Tech-MODE in Cameroon

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Executive summary

This country case study examines the dilemma of African development with particular reference to the role of agricultural education and training in Cameroon. The study attempts to show the needs, challenges and opportunities in the development of Cameroon agricultural sector using open and distance learning (ODL). Against the backdrop of global change and technological development it discusses the role of science, technology, research and development within the context of agricultural development. Using a map showing the location of the present agricultural and livestock training institutions in Cameroon, the author argues that there is great potential for increasing the access and improving the relevance of agricultural education through information and communication technologies (ICT). He identifies priority areas for expanding technology-mediated open and distance education (Tech-MODE) in agricultural education in Cameroon. The author further stresses the need for partnerships and makes recommendations for consideration by the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) in its on-going initiatives in promoting technologies in education in the Commonwealth.

Examining a continent-wide picture of the role of technology in agricultural education, Africa offers many opportunities for economic and human development of the continent, based on natural resources, enormous economic potential, the rich and diverse geography of the continent, and even its kaleidoscopic colonial history. It is time to transform erstwhile obstacles into opportunities and face the challenge currently being imposed by limited access to, and timid use of, available technology. Tech-MODE can contribute to effective and efficient agricultural and rural development in Africa, leading to sustained livelihoods, particularly among the poor, tillers of the soil and keepers of the hearth.

In Cameroon, national development is affected by a chronic and sluggish growth in the agricultural sector which, ironically, is considered the backbone of Cameroon’s future. Time is an important element in this strategy. In the 21st Century, African countries are obliged by rapidly changing circumstances to move fast and swiftly to marry science, technology and policy in their development agendas, particularly with regard to agricultural education. Unhappily, in Cameroon, ICTs are only being sluggishly encouraged and Cameroon is notoriously slow in creating an enabling environment for the rapid and widespread use of ICTs.

Cameroon's education policy is segmented among different ministries of the Government. The Government does not seem to enforce agricultural training in basic and secondary education. To the best of my knowledge, only one non-governmental organisation provides non-formal education in agriculture by distance to farmers. So far, government-owned and run agricultural training institutions offer formal post-secondary agricultural education in the country. The University of Dschang is the only institution of higher learning offering degree-level training and education in agriculture and agriculture-related disciplines such as agricultural engineering.

Taking into account its privileged position as the only national institution for agricultural education at the tertiary level, the University of Dschang experimented boldly with innovative methods in agricultural education through distance learning in 1988 under the leadership of this author. Today, agricultural education by distance is an approved academic programme at the University at both the Associate Degree level and BSc level. This programme by distance is offered in three options: Crop Production, Animal Production and Agricultural Management and consists of 20 courses available in both English and French, essentially in print mode.

Course development is a time and labour consuming process, involving many challenges, including demand, access, equity, equality, relevance, quality, management, and funding. Several indicators give hope for Tech-MODE in Cameroon. It is in this context that this case study identifies priority areas, guiding principles, intra and transsectoral issues for ODL in Cameroon.

As a recognized leader in ODL and a catalyst, COL can assist African countries in the expansion of Tech-MODE in many aspects, from the formulation of policies, through capacity building, to implementation of sustainable programmes. Finally, the promotion of ODL must be seen to be under two global social forces - globalization and competition - that come not only with opportunities for human progress but also with threats and challenges. The promotion of Tech-MODE must be harnessed to embrace these obstacles and transform them into challenges and opportunities for sustainable development in Africa in the 21st Century.


Executive summary 
Principal acronyms 
 1  Introduction 
 2  Opportunities of science and technology 
 3  The promise and the peril of the agricultural sector 
 4  Time management as a prerequisite 
 5  ICT policies and strategies in Cameroon 
 6  Energy crisis in Cameroon 
 7  Structure of agricultural education in Cameroon 
 8  Post-secondary agricultural education 
 9  Distance education in higher education 
10  National forum on distance education 
11  Towards a sustainable ODL / Tech-MODE programme in agricultural education 
    at the University of Dschang 
12  Priority areas for Tech-MODE in Cameroon 
13  Designing Tech-MODE courses for poverty reduction 
14  Transsectoral issues 
15  The threat of "borderless" education 
16  Recommendations and suggestions 
17  References 

Related information 

Principal acronyms

COL        Commonwealth of Learning 
GCE AL/OL  General Certificate of Education Advanced Level / Ordinary Level
ICT(s)     information and communication technology(ies) 
NGO        non-governmental organisation 
ODL        open and distance learning 
R&D        research and development 
S&T        science and technology 
Tech-MODE  technology-mediated open and distance education 
UD         University of Dschang, Cameroon 
UoG        University of Guelph, Canada

1 Introduction

Africa offers many opportunities. Firstly, it is richly endowed with natural resources. Secondly, the continent abounds with unmatched diversity and richness of economic potentials for effective development. Thirdly, the geographical size of the continent is a development asset that needs to be exploited. Finally, its colonial history - an erstwhile obstacle which could be transformed into an opportunity in today’s globalizing world.

