African governments need to have a supportive legal environment to eliminate barriers to meaningful use of computers in African schools.
Lack of infrastructure and adequate power supplies, limited Internet connectivity and education resources and the need for more awareness and policy support for education initiatives are all barriers to the meaningful use of computers in African schools.
“To ensure that the ICT industry flourishes and that local populations have access to technology, African governments must have a supportive legal environment in place and appropriate investments in this sector,” said Richard Kiplagat, Global Strategic Accounts Manager for Microsoft West, East, Central Africa & The Indian Ocean in an interview.
He said a national ICT strategy can be developed by identifying priority areas and the bodies responsible for the strategy implementation.
“In some cases, a new Ministry of ICT must be created to reinforce the government structure in these areas. ICT national strategies are most effective when drawn up in line with countries’ broader development and poverty reduction goals,” he said.
Kiplagat explained that Technology on its own was no guarantee of the desired result of fostering education, and there are a number of factors which limit the use of computers in African schools, however these can be overcome through government action and policies and public-private sector cooperation.
“Through public private partnership we aim to help address these issues where possible. For example, to help address the lack of ICT skills by teachers and in teacher training Microsoft operates the Partners in Learning program. Through ‘Train the trainer’ workshops, teachers receive ICT training they can in turn give to colleagues to spread the benefits of ICT through tailored curriculum developed by Microsoft,” explained Kiplagat.
He added that Partners in Learning provide grants and reduced software licenses to schools and students. The program is already in place in 15 African countries and to date has trained 200,000 teachers and reached 21 million students, many of whom were able to discover and use ICTs for the first time.
In partnership with governments, local NGOS and development organizations, Microsoft has also aimed to establish programs to address these needs.
In terms of access to PCs, Microsoft worked with the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) to establish a local PC refurbishment center in Uganda to make available cheap, quality computers to small businesses. Computers are available for one third of the original price and loaded with full Microsoft Office software. More than 10,000 PCs will be made available in Uganda in 2009 through this refurbisher.
Kiplagat said to address the lack of access to electricity, in Mozambique Microsoft also worked with UNIDO to open in March 2008 the first solar-powered ICT Business Information Center. The Center provides access to ICT resources such as computers and the Internet, as well as training for micro, small and medium sized enterprises while relying solely on renewable energy technologies like solar power.
To ensure relevance of software, Microsoft maintains a language localization program to create its software in local languages, and has already created some in several languages across the continent with assistance from local communities. The local language program has enabled populations to have access to software in their own language. For example, Windows Vista and Office 2007 will be available soon in 12 African languages: Afrikaans, Amharic (Ethiopia), Hausa (Nigeria), Igbo (Nigeria), IsiXhosa (South Africa), IsiZulu (South Africa), Kiswahili (East Africa), Kinyarwanda (Rwanda), Sesotho Sa Leboa (South Africa), Tswana (Botswana, SA), Wolof (Senegal, West Africa), and Yoruba (West Africa).
Kiplagat said “Microsoft was the lead partner in one of the five e-Schools consortiums, as part of a broader program implemented in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and private sector partners Cisco, Intel, Smartboard, Computainer, Fujitsu-Siemens Computers, Mecer, Lexmark, UTI, MRCSA, Mindset, Multichoice Africa, WorldSpace and HNR technologies.
He explained that in the 8 countries allocated to the Microsoft consortium (Kenya, Lesotho, Mauritius, Senegal, Mozambique, Rwanda, Nigeria, and Cameroon), Information and Communication Technology (ICT) solutions were implemented in 25 pilot schools. Together with the other consortiums, it was hoped that the broad impact of a successful NEPAD eSchools initiative would be the application of ICT in Education in the estimated 600,000 schools across Africa.
He said the aim of the project was to enable African schools to participate in the global information society by connecting schools across the continent through a satellite network distributing educational content on a continual basis. Schools receive a computer lab, software, teacher training, networking and connectivity, as well as maintenance and IT support, which are supported by Microsoft in its consortium.”