COVID-19 and varying degrees of quarantine of lockdown has brought innumerable challenges, of that there is no doubt. In South Africa for example we’re still trying to come to grips with life in the new normal, with one of the more contentious issues up for debate being schools and whether should return.

While those in charge still mull over the decision, learners are losing out, which is why digital education and other online tools have been touting as the answer during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as into the future.

One company that has aimed to power learners and educators in this regard is HP Inc, with the form recently launching its BeOnline platform in the past couple of months.

To gain a better understanding of this platform, as well as what HP Inc is aiming to do for digital education for the entire continent, we recently spoke with its MD for Central Africa, Ify Afe.

This is what she unpacked for us.

Strength in collaboration

First focusing on the aforementioned BeOnline platform, Afe explains how the collaboration came about, and what the reaction from markets across the continent have been like.

“HP has been working closely with Classera, the leader in Learning Management Systems, and Mirai, a learning innovations group, to bring new technologies to the education community. Together, we’ve been able to support schools with our BeOnline program in establishing a fully-fledged virtual learning environment,” says Afe.

“The BeOnline programme provides users with a curated online learning pathway. It offers a complete virtual school set-up that includes digital lesson plans, virtual assignments, e-attendance, e-assessment among other support functions. With BeOnline, HP is driving technological innovation in education in our mission to enable better learning outcomes for 100 million people by 2025,” she adds.

As for what the education landscape will look like post-COVID-19, the MD is of the belief that technology will play a vital role, especially as the past few months have highlighted many of the hurdles facing the education system.

Consequently, the more savvy institutions and educators will look to leverage technology as much as possible.

“In these uncertain times, online programmes are essential if schools are to quickly adopt distance learning. Today, technology can support new styles of learning. PCs and tools designed for education can offer students flexibility of time, place, and pace of learning, whether in or out of the classroom, or in a blend of environments,” Afe points out.

“In the post-pandemic world, technology will be even more relevant than ever before, and that’s why we are committed to partnering with AUC (African Union Commission) to make our BeOnline program available across 55 African countries, with the objective of expanding digital learning opportunities,” she continues.

Key problems

Afe is also acutely aware of the other significant hurdles facing schools and institutions on the continent with regard to access to technology and connectivity.

Here she points to the efforts that HP Inc has made to collaborate with the right partners, which is something that other organisations should also look to do.

“Investing in technology that can facilitate online, commercial and educational activity is a crucial step that companies like HP have taken in response to this. Our non-profit initiative HP Refresh, which has been recently launched in South Africa as the first pilot on the continent, encouraging businesses to donate their old and unwanted laptops and desktops,” she highlights.

“In RSA HP partnered with Tarsus Technology Group, Go Rentals and Dispose-IT to donate laptops, desktops, and tablets to communities that have not benefitted from access to such technology. Only by joining our efforts can we overcome the challenges posed by Covid-19 and advance generations to come through digital education,” Afe adds.

Realm of possibility

Lastly, looking at Nigeria as an example, Afe is optimistic that a fully fledged digital education infrastructure is possible on the continent.

“Today, if you have electricity, internet access, a PC or smartphone – you can have access to everything – education, healthcare, communication, shopping, doing business, etc. Once schools are equipped with right learning solutions, we can witness the benefits of digital learning,” Afe posits.

“Our African young people are very creative, and I’m excited that technology can help them to quickly acquire skills so needed for the 21st century. Never before we could so easily bridge the physical and digital worlds,” she concludes.

[Image – Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash]