Online exam prep on the rise in Mauritania


Cyber-cafés are more expensive than libraries, but parents have begun to see the advantages that the internet has brought to Mauritanian education. The Internet has become a major component of Mauritanian education, according to baccalaureate students and teachers, but some parents don't want to pay their offspring's cyber-café fees.

"Children keep nagging me for more money every day, claiming that prepping for their finals requires the Internet," said Seyid Ould Arbi, a 56 year-old father of three. "Personally speaking, I don't understand that, and I simply can't spend money on something I don't understand."

Arbi's children have joined a growing number of students who have turned to the Internet to further their studies.  "The Internet offers us students a chance to read about the different theories and approaches we study at school," said literature student Souad Mint Hamahou Allah, who uses the internet to take online classes at home.

"What's discussed in class is really not enough, if you want to be on top of your subject," she said. "Therefore, you have to read further material online."

Schools are now only one among many resources for acquiring knowledge in Mauritania, teacher Salick Ould Mouloud said.  "The global information revolution made school a minor station in the pursuit of knowledge," Mouloud said. "Teachers are therefore embarrassed, since what they offer is very limited."

"When students enter a topic in any search engine, they are taken aback by the size of the returns they get – explanations, analyses, commentary, etc.," he said. "Using the Internet to prepare has become a necessity for both the student and the teacher. Both of them need technology."

Parents accustomed to a different academic culture don't always see that necessity – at first. Mariam Mint Sidi Mohamed, a 50-year-old mother of two girls, accompanied her daughter to a cyber-café several times before she decided that the Internet could contribute to their education. Mohamed finally became convinced, she said, when she saw that her daughter's classmates were also using cyber-cafés.

"I lived with some bac students years ago, and I recall that they used to spend hours in public and private libraries, and that never cost them any money," she said. "Nowadays, students frequent cyber-cafés and desert the libraries. It looks like life is changing fast." First-time bac student Selma Mint Mohamed Vadel, 18, also had a difficult time convincing her parents to pay for internet costs.

"I couldn't convince my parents of the importance of the internet in preparing for the finals," she said, "so I took my father to my school principal so he would discuss with him our need, as students, for modern technology."

Vadel's father, a peasant farmer, decided to help his daughter with the fees.  "Now, my family provides me with what I need, and I'm happy about it," she said.

Cyber-café owners have profited from the growing role of the internet in Mauritanian education.  "My café remains packed with students practically all day, since it's close to a complex of private schools," owner Abderrehman Ould Levdhal said. Cyber-café owners often position their businesses near schools in Nouakchott and Nouadhibou to attract students.

"I'm seriously considering expanding [the café] soon, so it can accommodate more students, especially since bac exams are nearing," Ould Levdhal said.