The fact that the African continent was invaded, exploited and later abandoned by colonialists can be transformed into an opportunity today. Exposure and relations with the world’s major civilizations, such as English, French, Portuguese and German ought to be seen as an opportunity today for easier, friendlier, collaborative and cooperative dialogue for social, economic and political transformations in Africa.

Notwithstanding these opportunities, Africa remains the most “backward”, and “hopeless” of all the continents in the world. It has also been referred to as the “dark”, “forgotten” continent. These negative labels have been imposed by a conspiracy of circumstances that characterize perpetual underdevelopment of the region: ethnic conflicts and wars within and outside national boundaries, a yawning chasm of illiteracy, high and stubborn disease prevalence and low levels of development and application of science and technology (Nji, 2004).

All these factors negate the development of Africa’s key industry, agriculture, which is considered to be the engine or the lever of development for all the nations of the world.

2 Opportunities of science and technology

Evolutions in science and technology (S&T) hold the promise for the future of the development of the poor and emerging nations. This is enhanced by research and development (R&D), particularly in key sectors such as agriculture. Unfortunately, however, Africa is poor on both S&T and R&D for reasons widely discussed in many books on economic development and research.

What must be emphasized with respect to agriculture is that it is not so much the dearth of agricultural research that is the problem, as the limited access and affordability of the poor and rural dwellers to the available technology.

It is increasingly being recognized that open and distance learning (ODL) can increase access, diversify and improve the quality of education and enhance opportunities for improved livelihoods. Technology-mediated open and distance education (Tech-MODE) can contribute to sustainable agricultural and rural development in Africa at various levels, right from the grassroots through knowledge-production and policy formulation to decision-making levels.

3 The promise and the peril of the agricultural sector

In Cameroon, national development is being greatly hampered by the sluggish development of the agricultural sector which holds great promise for promoting development. The absence of appropriate and adequate infrastructure, weak institutions and policy to support the agricultural sector, a culture of poor management and misguided strategies stand on the way of a sustainable agricultural development (Nji, 1992).

A weak link in the agricultural development chain of Cameroon is the perpetuation of ill-adapted and untimely modes of education in the agricultural sector, even in the face of the opportunities presented by S&T in the 21st Century. All these limitations collectively conspire to put the country’s economy and its future in grave peril.

Yet, there is promise for the agricultural sector in Cameroon if S&T and R&D can be efficiently harnessed for development with the primary focus on agriculture, which is considered the main engine to drive the country’s development.

4 Time management as a prerequisite

One of the elements in this effort is TIME. The concept, implications and dynamics of time and its management are often either not well understood or managed. In agricultural development, time or timing is very important because agriculture is a biological science. Timing is critical in the sequencing of farm operations: land preparation, planting, weeding, harvesting, transportation, storage, processing, transformation, marketing and consumption. It is also important in the timing by policy makers, decision makers, scientists, technologists and so on embarking on technology. Timing, therefore, is important for African scientists and leaders at all levels and sectors to work in concert for evidence-based, science and technology-assisted development.

The concept of time is also important in the design and implementation of policies that promote agriculture. This implies that policy makers and scientists must streamline their efforts to create synergies that combine science with policy. This must be done in a timely and coherent way that takes into consideration the changing times and the opportunities that come with revolutions in science and technology.

One of the much publicized advantages of ODL is its cost efficiency compared to residential instruction. Yet, many politicians and policy makers in Cameroon seem to be oblivious of the need for speedy, comprehensive and coherent educational policy that embraces information and communication technologies (ICTs) particularly in agricultural education.

5 ICT policies and strategies in Cameroon

While other countries on the African continent are gravitating to adopt S&T, particularly ICTs, Cameroon is notoriously slow to innovate. Institutional inertia and the absence of a comprehensive development strategy constrain Cameroon’s development future (Nji, 2004).

As far back as 1984, Cameroon started “working” on a strategy dubbed National Computer Master Plan. The Plan never took off the ground until another plan, the Information Technology Plan was formulated and released in 2004. The Plan remains sketchy and theoretical as Cameroonians wait impatiently to see the cable or wireless networks in their homes and offices.

With less than 6% of the rural population and less than 20% of the national population connected to electricity, the use of ICTs remains a dream to many Cameroonians. Furthermore, it is estimated that less than 0.1% of the population has Internet connection. The Minister of State for Posts and Telecommunications recognizes this saga and promises to “face the challenge of adoption” of ICTs (La Nouvelle Expression, 2007:9).

6 Energy crisis in Cameroon

The energy crisis in Cameroon is another nightmarish dilemma chocking, crippling and stifling the economy. This is compounded by inadequate and untimely attention to the rapidly changing demands, needs and challenges of energy in Cameroon. No new investments have been made in the energy sector since 1990 while at the same time the production efficiency of electricity in Cameroon has dropped by 40% and the demand has increased by 6% (Foute, 2007).

Tech-MODE could be the source of promise for agriculturalists and rural development partners in Cameroon and in other developing countries. But without aggressive technology and energy policies, the development future of Cameroon remains bleak in today’s technological age. But the country remains optimistic just like Lukong (2007:11) who claims that “despite the hurdles of enhancing energy production in Cameroon; upcoming projects raise an iota of hope”.

