The life of Francis Mbangwa, a Kenyan farmer in his late 20s,
revolved around crops and fertiliser. He would eagerly wait for
the harvest season, sometimes face a severe financial crunch
because of a bad crop.
Today Francis is a marketing manager in a leading corporate firm
in Kenya. The turnaround happened when Francis decided to pursue
his bachelor's degree from New Delhi's Indira Gandhi National Open
University (IGNOU), said to be the world's largest university.
"I always wanted an opportunity to expand my frontiers of
knowledge. IGNOU came at the right time in Africa. It was through
IGNOU that I got a glimpse of the Indian education system. The
courses are well structured, affordable, with a focussed approach
and a market value," said Mbangwa in a documentary screened here.
In 2008, IGNOU signed an agreement with Telecommunications
Consultants India Limited (TCIL) to begin its tele-education
Now, it has been able to reach students in Ethiopia, Malawi,
Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Somalia, Rwanda, Senegal, Egypt, Ethiopia,
Mauritius, Benin and Botswana.
The project is funded by the Indian government with a budgeted
cost of Rs.5.43 billion ($117 million).
"It's a collaborative move. We have set up connectivity terminals
with Ethiopian authorities for wireless communication," TCIL's
director of technical division Vimal Wakhlu told IANS.
Apart from tele-education, the joint initiative covers 53 member
states in African Union, supporting tele-medicine, e-commerce,
e-governance, infotainment, resource-mapping and meteorological
IGNOU has over 2.8 million students and offers 138 courses, most
of them long distance. It runs nearly 3,000 study centres and also
has 60 overseas centres.
According to officials, the tele-education network is highly
popular among students for its academic and vocational courses.
"Virtual remote classrooms have enabled a two-way interaction
between the teachers and students through mobile telephony and
various other tools," an official added.
What gave the tele-education network a boost was the
state-of-the-art infrastructure in distance education that IGNOU
has attained over the years.
"Academics, logistics and other operational dimensions of the tele-education
system have been the key concerns of its pan-African network," the
For Joyce, another Kenyan, IGNOU came just at the right time in
The mother of two kids was disappointed when all the universities
she approached asked her to be a full-time student. "It was not
possible as I was working in a bank," she said.
"I came across IGNOU's distance education programme in Kenya.
Trust me, this course has worked wonders for me," she said, adding
it was instrumental in her getting a promotion.
Silima Nanda, director in the international division at IGNOU,
said: "We want to cater to all sections of civilians who want to
get back to their studies. These people aspire to be self-employed
and we at IGNOU want to give them a platform."
The programmes under this network are vocational as well as
academic, including masters in business administration, human
resources, marketing, tourism management and environment studies
and various other professional degrees.
Over 600 students have enrolled for these courses, while so far 26
students have already got their MBA degrees, which is the most
popular under the tele-education network.
However, Mbangwa feels the programmes offered should be revised
with the changing demands of the market.
"The Kenyan education system is very competitive; so these courses
need to be customised from time to time which will suit the
students and meet the highly demanding professions," he added.
Joe Mwangi Mbuthia, director of the Centre for Open and Distance
Education in Kenya, also praised IGNOU's project.
"The partnership is excellent. IGNOU has been the best choice for
our students because of the high quality study material. It has
attained a status higher than any other public university in
Kenya," he said.
"We plan to introduce more courses. It has removed all barriers of
topography for our students," added Mbuthia.
Sonkar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)