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OU on the BBC: African School - The Open University in Africa

Updated Tuesday 8th August 2006

2005 is a crucial year for Africa - offering a chance to make a break with the past and to start building a strong new future for all its people. Education is a vital key to this strategy, and here the Open University's Vice Chancellor, Brenda Gourley introduces the role the OU is playing

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The Open University promotes educational opportunity and social justice by providing high-quality university education to all who wish to realise their ambitions and fulfil their potential. This aspect of the OU’s mission explains why the University that was founded to tackle inequality of opportunity in the UK is just as intent on addressing such issues on a global scale.

The media focus in the UK and around the world is currently resting on Africa and the role that ‘developed’ countries (particularly those in the European Union and G8) can play in resolving the poverty and conflict that has blighted its recent history. This task does not fall solely to the nation state however; it is the responsibility of every individual as a global citizen.

Responsibility also rests with universities. Africa’s difficulties represent an issue which they must tackle through their research and teaching if they are to demonstrate themselves as engaging with the big issues of the day, rather than simply being centres of ivory tower thinking.

Africa is the second largest continent at nearly twelve billion square miles and with almost 700 million inhabitants. Its communities range from Cairo, Africa’s largest city with over nine million inhabitants, to small villages where the closest neighbours are hundreds of miles removed.

Africa is comprised of fifty-three countries and over a thousand languages are spoken. Those who believe that there is a single solution to "Africa’s problems" are mistaken. There are numerous different problems throughout Africa, many of which are well understood by Africans themselves. This is why The Open University works in partnership with groups in Africa to empower and enable them to work towards the resolution of their varied problems.

Universal Primary Education is one of the key United Nations Millennium Development Goals, but in many African countries AIDS has severely reduced the number of teachers. Often the teachers that remain have received little teacher training. The Open University’s Digital Education Enhancement Project (DEEP) and Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa (TESSA) projects work in collaboration with African schools and communities. They provide this much-needed teacher training that can provide young Africans with the essential skills needed to become active and valued members of their community, able to develop their own solutions to the challenges they face.

The Open University’s Ferguson Centre for African and Asian Studies impacts on UK and African cultural, academic and civil societies by engaging in a number of collaborations that enrich cross-cultural understanding, develop enduring partnerships, and encourage high quality research. The University has recently received its largest ever private donation of £2.7 million from The Allan and Nesta Ferguson Trust enabling the University, and more specifically, The Ferguson Centre to continue with its work and commitment to Africa.

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