7 Structure of agricultural education in Cameroon

The Cameroon educational system comprises the three universal levels: basic, secondary and tertiary. The education policy in Cameroon is segmented and handled by four different and autonomous ministries: basic education, secondary education, higher education and technical education. The Ministry of Technical Education survived a short life span from 2000 - 2004 where the new cabinet assigned the portfolio of technical education to a new Ministry of Labour and Professional Education.

The practice of agricultural education in the educational system at the various levels of education is as follows:

Basic education: Agriculture is not a compulsory subject on the basic education syllabus, although some schools elect to run school farms and gardens, not so much for educational purposes, as for economic and paternalistic reasons that tend to benefit the teachers and school administration more than the pupils.

Secondary education: As in basic education, there is no strongly enforced government policy on agricultural training in secondary schools. However, there is a national policy on training and examination in agriculture in the Baccalaureate, the French equivalence of the General Certificate of Education (GCE) Advanced Level. Preliminary information obtained from informants suggests that a handful of high schools offer agricultural training at this level in Cameroon. However, the training is not available at distance.

Vocational and technical education: Vocational and technical education is provided in Cameroon through public and private schools leading to BTS (Brevet de Technicien Superieur) or HND (Higher National Diploma). Agriculture is taught in some private, residential technical schools, mostly owned and run by religious organizations (Catholics and Protestants).

Non-formal education (NFE): Only one private institution, INADES-Formation (IF) an international NGO, is known to be on record for NFE in agriculture by distance. Farmers and rural dwellers benefit from correspondence courses run by IF on a number of agricultural topics. Learners who successfully complete a certain number of courses are awarded a certificate. There are no entry requirements and no deadlines, making the training ODL in nature.

Courses are distributed in print format to farmers in accessible areas and supplemented with broadcasts twice a week over regional radio networks. This author evaluated a project for the “dissemination of farm information to young farmers in the North-West Province” in 1987 sponsored by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada. The ODL model of IF includes Question and Answer Series in both print and radio. No other technologies are used in this training.

Perhaps with the passing of time and changing circumstances, more NGOs might develop interest and become involved in open learning in agriculture and rural development in Cameroon in future. But the limiting factor in these endeavours could be inexperience, resources, trainers with ODL capabilities and environmental factors.

8 Post-secondary agricultural education under the auspices of technical ministries or government departments

Formal agricultural education recognized and financed by government is offered in Schools of Agriculture under the supervision of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and Schools of Veterinary Science under the Ministry of Livestock and Animal Industries. The location of such institutions is given in Figure 1.

Figure 1.jpg

Schools of Agriculture: Four Colleges of Agriculture (Bambili in the North West Province, Ebolowa in the South Province, Maroua in the Far North Province and Bertoua in the East Province) offer general agriculture training for secondary school leavers. Admissions to these schools are by a competitive entrance examination.

Students who are holders of GCE OL certificates pursue studies leading to the award of a junior agricultural technical certificate after two years, while holders of GCE AL undergo studies leading to the senior technician diploma in agriculture after two years of successful studies. Approximately about 1500 candidates nationwide write the entrance examinations each year, but only between 300 and 400 are accepted totally in the four Regional Colleges of Agriculture.

Schools of Veterinary Science: The Ministry of Livestock and Animal Industries runs and controls three schools (one in Jakiri, North-West Province, a second in Foumban, West Province and the third in Maroua, Far North Province) for the training of veterinary nurses and livestock technicians. The Foumban Centre places great emphasis on the training of technicians in the fisheries. Approximately 4000 candidates write the entrance examinations each year but only 1000 are admitted to the various schools.

Wildlife and forestry schools: The Ministry of Wildlife and Forestry runs and operates two schools: one in Maroua (Far North) and the other in Mbalmayo (Centre Province). The school of wildlife in Maroua conducts training in various areas of nature and wildlife conservation, while the school in Mbalmayo trains forest rangers. The total residential capacity in both schools is approximately 500. All instruction in both institutions is through the residential face-to-face mode.

For reasons of educational culture and administrative tradition, none of the agricultural educational institutions is considered higher education institutions in Cameroon. Three reasons account for this. First, the minimum entry qualification into the schools are not GCE Advanced Level or equivalent levels. Second, the organizational structure of the schools does not correspond to higher education nomenclature. Third, the institutions are under the control of supervisory Ministries and not under the control of the Ministry of Higher Education.

The issues at stake are quality assurance and accreditation. It is argued that unless these schools are subjected to the rigour and culture of university education on these two scores at a minimum, they do not qualify as higher education institutions.

Higher education institutions: Of Cameroon’s six public universities, the University of Dschang (UD) is the only institution of higher learning with a clear mandate for higher education and training in agriculture. However, the University of Ngaoundere is also mandated by official government policy (MINESUP, 1993) to offer training in the processing of animal by-products (milk, butter, cheese and yogurt). Ngaoundere is also venturing into beer and wine research purely for educational purposes. All training at the University of Ngaoundere is by residential mode (face-to-face).

