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Tear down education’s brick walls and think e!

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In today’s educational environment, Information Communication Technology, ICT, provides the best opportunities for developing countries to catch up with the developed world and provide its citizens with greater opportunities than ever before.

E-learning and e-commerce are the ultimate equalisers for the developing world since the cost of e-infrastructure and e-resources are much more affordable than traditional infrastructure and resources. But in order to take advantage of this the education community has to change its focus from “traditional” thinking (i.e., brick buildings, furniture, and physical space) to e-thinking.

What do I mean by e-thinking? Simply, thinking and putting into use electronic resources. One, we need to use the Internet as a transportation method—the information highway—to generate greater space and time in terms of speed. Two, the World Wide Web (WWW) and e-storage devices “creates” more space.

For example, in any traditional educational institute or business, infrastructures are the greatest costs: space, buildings, roads, and other accommodations. Now the Internet and WWW largely liberate us from these expenses and the time spent on constructing them.

Furthermore, using e-resources we do not need as large of a workforce and can streamline organisations to deliver our products and services.  Until 2006, I was working in South Regional/Broward College Library in BrowardCounty[i] , Florida, USA. We had a collection of about 120,000 hard-copy volumes and many e-resources, and that required more than 65 people to maintain them because the hard copy (print and videos) were the largest circulating material.

Today in the AmericanUniversity of Nigeria, AUN, we have a collection of more than 210,000 e-books and about 26,000 hard copy materials, but we have a staff of only 14 people and operate out of a much smaller space in part because about 90 per cent of the circulating materials are electronic and do not require cataloguing and handling. In fact, right now we could operate with an even smaller number of staff, but we will soon move to our new multi-functional smart library and need the staff to keep the library open nearly 24-hours a day. The key benefit, however, is in terms of cost: our 210,000 e-books are less than a quarter of our 26,000 hard copy books even without counting all other expenses associated with hard copies, such as cataloguing, handling, shelves, and floor space.

In addition to subscribed (paid) e-materials there are enormous open access e-resources available for free in almost all fields of education. These resources are greater than the collections of most public and academic libraries in most countries of the world. For example, the “Directory of Open Access Journals” alone as of September 30, 2013, contains 9,944 titles of academic journals[ii]  all free. To put this savings in context, in 2009 – 2010 the AUN Library paid $144,000  or N22,357,440 for 400 academic print journals.

The saying, you get what you pay for, usually means cheaper price means inferior product, but now because e-devices are becoming more effective, functional and less expensive compared to earlier ones, library resources can provide more than they did before, and for less.

For example, in the AUN Library we have replaced the following equipment with a Smartphone.  The cost of the above equipment is about $4,000 or N62,1040. In addition, the Smartphone uses less electricity, occupies much less space, and doesn’t need office furniture. It performs additional services like camera, video recording, and more.

Today Nigeria has a great opportunity not just to be part of the e-revolution, but to actually lead the e-revolution. Nigeria is blessed with millions of kids; if they receive the exposure and training so that only a few of them go on to create globally competitive games they will generate more money than the country’s oil industry.

Educational institutions and even private businesses should stop building with bricks and move to the e-revolution. Most institutions in Nigeria have enough resources to do this because it is more affordable than traditional resources and less expensive than those brick walls they build.
  Amed Demirhan is Director of Library at American University of Nigeria.

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