks by engaging in different types of partnerships which include partnerships with for-profit institutions, international organizations, large corporations or institutions from the North in order to improve the learning conditions of many populations. The success of the 1st International Academic conference on distance and elearning held by the African Virtual University (AVU) proves that despite limited policy, infrastructure, and human resources, Africa actively contributes in digital educational innovation.

The emerging open source digital libraries movement has also reached the continent as both an alternative and complementary to insufficient physical libraries. Learning material which is sometimes denied to millions of African readers is now available online for free or cheaply. For instance, the Africa Digital Library (ADL) offers a wide selection of books and electronic journals free of charge to anyone living on the continent. Besides libraries developed and maintained on the continent or by African institutions, worldwide open libraries are also accessible via the web. Among them, the Soros Initiative which brings free or low-cost access to electronic science and technology journals to readers in developing nations; the World Health Organization and science publishers(Blackwell, Elsevier Science, Harcourt Worldwide STM Group, Springer Verlag, John Wiley, and Wolters Kluwer International) provide high-quality peer-reviewed, biomedical research journals for free or very cheaply. Another example is the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) which provides a list of journals with peer review or other quality control that grant free access of all content on the Internet.

Normatively, open source libraries accommodate various educational needs by positively transforming the learning experience of the “non-conventional” African learner. In sub-Saharan Africa, too often the education systems discriminate against older students, women, rural and the poor. By rendering learning resources available 24/7 and making the same information simultaneously accessible by a number of people, open electronic libraries offer flexible arrangements for them. Similarly, infrastructures are generally not designed to fit the needs of the disabled. Open electronic libraries are successful in avoiding the costs associated to training specific needs. Typically, by providing unlimited and varied resources from anywhere in the world, they provide out of box curriculum not offered by mainstream academic institutions as well as new exciting opportunities for educators and students all over the continent. Moreover, from a logistical standpoint, digital libraries are cost and space efficient alternatives to traditional ones specifically in developing countries as they considerably limit losses, fees, damages or mismanagement.

By breaking the financial barrier, open digital libraries can potentially reduce illiteracy rate in making information accessible to all. However, before reaching this ideal scenario in which everyone living in Africa becomes an online reader, several challenges are yet to be overcome. First, their development is still at a very embryonic stage. Currently, about 3% of more than 2 000 open access repositories worldwide are in Africa. Second, open source libraries supremely remain a very elitist education tool. Computers and other technological devices are not available to a huge portion of readers on the continent. High energy costs and network inaccessibility add to this intricate equation. Indeed, Internet penetration rate in Africa is just about 16% and represents only 7% of the world’s. Likewise, a good proportion of digital libraries are affiliated with universities, for profit or nonprofit organizations, making it difficult for non-enrolled members to accede. Most educators, governments and educational institutions are not familiar, unaware or still intimidated by open educational resources and rights management issues.  Only approximately 16% of African scholars confirm that they possess a high awareness of e-resources. Opportunities for capacity development and knowledge-sharing are limited as there is a lack of expertise and adequate resources to manage digital infrastructure. Language can also represent a discriminatory factor since a large quantity of material are published in English.

With access to knowledge being fundamental to education, libraries play a key role in diffusing knowledge. Digital libraries are especially important in developing countries in which conventional libraries fail to democratize knowledge. To unleash their potential, all stakeholders have to combine their efforts. Without the synergy of governments to reach out national or regional scale, they might remain limited in scope. In fact, open education should be an integral part of countries strategic and institutional plans on education. Nigeria and South Africa are two countries investing a lot of efforts in ODL, Nigeria by funding African Virtual University (AVU) and South Africa developing several projects like DISA (Digital Innovation South Africa) at different scales. Equally important, governments have a huge role to play in putting in place regulatory and legal cadre as well as strategies to engage authors and educators in the movement. While authors will be encouraged to freely submit their articles to institutional repository, educators will promote online reading materials among students. Individuals also should be encouraged to participate in producing information collections. Librarians, in return, need to be flexible and open to the changes required by digital management.  Progressively, Africa is catching up Internet divide, which enhance ODL development. According to a study from Deloitte, the number of mobile connections in sub-Saharan Africa skyrocketed by 44 percent from 2000 to 2012. It is estimated that at this pace. Africa could triple its Internet penetration to 50 percent, or 600 million users by 2025. Alternatives to internet such as the Greenstone software that builds and distributes digital libraries using CD Rom exist today. Overall, for a sustainable educational reform, social transformation and economic competiveness, it is important that African governments take the lead in research funding, staff training, facilitation, capacity building and South-South collaboration.