9 Distance education in higher education

The University of Dschang (UD) “is a pioneer and remains Cameroon’s best institution of higher learning in agricultural education and training…committed to excellence in agricultural teaching, research and outreach” (University of Dschang, 1996:1)

Distance education at UD started with a visit by an official from Dschang to the University of Guelph (UoG) in 1988. Between 1989 and 1990, teams from UD and UoG jointly wrote a proposal that was submitted to the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) for funding. The proposal “to establish a sustainable distance education project to train Cameroonians for a diploma in tropical agriculture” was approved for funding in April 1991 (University of Dschang, 1998).

This initiative evolved from a project to a programme in the Faculty of Agriculture and institutionalized as a programme at the University of Dschang subsequently (Nji, 1999). The Programme consists of 20 agricultural training courses in both English and French written, produced and delivered in Dschang by a team of faculty trained in distance education methodology both in Guelph and in Cameroon between 1992 and 1996. Three options were on offer: Crop production, Animal Production and Agricultural Management. Further details of this programme are as follows:

Registration: Enrolment into the programme is open to anyone who is interested in studying agriculture. There are no minimum educational requirements, age limits or datelines regarding enrolment. However, students who desire to pursue their studies at the university level in an accredited academic programme must hold the General Certificate of Education (Advanced Level) at the time of application for enrolment.

Method of instruction: The courses are essentially in print mode and the students enrol from all ten provinces of Cameroon. Courses are sent to them by post or through contract mail delivery systems. Some students pick up their courses personally on campus.

Language of instruction: Each of the 20 courses has been written in the first language of the author (either English or French - the official languages of Cameroon) and then translated into the other language. Students write their assignments and exams in the official language of their choice.

Quality assurance: Each course has been written following a needs assessment survey and is reviewed at various stages by qualified course writers and reviewers. The entire curriculum is approved by the University Senate upon the recommendation of the faculty. The diplomas are officially recognized by the Minister of Higher Education as an academic qualification equivalent to two years of residential instruction in agricultural education at the University of Dschang.

Student assessment: Each course contains at least two mailed assignments. Two examination sessions are organized each year. The students come to the main campus of the University of Dschang either in March or July for final practicals and final examinations.

Value of the programme: Students who successfully complete their programme and wish to continue their studies in the five year degree programme of the Faculty of Agriculture in the University of Dschang write an entrance examination (provided they are holders of the GCE AL or equivalent). Each year, the Government opens 10-15 places for suitably qualified external candidates (including holders of bachelor’s degrees in the sciences or agriculture-related fields).

Successful candidates are admitted into year 3 of the 5-year programme. Since 2002, five graduates of the distance education programme who went into the 5-year programme through an entrance examination have graduated with the “Ingenieur Agronome” degree awarded by the Faculty of Agriculture.

Problems: The development of distance education at the University of Dschang was not devoid of obstacles and constraints. Problems arose at the individual level where some faculty members openly opposed innovations through the institution, where faculty and university leaders built roadblocks to the development of distance education. Such road blocks included blackmail, stonewalling and institutional inertia. At the national level, obstacles included a policy vacuum for the promotion of distance education, lack of recognition for distance qualification and lack of accreditation mechanisms (Nji, 1999).

10 National forum on distance education

After several years of efforts, the Government of Cameroon agreed to organize a National Forum on Distance Education in September 2003 with substantial financial and technical support from the Commonwealth of Learning (COL). The forum identified among others the following:

Opportunities and strengths

  • The pioneering experience of UD and INADES-Formation.
  • Cameroon’s official bilingualism to serve the CEMAC sub-region.
  • Availability and willingness of partners such as COL, AUF to participate in the programme.
  • Availability of AT3 Terminal in Douala for large bandwidth.
  • Promising acceptance of ODL by government.
  • Pressure on existing educational infrastructure and resources.
  • Law of Orientation of Higher Education of April 16, 2001.
  • Law of Orientation of National Education of 1998.

Obstacles and constraints

  • Policy vacuum on distance education in Cameroon.
  • Several forms of resistance to ODL in Cameron.
  • Institutional inertia towards educational innovation.
  • Lack of infrastructure for ODL.
  • Absence of trained experts in ODL.
  • High cost of appropriate technologies required for ODL.
  • Limited energy supply to urban areas.
  • Poor communication resulting in isolation of rural areas.
  • Poor remuneration/motivation of teachers and farmers.

11 Towards a sustainable ODL / Tech-MODE programme in agricultural education at the University of Dschang

A politician once told me that all it takes to deliver education by distance is:

“…to sit in front of a microphone and read out a course to students who would listen over the radio or watch TV and take down notes.”

This is a totally wrong impression of ODL and an obstacle to participation and ownership building in sustainable distance education in Cameroon. My experience in course development in distance education shows that one has to go through a minimum of 39 steps over a minimum of two years from the time a course title is determined to the time the course is delivered to the learner.

