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New online marketplace opens for education in Africa

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eLearnAfrica this week launched a new online marketplace for education, making it easier for students to search for and enrol in online courses, online degrees, and professional certifications from some of the best universities in the world. 

As the furore around #feesmustfall and free education continues, one social enterprise has come to the fore with a promising solution.  eLearnAfrica this week launched its new online marketplace for education, making it easier for students throughout Africa to search for and enrol in hundreds of online courses, online degrees, and professional certifications from some of the best universities in the world.

eLearnAfrica is a social enterprise committed to increasing and expanding educational and employment opportunities throughout Africa through an innovative web portal that connects users of all educational levels to trusted third-party and collaboratively created content.  eLearnAfrica’s mission is to make learning opportunities available to everyone through an easy-to-use website and mobile app. In addition, eLearnAfrica is highly intuitive with a content discovery solution that delivers personalized recommendations tailored to each user’s preferences.

eLearnAfrica has partnered with some of the leading online course providers to make available courses from some of the best universities in the world.  These courses use video and other online resources, and students take a short test to progress to the next class.  Most of these courses can be taken for free, and some courses also offer a verified certificate of completion (with a modest administration fee).

eLearnAfrica works with both edX and FutureLearn to offer a huge variety of courses to its primarily African audience. EdX, the nonprofit online learning destination founded by Harvard University and MIT, offers hundreds of courses from the world’s top institutions, such as top-ranked Wharton Business School, the University of California, Berkeley and more.

“We are delighted to collaborate with eLearnAfrica,” said Anant Agarwal, edX CEO and MIT Professor. “We are deeply committed to edX learners on the continent and have a partnership with The University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg (Wits), a first of its kind collaboration between a major MOOC provider and an African university. Our work with eLearnAfrica will help further the edX mission to increase access to high-quality education for learners in Africa and around the world.”

FutureLearn, the social learning platform wholly owned by the Open University, offers over 4.5 million learners access to free online courses from world-leading UK and international universities, centres of research excellence and specialist education providers like the British Council, Creative Skillset, and European Space Agency.

Nigel Smith, Head of Content at FutureLearn, commented on the partnership: “We’re very pleased to be one of the launch partners for eLearnAfrica. Although we are UK-based, 70% of our learners are based in countries outside the UK and with our mission to pioneer the best social learning experience for everyone, anywhere, eLearnAfrica is a great partner for us.”

He continued, “With 8% of our current learners based in Africa, there is clearly an existing appetite for free, high quality education from reliable and trustworthy sources but also huge potential for growth. We offer a vast array of professional development courses that can increase employability or help learners to start their own businesses, while our general interest courses provide something for everyone with lifelong learning ambitions. And of course, through our social learning platform, all our courses offer an element of experience of studying abroad with different cultures without the expense of leaving the country. We have no doubt that eLearnAfrica will be both popular and successful and we look forward to working with their team to reach more learners on the African continent.”

To make sure that Africans can take video-based professional certification programs, eLearnAfrica has joined hands with industry leader itSM Mentor, which has over 1400 classes in close to 175 specialized areas.  Students can quickly become certified by mastering Microsoft Office, learn accounting, project management, or information technologies.

Students interested in earning a degree online, can find Associates and Bachelors programmes in Business Administration, Computer Science and Health Science and even a Masters programme in Business Administration from the world’s first non-profit, tuition-free, US-accredited online university, University of the People (UoPeople).

CEO of eLearnAfrica, Brook Negussie, said the portal is set to become Africa’s trusted source for open education.  Negussie, who is known for his work in providing internet access for schoolchildren across Africa, added: “As an educational platform, eLearnAfrica offers opportunities to African students at every stage of higher education and career development, with courses from the world’s best universities, including full degrees, vocational training, and industry-standard professional certifications.  We set out to combine local knowledge with long-term global expertise through partnerships and academic excellence, to bring the best in the world to Africa in one easily accessible marketplace.”

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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