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Thursday, August 04, 2005

NEPAD e-school; Africa on the march

FEATURES:

Five years into the 21st century, the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) seems to have found its footing as its electronic schools (e-school) initiative takes off the ground, reports REMMY NWEKE.

UNLIKE the often African political projects, the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD’s) electronic school (e-school) eventually took off recently at the Uganda’s Bugulumbya Secondary School in Busobya Village of the Kamuli district.

This being the first NEPAD e-school on the continent attracted the official presence of Uganda’s President, Mr. Yoweri Museveni, on July 18, 2005.

The project took a new shape in July 2001, with five heads of state from Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa, resolving to engage in a mandate of creating sustainable programmes to integrate the continent into the global economy.

Analysts observed that one of the most important projects that showed potentials was the e-Schools Africa initiative, which was designed to transform about 600,000 schools into e-schools with Internet access, Personal Computers, software among other learning materials, while establishing an e-health points.

This is with the intention that within the first five years of the implementation all African high schools would be converted to e-schools’ taste and 10 years for the primary schools to fit into this dream.

Initial Nepad e-schools project was officially launched at the African Economic Summit (AES) in Durban, South Africa in 2003, even as the initiative has since received the support of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the African Development Bank (ADB).

“The NEPAD initiative is welcome and should be applauded as it is in line with our goals of reducing illiteracy and poverty,” Mr. Museveni had declared. Noting that this project would not only benefit the people of Bugulumbya but the whole nation.

He stressed that the Uganda Ministry of Education would definitely carry on with this programme and the government of Uganda would put aside a budget for it.

The Bugulumbya’s school now has computers and accessories, server, internet, electricity, mobile telephone booster mast, computer desks, Digital Satellite Television (DSTv), e-health facility, and trained teachers.

Deputy Executive chairperson of NEPAD’s e-Africa Commission, Dr. Henry Chasia, said “This is the first time that African governments, NEPAD and the private sector are cooperating on an ICT project on this scale and scope in the NEPAD framework”.

Dr. Chasia pointed out that it is through such partnerships between the government and private sector otherwise known as Public, Private sector Partnership (PPP), that the continent would be able to impart modern Information and Communications Technology (ICT) skills and knowledge to the youth, in order to enable them face the challenges of ever-changing information society and global economy.

“This technology would enable the young people of this village to tap into the global mainstream of information and knowledge, where they would learn and play, expand their imagination and their creativity as well as collaborate with their peers across the African continent and across the world,” he buttressed.

It was not surprising therefore that this came as the e-Schools initiative grabbed an international award as the Global Intelligent Community Visionary of the Year 2005. The award was organised by the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF), a special project of the World Teleport Association, a non-profit organization that focuses on the uses of broadband and information technology for economic development by communities, with trading associates in 20 nations globally.

ICF, however, conducts research, creates conference content, publishes newsletters and presents annual awards for intelligent community developers.

Manager, Information Society Partnership for Africa’s Development (ISPAD)-NEPAD e-Africa Commission, Ms. Pam Mallela, accepted the award, according to ICF.

But the Manager, Public Communications at NEPAD e-Africa Commission, Mr. Samuel Mikenga, said in a press statement made available to Champion Infotel that the award was received by the Nigerian Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations (UN), Dr. Simeon Adekanye, at the recent ICF conference in New York, for NEPAD’s ability to generate support from the private sector.

Mr. Mikenga also quoted ICF led by Mr. John G. Jung, as saying that the “scope and intention of NEPAD’s plan to attain a degree of success saw the body up to date generating both financial support and the private sector’s collaboration, as well as its understanding that satellite communications are key to broadband access in most areas of the world, led ICF’s committee to acknowledge NEPAD in 2005”.

ICF during the award ceremony also noted that, in its effort to connect the schools to the internet, and therefore to the global infrastructure where knowledge workers and future opportunities will be created, NEPAD showed total commitment to leveraging the capabilities of satellite technology.

“This is the first time that African governments, the private sector, foundations, development agencies and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), have come together for a common ICT project developed and driven by Africans, and for Africa”, asserted Dr. Chasia.

He emphasized that Broadband information and communications technology remain the key to the success of e-Schools project as the commission intends to procure satellite capacity in bulk and make it available for the connection of NEPAD e-schools to the internet.
NEPAD’s e-school initiative is an Africa-wide satellite network of 10-year proposal involving connection of selected schools to the internet as well as to points within each country from where educational content could be fed to the schools on a continuous basis.

It also involves ICT training of teachers and students, content and curriculum development, community involvement, participation and establishment of ‘health points’.

The NEPAD e-schools demonstration project, which began last year, has been identified as a critical initial step for the implementation of e-Schools project. In the proposal, Six schools from each of the 18 participating countries would initially benefit from the e-schools demo before it could be extended to other schools within a given participating nation, hence serving as a hub.

Some of the countries to benefit from this proposal include Nigeria, Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Mali, Mauritius, Mozambique, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, and Uganda.

And with the recent first e-school launched in Uganda, other heads of state and government on the continent, particularly participating nations are expected to officially launch the first NEPAD e-schools in their respective countries.

The partnership created by the NEPAD e-Africa Commission was to fulfill the objectives of the NEPAD’s ICT programme under the aegis of the Information Society Partnership for Africa’s Development (ISPAD).

ISPAD is made up of private sector partners leading the consortium for the NEPAD e-schools demonstration programme, namely, Hewlett-Packard (HP), Microsoft Corporation, satellite operator INMARSAT, Oracle Corporation and Cisco Systems.

Although the launch of e-school at a district in Uganda is commendable, it must be noted that the continent has not been very fast when it comes to deployment of technology and in some cases where these facilities would be available, they are misused due to lack of sustainable instrument.

Therefore, NEPAD e-Africa Commission must be made to be more efficient in its maintenance structure so as to avoid unfavourable stories such that these facilities are vandalized, or suffer any kind of unencouraging marks of mismanagement and corrupt dealings.

It is only this way that ISPAD members among other interested foreign investors would have faith on African leaders and their governments, thus stimulating and encouraging continuous support for the benefit of the entire continent, even as the schedule roll out, country by country must be taken very seriously, so as not to derail from the original terms.

Analysts, however, are of the opinion that Africa has the capability to make e-school initiative work very efficiently for better tomorrow at the same time bridging the digital divide on the continent.

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