In agriculture and other technical disciplines, special attention has to be paid to practicals, hands-on experience and learning. In addition to the exceptionally high standards expected of tertiary education, ODL practice in agricultural education in Cameroon and elsewhere must respond to quality, relevance, economics of the poor and institutional capacity (Sanyal, 1999; Green and Harvey, 1993 as cited in Deshpande and Mugridge, 1994).

Furthermore, the reputation of a distance education course greatly depends on the relevance and quality of its contents for the learner; therefore, distance educators and university officials must pay particular attention to course development in order to maintain sustained partnership and retain dialogue with stakeholders and audiences (students, teachers, employers, etc.) who can readily veto the style of teaching of distance education by teachers and tutors (Tait, 1997).

For technology-assisted ODL to be sustainable in agricultural education in Cameroon, it is important to be aware of the major structural challenges facing Cameroon higher education, such as the following.

The demand and access challenge: During 1976-1986, student enrolment in higher education grew at an annual rate of 9.7%, peaking at 19,598 students in 1986. During the economic crisis period, an extraordinary phenomenon occurred confirming the sociological hypothesis that “a crisis can increase the rate of adoption of a technology”. Tertiary enrolment rose by 14.7% during this period, giving a student population of 44,551 full-time learners in Cameroon’s higher education institutions during 1992-1993. This enrolment continued to climb to 60,000 in l998-1999 and now stands at about 120,000 in 2006-2007. The growth in student numbers has not been accompanied by a commensurate growth in infrastructure. Yet, the number of Cameroonians now enrolled in university studies at home represents less than 6% of the 15-24 years age bracket who qualify for university education; thus posing one of the most formidable challenges of our times: the demand for and access to higher education.

In the agricultural sector, this challenge has serious consequences for agricultural development, the engine that still drives the Cameroon economy. It is estimated that less than 25% of all Cameroonians who want to study agriculture at all levels ever get a chance to do so. This further frustrates candidates and contributes to dampen interest in agriculture.

The equity and equality challenge: Of the total number of overall student population in Cameroon's higher education institutions, less than 25% are female, although 52% of the Cameroon population are women. Furthermore, less than 25% of the student body in Cameroon universities come from rural areas or poor families. This poses a challenge for gender mainstreaming and equal opportunity in education.

The relevance challenge: Cameroon’s tertiary education institutions lag behind others in matching educational programmes with the world of work. There is a weak relationship with the competences and skills needed by learners and the needs of employers. Tertiary education in Cameroon is grossly out of touch with the reality and needs of employees and employers.

The quality challenge: The deteriorating quality of teaching is positively related to the quality of the teacher, infrastructure and the outcomes of learning.

The management and transparency challenge: This is a crucial phenomenon and a major quality challenge. The plethoric growth of the student body in Cameroon universities (Sagnal, 1999) has not been accompanied by an efficient management of student records in our universities (departments, schools, faculties or institutes, and universities). The complex context of Cameroon development policy, and its interface with a complex political, cultural and social system conspire to make university management both inefficient and ineffective. Centralization of the management system and insufficient accountability obfuscate transparency.

The funding or financing challenge: Reduced funding to higher education and agriculture, and the lack of differentiation in educational costing and billing transform the education sector into a perpetual arena of financial crisis management. The solution to this problem lies in the diversification of funding sources for education with special attention to agricultural education.

The partnership crisis challenge: The future of Cameroon universities depends on their ability to develop and maintain sustainable partnerships with civil society, the private sector, regional and international organizations through collaborative initiatives and cooperation. Such partnerships diversify resources and enhance system adaptation to globalization and competition. This is particularly true of agricultural education which is relevant for national development.

The information technology challenge: This is a crucial element in the survival of educational institutions in the 21st Century. Educators and learners have common interest in upgrading their technological capabilities and improving technological skills among students, academic and non-academic staff. Competitiveness in the Information Age depends on a thorough mastery of technology.

There is HOPE. All the challenges enumerated above, tend to create a crisis in Cameroon’s education sector. But there is hope. Instead of considering these challenges as constraints and obstacles to agricultural development, we should embrace them and transform our obstacles into opportunities by using appropriate technologies, strategies and policies (Nji, 1992). The following indicators are rays of hope for a technology-assisted distance learning in Cameroon in general, and agricultural education sub-sector in particular:

  • Article 11(4) of Law No. 2001/005 of 16th April 2001 on the Orientation of Higher Education in Cameroon stipulates that “distance education shall be recognized and encouraged as an alternative mode of developing higher education”, (Ministry of Higher Education, 2001). Similar provisions have been made in the laws of orientation of education at the basic and secondary/vocational levels.
  • A strong national presence of avid searchers of knowledge across all age groups and in virtually all sectors of the Cameroon economy.
  • A growing interest in lifelong learning, particularly among third-generation citizens.
  • Gradual but keen and growing interest of employers of the benefits and credibility of distance education and the perceived irreversibility of borderless education worldwide.
  • The potential for cost-effectiveness of ODL programs resulting from a large number of learners for agricultural courses.
  • The encouragement and support of friendly countries and international organizations committed to the promotion of ODL.

