After a twenty-five-hour trip because of a re-routing thanks to the French airport strikes, it felt extra nice to land at Kano airport again. It was early in the morning and from the car I could view the sun starting to rise, shining on the acacia trees and colourfully dressed people who were starting their tasks of the day. This was my second trip to Nigeria and I was excited to be back.
Currently, we are implementing an open source e-learning platform in northern Nigeria through the Women for Health (W4H) programme. The W4H programme aims to increase the number of female front-line health providers and support their deployment to rural health facilities where they can have the greatest impact on maternal, infant and child mortality.
Increasing the number of female students entering and graduating from health training courses faces numerous challenges. In a low resource setting such as northern Nigeria, internet connections are often very limited and up-to-date teaching materials are very difficult to access and the availability of power is erratic, often less than three hours a day. Implementing an e-learning platform in a country that suffers from resource limitations seems a bit of a contradiction, doesn’t it?
To tackle the issues mentioned above, Health Partners International has developed an integrated hardware and software solution that is robust and reliable and is 24/7 online, thanks to a solar power and battery back-up. The system makes use of a low-power server that functions as a local host on a local Wi-Fi network. Internet is only used for back-ups and updating of the system. The operating system and application software used are open-source and there are no licence costs. The W4H programme is rolling out the installation of the e-learning platform across Health Training Institutes in five northern states. Tutors are being trained on how to create online courses using the platform and Information and Communications Technology people are being trained in how to support and maintain the technical part of the system.
My role in this programme is to configure the e-learning system, to develop online training courses out of existing material, develop and provide a ‘train the trainers’ course and to support tutors during the whole trajectory. During my first trip last December, thirty-two tutors were exposed to the system. This time, I’m here to deliver an in-depth workshop to sixteen specially selected tutors in course creation and managing the e-learning system.
In December, none of the tutors had any experience in using an e-learning system. I noticed some tutors looking a bit concerned during the two-day training and there were some question marks. I must say, I can totally understand. Any new software programme can often be a bit overwhelming to anybody seeing it for the first time. But the drive to learn amongst the tutors was strong.
During my second visit (which was a three-day training), I saw the question marks change in to exclamation marks! Everything fell into place and at the end of the three days; tutors had individually made an online course based upon their curriculum. They made a lot of progress in understanding the system and the ways in which this solution will help them in organising their courses and improving the accessibility of their teaching material.
By the end of 2016, eleven schools in northern Nigeria will be able to teach their students on a digital platform, renew their teaching materials, and share and document information by means of this educational software program. We intend to continue supporting this project to roll out the system to more Health Training Institutes. Important areas of focus in coming months will be course development and accreditation, the use of assessment tools and creating an e-learning community within the schools. The tutors will definitely take this project to the next level and I look forward to being a part of that.