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Course beamed to Africa

Students from eight sub-Saharan African countries are currently taking an MIT course without leaving their continent, thanks to a new initiative of MIT's Center for Advanced Educational Services and the African Virtual University.

More than 190 students are participating from Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

The collaboration began with a phone call to CAES from the African Virtual University, a nonprofit, technology-facilitated institution based in Nairobi, Kenya. AVU uses modern information and communication technologies to give the countries of sub-Saharan Africa direct access to some of the highest-quality learning resources from around the world.


CAES put together a six-week curriculum loosely based on MIT's Introduction to Computers and Engineering Problem Solving (1.00), which teaches the Java programming language. The resulting course, Java Revolution, can be uniformly distributed regardless of equipment and bandwidth.

Java Revolution features videotaped lectures via satellite, a web site for course materials, e-mail moderated by teaching assistants, and two live videoconferences with Professor Steven Lerman, director of CAES' Center for Educational Computing Initiatives (CECI), and Judson Harward, a CECI principal research scientist. (Lerman is a faculty member in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, which offers 1.00 at MIT.)

MIT faculty also suggested students share information about this computer language on a Java User Group web site specific to the users of Java in Africa so that live interaction can continue long after the course has ended.

"There is a tremendous hunger for knowledge, particularly in the areas of science and engineering, in many parts of the world. We hope that this is just the beginning of a partnership between CAES and AVU to bring MIT intellectual content to wider audiences," said Professor Richard Larson, director of CAES.

"AVU has a five-year history of beaming quality education to university students and professionals in Africa from the best institutions around the world," said Sidiki Traore, a senior program officer at the AVU. "We are pleased to announce that another distinguished institution, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has joined AVU.

"The availability of Java Revolution is a historic event in education in Africa because, for the first time, students will be able to receive course certificates from world-renowned universities such as MIT, while remaining in their own countries. Thirteen learning centers are currently participating in MIT's Java Revolution course, and we expect to enroll more African students in MIT courses in the future," Traore said.

AVU students include university students and staff, professional staff working for information technology companies, and unemployed individuals trying to find a new career. At least 15 percent of the students are women.

Established in July 1997 as a World Bank project, AVU has just completed its first phase and is now a premier provider of technology-based distance education with 31 learning centers across the continent.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 24, 2002.

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