ODL can contribute to development and upgrading of skills (Mishra and Bartram, 2002), narrow the digital divide, assuage the knowledge and information deficit, enhance Cameroon’s ability to build a knowledge society and compete effectively in the 21st century, and thus contribute significantly to finding answers to the proverbial question of why poor people remain poor (Nji, 2004).

12 Priority areas for Tech-MODE in Cameroon

Participants to the Stakeholders National Forum on Distance Education held in Yaoundé in 2003 identified priority areas for ODL development in Cameroon. Although agriculture was not specifically mentioned, pursuing the areas proposed for ODL intervention will have a direct bearing on agriculture and rural development. The priority areas identified are:

  • teacher training,
  • skills and competencies development,
  • employment creation and income generation,
  • capacity building at all levels and in all sectors of the national economy,
  • literacy improvement to meet the goals of EFA and subsequent global declarations,
  • lifelong learning and continuing education.

To these goals should be added the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG) for poverty alleviation and sustainable development which seek specifically to:

  • eradicate extreme poverty and hunger,
  • achieve universal primary education,
  • promote gender equality and empower women,
  • reduce child mortality,
  • improve maternal health,
  • combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases,
  • ensure environmental sustainability,
  • develop a global partnership for development.

At the end of day, it must be understood that in Cameroon as in other African nations, the pangs of hunger, misery and disease are the same. Therefore, a number of key guiding principles such as the following are in order:

  • The number one problem at the roots of African underdevelopment is not lack of resources, not colonialism, not ethnicity but poor governance depicted by unaccountable, undemocratic and inefficient governments. This should be the focus of ODL in Africa.
  • Education institutions at all levels in all countries are catalysts of development as they empower individuals with skills and competences that allow them to participate effectively in the development process.
  • In all societies, sustainable development is achievable if development action is people-centred, problem and needs-oriented, goal-directed and focused on the common good.
  • Development education must tap indigenous knowledge and maximize the use of local resources (natural, human, capital and equipment).
  • ODL courses must be designed to encourage creativity, imagination and innovativeness in the learner and the ability to finding solutions to local problems.
  • ODL in Africa must address governance issues, transparency, good citizenship, and responsibility.
  • Courses should be developed to generate knowledge on national and global issues and to crystallize a culture of progress based on science and technology.

13 Designing Tech-MODE courses for poverty reduction

Based on the above guiding principles, a new breed of course authors will be needed. Course and programme designers must be equipped with skills in analytical and critical thinking so as to better address the needs of farmers and rural people most of whom are not literate in English or French and can ill-afford course materials due to limited economic resources.

On the learner’s side, the level of maturity of learners and their limited capacity for independent study, lack of resources, the specific forces that shape the psychology and sociology of in-school and out-of-school learners (Yates and Bradley, 2000; Robinson and Latchem, 2003; Keith, 1999; Gibson, 1994) are factors to be taken into consideration while training the trainers for sustainable ODL programmes in Africa. Intrasectoral considerations include:

At the basic education level:

  • Functional literacy (reading, writing and numeracy),
  • Open schooling for school drop-outs and victims of social exclusion.

At the secondary and vocational education level:

  • Initial training leading to diploma and certificate awards,
  • Education in life skills and vocational competences,
  • Non-formal, community and adult education,
  • Teacher education and professional development,
  • Continuing education.

At the tertiary level:

  • High level human resource development,
  • Creative thinking, problem-solving and reflection,
  • Strategic planning,
  • Management of natural, human, financial and capital resources,
  • Policy formulation and decision-making,
  • Research, science and technology development,
  • Governance, quality control and assurance,
  • In-service teacher training.

14 Trans-sectoral issues

These are themes that cut across all the sub-sectors of the education spectrum. An aggressive ODL initiative in Cameroon will do well to keep the following issues in mind:

  • Audiences and characteristics of distance learners.
  • Student support systems including student assessment and course evaluation.
  • Technological issues (access, availability, affordability, convenience appropriateness, efficiency).
  • Leadership and management.
  • Resources such as availability, affordability and mobilization.
  • Cost and benefits of alternative delivery systems and modes.
  • Policy environment (political will and commitment).
  • Cost-benefit analysis in ODL development and delivery.
  • The inherent social nature and purpose of education.

15 The threat of “borderless” education

As the initiative for promoting ODL in African agriculture is being considered, advocates of ODL need to keep in mind that the African continent is seriously threatened by two irreversible global social forces: globalization and competition. Both come with threats and opportunities which all stakeholders should be urged to strive to marry and manage for the development of a sustainable ODL system.

A movement is taking hold in the World Trade Organization (WTO) to make higher education a commodity. In this context, tertiary education can be traded and bought just like any other commodity. In an era of globalization, this means that the actors involved in the education market must be prepared for competition. Such preparedness for competition includes building synergies, alliances, collaboration and cooperative linkages.

Quality is a key element in the commercialization of a commodity. Therefore, the future of any educational system depends on the quality of its products. And the quality of such products depends on the quality assurance mechanisms of the system that produces them.

Careful course development and preparation are the first key steps in assuring quality education. In the context of the changing tertiary education landscape, a number of key new actors are emerging in the “borderless” tertiary education market place from “click” (virtual universities) to “brick” (traditional universities).

Unfortunately, Cameroon is currently not ready or armed enough to embrace any one of the two evils. These facts and macro-dynamics call for novel, inward-looking organizational structure or a sort of looking-glass and a paradigm shift to confront the inevitable wave of change that is being brought about the revolutions in science and technology.

The development of ODL in this time and age also compels us to be aware of the rapid shifting away from classic discipline-led approach to teaching and learning, and the growing interest in applied knowledge in all fields of study resulting in the blurring of the erstwhile distinction between basic and applied science and research. Unfortunately, Cameroon will be slow to come on-board.

Molecular biology and biotechnology, advanced materials sciences, microelectronics, information systems, robotics, intelligent systems and neuroscience as well as environmental science, technology and engineering are among the most significant new areas embracing new organizational and management designs (Gibbons, et al, 1994; World Bank, 2002).

What this means for Cameroon’s ODL future is that all initiatives to promote ODL in the country must take into consideration the realities of these new configurations in knowledge creation which may imply not only a reconfiguration of academic departments but also the design and construction of novel professional and institutional road maps.

This implies that programme designers and course authors will be expected to adopt interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary attitudes, trans-disciplinary work ethics, and the ability and willingness to work in teams rather than as individuals.

For example, a course developed by a subject matter specialist with the participation and input in graphic design from an instructional designer, using an appropriate technology mix under the guidance of a media specialist with the final touches of an editor and a cover designer will have more content and context appeal than a course designed by a subject-matter specialist alone.

Besides, the experience in teamwork that will be learnt from developing ODL materials will inevitably contribute to improving the quality of residential instruction and the development of the team spirit and collective responsibility that agriculture portends.

16 Recommendations and suggestions

The following recommendations might be useful in initiatives to expand Tech-MODE for agricultural education and improved livelihoods in Cameroon in the face of dwindling and sometimes misguided financial resources and the dictates of structural transformations in the on-going paradigm shifts:

  • Capacity and institution building are crucial for the promotion of Tech-MODE. The training of a critical mass of technicians and managers should also be given serious thought.
  • Funding is crucial but this must be tied to technology access through increased bandwidth, cost savings, reliability and the quality of the technology.
  • The Tech-MODE budgets should be determined from the bottom up including a detailed costing of the design and presentation in Cameroon.
  • The media mix, availability and expected results and impacts should be well determined taking into consideration the strengths and weaknesses in Cameroon.
  • Seriously consider marrying careful preparation with persuasive presentation through clarity and meaning in Tech-MODE material for all learners, particularly primary, secondary and vocational school level and for lifelong learning with low levels of literacy in English and French.
  • In higher education, first year or undergraduate courses challenge the course authors, media specialists and designers to be more creative, imaginative and innovative. Tech-MODE methodology should take this variation into account.
  • Enhancing cost savings in Tech-MODE by encouraging higher enrolment rates and promoting cheaper student management with appropriate technologies is crucial for sustainability of the strategy.

From my experience developing the distance education programme at the University of Dschang from 1988 to 2000, the timeframe for setting up a distance education programme is given below.

Conception, design and approvals ........................................... 3 years

Implementation, i.e., training, course development, marketing .... 3 years

Institutionalization .................................................................. 6 years

This adds up to twelve years from project idea to the stage of a functional accredited academic program in an educational institution. It may be noted that the development of course materials for Tech-MODE delivery may take even longer time. But this timeframe will change with the goal or objective.

It should and will change in contexts blessed with strong political will and commitment, institutional leadership committed to the ODL or Tech-MODE, resources available for programme development and delivery, a trained core of professionals or academics involved in the programme as well as a peaceful, progressive and stable political environment. Partnership, cooperation and collaboration at national, sub-regional, regional and international levels are also crucial.

It must be noted that the distance education programme at the University of Dschang was developed during a period of economic and political turbulence, institutional uncertainty, limited stakeholder capacity and awareness of the potentials of distance education. These factors should be taken into consideration in the development of Tech-MODE methodology, strategy and goals.

17 References

Deshpande, Prakash M. and Ian Mugridge (eds.). 1994. Quality Assurance in Higher Education: Papers presented to a Symposium on Quality Assurance in New Delhi, India (July, 1994). Vancouver, Canada: The Commonwealth Of Learning.

Foute, Rousseau-Joël. 2007. Coupures d’électricité: comment en sortir?” Le Dossier de la Rédaction. Cameroon Tribune No 8853 (Wednesday, May 23).

Gibbons, M., C. Limoges, H. Nowotny, S. Schartzman, P. Scott and M.Trow. 1994. The New Production of Knowledge: Science and Research in Contemporary Societies. London: Sage.

Gibson, Linda: 1994. A Working Manual for Course Writers in Distance Education. Guelph, Canada: Distance Educ. Project.

Green, D., and Harvey L. 1993. Quality Assurance in Western Europe: Trends, Practices and Issues. In T. W. Banta, C. L. Anderson and B. Berendt (eds.), Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Assessing Quality in Higher Education. Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University.

