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Education and training for the African animal health sector

Africa is short of trained technicians, scientists and practitioners, not least in the animal health sector. Educational establishments struggle to cope with the demand for places or the shortfall in trained personnel. Universities lack resources in teaching staff and laboratory facilities to cope with the growing demand for education. And there is a great, largely unmet, demand for a wider range of postgraduate courses and training, including higher degrees as well as less formal opportunities for Continuing Professional Development (CPD). CPD is increasingly seen as a vital means by which animal health professionals can keep abreast of the developments and new challenges arising in their sector. But busy professionals find it extremely difficult to undertake fulltime, conventionally taught courses. A promising alternative to the conventional approach (for both undergraduates and post-graduates) is the use of advances in information and communication technology - including the internet - to deliver more flexible distance learning opportunities; so called 'e-learning', where 'e' can equally stand for electronic or enhanced.

A conference to address these issues was recently held in Kenya, organised by the University of Edinburgh - which has considerable experience in e-learning in the medical field - in collaboration with Makerere University, Uganda. Senior animal health professionals from eight African countries attended, including several Deans of Veterinary Faculties. Their comments, quoted in Points of view, indicate the needs, challenges and options for education and training in Africa, not just for animal health professionals but also more broadly.

Recognising the need

We have seen the gap as far as capacity is concerned in animal health delivery in Africa. We have formal training at the university level, and the major problem in these faculties, as far as my observation, is that the universities are not able to meet the demand of infrastructure for the animal health service.
Professor Eli Katunguka-Rwakishaya, Director of School of Graduate Studies, Makerere University, Uganda

Infrastructure is not there and veterinary workers are not enough, especially the vets who have been formally trained for five years or more, they are not there. So the system is relying on community approaches: a vet trains community people in basic skills. If we can have an e-learning where a single vet can link up with trainees in different places, I think it offers a very huge opportunity.
John Ogoto Okeleng, Director of Livestock Development and Marketing, Secretariat for Agriculture and Animal Resources, Southern Sudan

Malawi, on paper, has got a strong veterinary sector. But, in terms of numbers, in the whole civil service there are only five qualified vets. Four of those are in education, including myself, and there is only one active vet in the city of Blantyre, a young man who is actually doing the work.
Ben Chimera, Deputy Director of Veterinary Services, Malawi

(For) 20-50 years we have been trying to train vets around the world. We are doing training in epidemiology, in transboundary diseases, but we face the problem that we have to travel, we have the cost of the ticket. We hope that with this e-learning we will be able to cover this gap.
Felix Njeumi, Animal Health Officer in charge of Disease Management, FAO, Rome

Initially we were producing veterinarians who could be employed by government. But now, increasingly, veterinarians have to go into the private sector. So they need some additional skills, which will help them compete in the private sector, and we have revised our curriculum to incorporate business management courses, practice management courses. And even IT courses are becoming part and parcel of the degree curriculum.
Professor Rudovick Kazwala, Department of Veterinary Medicine and Public Health, Sokoine University, Tanzania

That is true, you need a complete set of new skills. You need skills in business management, skills in procurement, social skills, public relations, communication skills. Because you are now dealing with a completely different ball-game. And you need to know the farmer's perceptions.
Professor Eli Katunguka-Rwakishaya, Makerere University, Uganda

People need more management skills, especially vets. I think we are very poor managers and we are poor on the finance side. I know myself that I am very bad at that. But when it is your own business, you have to make sure you have money coming in and you want to make a profit as well.
Thokozani Hove, Deputy Dean, Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Zimbabwe

Communities shy away from sending their girls or women. So, if we have a means to deliver training to where they are, we can break the barrier, the barrier that stood preventing women from participating in training. It will also be a means of convincing the community that it is not only men that can do it but women as well can do it.
John Ogoto Okeleng, Southern Sudan

Resources available

Starting with the resource people themselves, they need to be trained in developing curricula to be used in e-learning. Some of them may not be computer-literate because they don't have the PCs available to them as individuals. So, in getting to the e-learning process we need to boost both our infrastructure and the facilitation to be able to develop course material.
Professor Paul Kanyari, Dean of Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Nairobi, Kenya