Barnard, J. (1997). The World Wide Web and higher education: the promise of virtual universities and online libraries. Educational technology. 37 (37), p30-35.

Beebe, A. M. (2006). Impact of ICT Revolution on the African Academic Landscape. Available: Last accessed 24th Apr 2014.

Bower, B L & Hardy, K P. (2004). From correspondence to cyberspace: Changes and challenges in distance education. New Directions for Community Colleges. 2004 (128), p5-12.

Peters D., & Pickover M. (2001). Insights of an African Model for Digital Library Development. Available: Last accessed 24 Apr 2014.

Pizzy, M. (2013). Africa on the verge of Internet Boom . Available: Last accessed 24th Apr 2014

Power Shortages and Social Responsiveness in Africa: The case of the Delestron Facebook Page in Cote d’Ivoire.

Power Shortages and Social Responsiveness in Africa: The case of the Delestron Facebook Page in Cote d’Ivoire.

Tweet By: Emmanuelle Adjima Assy* “Seen from space, Africa at night is unlit—as dark as all-but-empty Siberia”, said the Economist in its article of March 16, 2007, highlighting one of the serious contemporary issues faced by the African continent.  Energy production in Africa is insufficient and does not sustain population growth and demand. Indeed, with over… Continue Reading

Twitter and Facebook – African(nising) the right of women to the internet

Twitter and Facebook – African(nising) the right of women to the internet

Tweet In a 2011 report[1], the United Nations (UN) counted internet access as a basic human right. However Vinton G. Cerf in the New York Times earlier this year noted that arguments to the effect that internet access is a basic human right “however well meaning, misses a larger point: technology is an enabler of… Continue Reading

A renewed focus on Science and Technology in Nigeria

A renewed focus on Science and Technology in Nigeria

Tweet Science has been defined as “the acquisition of knowledge”, while technology is “the application of this acquired knowledge.” This was the definition I learned back in secondary school and it is so simple that even as a young child it stuck. According to Wikipedia, science is from the Latin word scientia meaning “knowledge”, while… Continue Reading

Transforming Small and Medium Enterprises through Strategic Information Systems

Tweet About two years ago we reflected on the Information Technology and Communication (ICT) for Development, looking specifically at EASSy, SEACOM, and GLO-1 Submarine projects. The hope was that these projects would transform Africa’s place in global society, unfortunately the Africa Competitive Report 2011 reported that African economies’ export growth rates continue to lag behind,… Continue Reading

Information Technology an Assert to Local Knowledge: The Power to Transform, Improve and Provide Quality Services to Rural Communities

Tweet Africa is widely known worldwide as one of the most technologically under connected and underdeveloped continent in the world. Most of the burden has been carried in rural areas, where many social service agencies and businesses have avoided setting up shop due to inferior technological and service infrastructure. With the completion of the fiber… Continue Reading

Is GIS/Mobile Broadband demand for South Africa 2010 the answer to better governance?

Tweet by Reuben Dlamini With the 2010 World Cup Soccer in South Africa seven months away, avid soccer fans have been watching relentlessly as Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria (South Africa as the host nation has automatic qualification) secured their place and representation of the continent of Africa by qualifying for the event. Much… Continue Reading

Information Technology and Communications for Development: Reflections on the EASSy, SEACOM, and Glo-1 Submarine Projects

Tweet by Reuben Dlamini   The arrival of the 21st century provided Africa with a golden opportunity to join the rest of the world through multi-technology network, but our deficiencies in telecommunications continues to hinder economic growth.  The current projects: EASSy, SEACOM, Glo-1 Submarine cable are bringing hope to the bandwidth-starved continent. These projects are working… Continue Reading

The Electricity Question

Tweet by Damilola Daramola Looking ahead to the World Cup in 2010, is South Africa ready to host the event? Some of the organizational hurdles facing South African organizers include security, health and the overall status of infrastructures within the country. One of the most important infrastructures in a country which is hosting a global… Continue Reading