Harry, Keith (ed). 1999. Higher Education Through Open and Distance Learning. London: Routledge Falmer.

La Nouvelle Expression. 2007. « A peine 1% de Camerounais connectés ». La Nouvelle Express No 1984 (Thursday, March 23) :9.

Lukong, Pius Nyuylime. 2007. “An encouraging Government Policy”. Cameroon Tribune No 8853 (Wednesday, May 23).

Mishra, Arun KK. And John Bartram (eds.). 2002. Skills Development through Distance Education. Vancouver, Canada: The Commonwealth of Learning.

Ministry of Higher Education. 2004. Draft Strategic Plan. Yaoundé, Cameroon: General Inspectorate for Academic Affairs.

----- 2001. Law of Orientation on Higher Education. Yaoundé, Cameroon: National Assembly.

----- 1993. La Reforme Universitaire au Cameroun. Yaoundé : MINESUP.

Nji, Ajaga. 2004b. Why Poor People Remain Poor: Key Elements for Poverty Alleviation and Sustainable Development. Yaoundé, Cameroon: Buma Kor Publishers.

----- 2004a. Report of the 739th Wilton Park Conference on Development Priorities and the role of Tertiary Education (March 8-12). London: Wilton Park Conference Centre.

----- 1999b. Handing-over Notes and Inventory of the Centre for Distance Education. Dschang, Cameroon: University of Dschang.

----- 1999a. How roadblocks are mounted on the path of the distance education programme at the University of Dschang (1988-1999). Dschang, Cameroon: Centre for Distance Education.

----- 1992. The dialectic between appropriate technology, appropriate policy and rural development. Discovery and Innovation 4(1):33-45.

----- 1981. The revitalization of rural communities through integrated rural development. Buea, Cameroon: National Printing Press Annex.

Nji, Ajaga and Jonas Tchakoa. 1997. Project Analysis. A Distance Education Course. Dschang, Cameroon: University of Dschang, Centre for Distance Education.

Perraton, Hilary and Helen Lentell (eds.). 2004. Policy for Open and Distance Learning. London: Routledge Falmer.

Robinson, Bernadette and Colin Latchem (eds.). 2003. Teacher Education Through Open and Distance Learning. London: Routlededge Falmer.

Sanyal, Bikas C. 1999. Evaluation et Enjeux de l’enseignement supérieur du Cameroun : Elements pour un plan stratégique de développement. Paris : IIPE.

Tait, Alan (ed.). 1997. Quality Assurance in Higher Education: Selected Case Studies. Vancouver, Canada: The Commonwealth of Learning.

University of Dschang. 1998. Final Narrative Report of the DEP”. Dschang, Cameroon: CDE. Faculty of Agriculture.

----- 1995. Distance Education at the University of Dschang. Information Brochure. Dschang, Cameroon: CDE.

----- 1995. Distance Education Catalogue: Certificates and Diplomas in Tropical Agriculture from the University of Dschang. Dschang, Cameroon: Centre for Distance Education.

Yates, Chris and Jo Bradley (eds). 2000. Basic Education at a Distance. London: Routledge Falmer.

World Bank. 2002. Constructing Knowledge Societies: New (La Nouvelle Expression, 2007:9) Challenges for Tertiary Education. Washington, D.C.: Author.

Related information

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Web Resources

The Main Page on Tech-MODE in SSA is Tech-MODE_in_SSA

For brief information on the country studies see the poster presentation: Tech-MODE Poster

For information on agricultural open educational resources (AOER) see the poster presentation: AOER Poster

For a Synthesis Report on all eight country studies see Tech-MODE Synthesis

For the Country Study on:

Distance Learning for Agricultural Development in Southern Africa
Rainer Zachmann, Mungule Chikoye, Richard Siaciwena, Krishna Alluri
In 2001, the Commonwealth of Learning (COL), Vancouver, Canada, and the In-Service Training Trust (ISTT), Lusaka, Zambia, initiated a program for agricultural extension workers in Southern (and Eastern) Africa to develop and deliver distance-learning materials. Participants from Namibia, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia produced materials, pre-tested them with prospective learners, improved the materials in a workshop in 2002, and implemented pilot programs in their countries in 2003 and 2004.

ICT/ICM Human Resource Capacities in Agricultural Research for Development in Eastern and Central Africa
Rainer Zachmann, Vitalis O. Musewe, Sylvester D. Baguma, Dorothy Mukhebi
Human capacities are lagging behind the quickly evolving information and communication technologies and management (ICT/ICM). Therefore, the Regional Agricultural Information Network (RAIN), one of the networks of the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA), commissioned an assessment of ICT/ICM human resource capacities and related training needs in the context of agricultural research for development. The assessment included visits and interviews, questionnaire surveys, and desk studies at national agricultural research systems in the ASARECA subregion. We found a general lack of ICT/ICM policies which has serious consequences, and leads to a wide variety of training needs. Fortunately, most training needs can be satisfied with resources available locally, in-house, in the country, or in the ASARECA subregion.