As Africa embraces digital transformation in education, the promise of producing engineers solely through online platforms has gained momentum. Especially since Covid-19, numerous virtual institutions have emerged, touting quick and often mesmerising modes of learning.
However, Namibia, and Africa in general must be cautious about falling into the trap of becoming a dumping ground for qualifications that prioritise convenience over competency and public safety.
The allure of wholly online engineering education, particularly at undergraduate level, poses a significant risk to producing well-rounded engineers to meet future challenges.
Rejecting wholly online undergraduate engineering education in favour of traditional and blended learning is crucial for public safety, ensuring confidence in the country’s technical industry, and preparing for intensive capital projects.
Engineers and technologists are at the forefront of the era of artificial intelligence. In fact, they have been the drivers of every industrial revolution.
Nevertheless, during every one of those revolutions regulation has always been central to the retention of what is good for the public.
In an era where virtual institutions, particularly from beyond the continent, increasingly wish to dictate to African governments how to understand the fourth industrial revolution, we must pay close attention to the realities.
Wholly online engineering education may be alluring, promising flexibility and convenience, but engineering remains a discipline that demands practical experience, hands-on learning and real-world application.
Relying solely on online videos and virtual simulations can compromise the development of critical problem-solving skills and hinder students’ ability to apply theoretical knowledge to practical situations.
This can result in engineers who lack the competence required to address the complexities of real engineering challenges, which can prove fatal for the end-user.
Blended learning approaches – combining digital resources with in-person experiences – offer the best of both worlds by leveraging the benefits of technology while ensuring essential hands-on exposure.
SKILLS AND CONFIDENCE
Engineering plays a pivotal role in shaping the infrastructure and solutions that directly impact public safety and well-being.
Rejecting wholly online engineering education guards against compromising public safety.
The country’s technical industry must be empowered with practicum-tested professionals to design and construct resilient solutions that can withstand tomorrow’s challenges.
Confidence in the technical competence of engineers is vital to inspiring trust among investors, stakeholders and the general public.
Considerations that can help to properly understand the issue include other professions that require practical skills and face-to-face training.
For instance, medical doctors cannot solely rely on online courses to master surgical techniques, and car drivers cannot become proficient merely by watching driving tutorials.
It is hard to imagine that anyone would trust their lives to doctors or drivers trained in wholly online regimes, even in an era of advanced medical equipment and intelligent cars.
Engineering, with its intricate applications and real-world complexities, is no different.
Accepting only online engineering education would be akin to gambling with the future of Namibia’s (and Africa’s) infrastructure and technical capabilities.
As Namibia charts the course for a new engineering law, it must stand firm in its commitment to building a future-ready technical workforce.
Part of this is guarding against 100% online-based engineering education, and embracing traditional and blended learning methods.
In this way, the country can develop a generation of highly capable engineers who can design resilient innovative solutions and lead the nation’s transition into the era of intelligent technologies.
As digital transformation reshapes education, it is essential to uphold the value of practical experience and hands-on learning, which is the cornerstone of competent engineering.
Let’s chart a course that prioritises quality and competence, laying the foundation for a resilient, safer and more prosperous technological future for all of Africa.
- Charles Mukwaso, president of the Namibian Society of Engineers; strategist, MBA student at the University of Namibia