The challenge might be if we do not develop the internet system and if we do not have facilities in the region for students to have desktop and computer link to the internet - probably those could be a challenge.
Getachew Abebe, Professor of Parisitology and former Dean of Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia

We need to start doing at whatever level we can afford. We have to propose 'do-able' things. Once you start at the university, the lecturers will get involved and the students will be exposed. And many students are computer-literate; once they got out they already know how to use the Internet. We have the telephone, which is coming, where there is no need for wires to connect to the Internet. Things are going to be unstoppable.
Professor Susan Mbugua, Chairperson for Kenya Veterinary Board, Kenya

In Africa a few years ago there were few people with a cell phone. But in my country, for example, Cameroon, we have at least 20 per cent of people who have access to cell phones. Maybe e-learning is new, but give one or two years to Africa. In the case of FAO, when we running a TCP (technical cooperation) programme, we put in place a computer, and that computer is available for the vet services; they can use it for e-training.
Felix Njeumi, FAO

Computer literacy is almost non-existent, so you need to introduce computer literacy. Also you need to raise awareness of this sort of training; people may have a low opinion about it. So you need to overcome that so that people don't say, 'Well those who learned this way without going to class are inferior in terms of quality, compared to the rest.
John Ogoto Okeleng, Southern Sudan

We need to include expertise from the region itself. I think we need to bring in people from all spheres and in the end design and develop the programme in the best interests of the recipients at the other end.
Morkel Terblanché, Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Pretoria, South Africa

We do not have the funds to send groups or people for training as vets but we have facilities like computers. I know colleges, some private, some public, which can assist in establishing this networking. This is the only way Malawi can go ahead with vets. There is no personnel, so this e-learning is a good opening.
Ben Chimera, Malawi

Actually, e-learning is not a new philosophy. In Africa, because of limited funding, inability to have enough resources, people have been saying, 'How can we revolutionise the teaching process?' That is why in Tanzania we established an Open University. It has got more students than any other college or university that we have. I think IT is the way forward.
Professor Rudovick Kazwala, Sokoine University of Agriculture, Tanzania

Taking resolutions through to actions

As a group here, we have six African universities represented by their Deans, and I think it is a very important group because they can come up with tangible plans for the future. My thought is that the different universities should have their representatives get together and investigate their strengths. If Nairobi is very good in clinical sciences, can we assign them the assignment of promoting the e-learning of clinical sciences? If Sokoine is strong in something else, they can develop e-learning there.
Professor Paul Kanyari, University of Nairobi, Kenya

It is my hope that as we go back to our respective universities this meeting will give us the mandate to nominate representatives that should be trained in e-learning and delivering e-learning materials. We are used to standing in front of students to teach, but this is something new.
John Kabasa, Dean of Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Makerere University, Uganda

What I realise today is that there are limited resources in Africa to fund all these activities. The idea to use this e-learning technology is a fantastic idea, but now we have to think about how we implement it, how we get some aid to start with these programmes. We need sponsors to support these activities in Africa.
Jabbar Ahmed, Head of Division of Veterinary Infectiology & Immunology, Research Center Borstel, Germany

We were invited here to come and look at new learning approaches in capacity building in animal health and over the one and a half days we have zeroed it down to e-learning as one of the approaches. I am sure many of our countries have farmers' groups who would like to learn. We did not handle that. I think these can also be target groups.
Professor Rubaire Akiiki, Department of Veterinary Parasitology, Makerere University, Uganda

Ten years ago in the UK, the internet was just starting to be used in education. Up to that point e-learning was being delivered primarily through multimedia CDs. Many millions of pounds were invested in the development of these materials, and many of these materials were developed for veterinary education. All of those materials are still available, and if you can acquire the funding to enable you to buy into those across the veterinary schools in Africa, it's a way of embedding those materials into current undergraduate programmes.
David Dewhurst, Assistant Principal (e-learning and e-health), University of Edinburgh

This development is a very exciting one and I think that the way forward is also to let the larger public be 'in the know.' I propose that a short documentary, lasting about 15 minutes, be prepared to explain what e-learning is about, what the outputs can be and what the outcomes could be. That would be very important.
Charles Mahama, in charge of Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Control, Veterinary Services Department, Ghana

Date published: November 2005


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