How About a Spare Time University
for Sub-Saharan Africa?

Michael H. Glantz
15 May

How About a Spare Time University for Sub-Saharan Africa?

This idea for a "Spare Time University" may sound a bit crazy to other people, but to me it is an idea that can work. I want to develop a way to get a lot of people involved in knowing about today's problems and proposed solutions in various aspects of life, especially those aspects related to climate, water, and weather.

Everyone knows that weather and climate influence many things that can lead either to a good harvest at the end of a growing season, or to a poor harvest. Weather and climate can affect the amount of moisture in the soil, the water needs at different times in the life cycle of a crop (from sowing the seed to harvest). Climate affects the abundance of pests that can eat crops (such as locusts), the abundance of mosquitoes, and so forth. Prolonged droughts or heavy rains can be quite disruptive and destructive of human activities and settlements. And now there is a lot of talk about the likelihood of a change in the climate that people have come to know and cope with.

A lot of people are too busy or do not have the opportunity to take formal courses in school, whether it is at the high school or the university level. They are too busy trying to put food on the table. Or they do not have the funds to go to places of higher learning. I want to bring those places to them -- for free -- to those who want to participate. Radios, cellphones, and newspapers: these are ways that could be used to get information to the people who toil all day to make enough money to feed their families.

"Usable" information is a top priority of a Spare Time University: new agricultural methods, new fishing techniques, different ways to till the soil or terrace a hilly landscape, and methods used elsewhere to harvest water in dry areas, and so forth. This kind of information can be brought to villagers who want to listen or read about it and learn more.

The information for each course can be relatively short and to the point. It can be highly user-friendly, without using a lot of scientific words. There is time to read or listen to the courses, however we finally decide to deliver them to the villages and remote areas, as well as to poorer neighborhoods in major cities around the world.

The reason that I think the idea of a Spare Time University is urgently needed in sub-Saharan Africa right now is that the traditional approaches to education and training appear to be painfully show and overly selective, with some of the selection criteria for acceptance into high schools and universities left over from the Colonial Era -- and with a strong European bias.

Spare Time University is not an idea developed for developing countries. The truth is that it was an idea developed by the Chinese government a few decades ago. As I understand it, the notion of a Spare Time University was developed to help to close the gap between those going to universities to earn advanced degrees, and those people who labor in the fields and factories, who have neither the time nor the level of education to gain access to and succeed in a formal university setting. It was an attempt to level the playing field in society by enabling workers to participate in university courses and to be part of the development process of the country. As I said earlier, it can be carried by cellphone, radio, TV, or newspapers.

In the industrialized world, there is considerable interest in what we call a "Free University" and in informal educational programs that are designed for "K-to-Grey"; that is, designed for people from kindergarten (K) to old age (grey). Learning is truly a lifelong process. So, what do you think of this idea for sub-Saharan Africa?

Let me know: email me at I want to pursue it. The question is whether Africans want to pursue it. I do not want to be the person who tries to help someone get across a busy street that he or she does not want to cross!

--Michael H. Glantz

Fragilecologies Home Page | Full List of Articles