The Mastercard Foundation, United States International University-Africa (USIU-Africa), and Arizona State University (ASU) have launched the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program e-Learning Initiative, which will allow over 600,000 university students across Africa to successfully pursue their studies online over the next five years.

Many colleges, including those in the Scholars Program network, were compelled to cease face-to-face classes due to the COVID-19 outbreak and shift to online study. This program will build on the lessons learnt during the disruption by increasing existing investments and strengthening university partners’ capacity to deliver high-quality, relevant, and inclusive e-learning courses.

It will enhance the number of young people, notably those with disabilities, young women, refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs), and those living in rural regions, who have access to postsecondary education.

It will also contribute to a growing e-learning community. More importantly, it will contribute to the development of an e-learning community of practice throughout Africa and beyond, allowing for collaborative learning and the exchange of best practices and resources.

“This agreement will bolster our e-learning capacity-building alongside 10 other participating international universities and strengthen the Scholars Program partner universities to deliver high-quality and inclusive online instruction and provide virtual support to all students,” said Professor Freida Brown, Interim Vice-Chancellor, USIU-Africa. “It will also support the development of a community of practice in e-learning.”

During the first phase of the program (2020 to 2022), 135 faculty and staff from across 10 partner institutions will be trained to design and deliver online courses, and an estimated 95,000 students will access online learning. In the second phase (2022 to 2025), the number of online learners will grow to more than 600,000 and the initiative will be scaled to include new partners and institutions that are not currently part of the Scholars Program network.

Arizona State University (ASU), a leader in the space of e-learning, will serve as Lead Trainer, providing foundational training to the faculty and staff and conducting a series of tiered leadership roundtables and learning sessions. As the Network Facilitator, USIU-Africa, which was one of the first institutions in East Africa to successfully transition 90 percent of its programming online, will contextualize the content for an African setting and facilitate engagement and learning across the network.

The Mastercard Foundation Centre for Innovative Teaching and Learning will play a key role, hosting a shared Content Management System that will curate content from participating universities within the Partner network. The Centre will also provide support to those institutions interested in developing in-house e-learning resource centers.

“Arizona State University is bound not by geography, but by principles,” said ASU President Michael M. Crow. “Our focus is on student success and embracing technology to expand not only the quality of learning but access to education and thus our embrace of digital education. We are eager to take our work to a new level as part of this collaboration with USIU-Africa and the Mastercard Foundation to build online learning systems in Africa that are resilient to future shocks and customized to meet the individual needs of learners, anywhere on the continent.”

The initiative is aligned with the Foundation’s Young Africa Works strategy and the vision for the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program to create a transformative network of young people and institutions driving inclusive and equitable socio-economic change in Africa.

This initiative will connect young people to educational content that is relevant and context-specific through a curriculum that reflects labor market realities includes courses on transformative leadership and ethics and prioritizes mental health and well-being. Students will successfully acquire knowledge and be able to fully engage with faculty and coursework in a supportive online environment.

COVID-19 provided the impetus to rethink how we conceptualize and deliver education. “Digitally-enabled learning is the wave of the future,” said Philip Cotton, Director, Human Capital Development, Mastercard Foundation. “But for everyone to benefit from this trend, we have to act now to ensure that all young people – irrespective of their background or location— are able to access work-relevant training conveniently and affordably. A big part of that is strengthening the capacity of higher education institutions to deliver online learning.”

Since training began in July 2021, the 135 e-Learning Champions have commenced their learning journey by completing the two-week virtual Master Class for Teaching Online with ASU and have advanced to the next phase, which includes Specialized Coaching tracks in Instructional Design and Online Pedagogy with USIU-Africa.

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