Human Resources

Adrian Schofield (Africa) - IT and Education in Africa

There is an old story called "The Curate's Egg". For those of you not familiar with this tale, it is about a young priest who is having breakfast with his bishop when he discovers that the boiled egg he has been served is so old it has gone "off". The bishop enquires, "How is your egg?" Not wishing to offend, the young man replies, "Good in parts, my lord."

The progress of technology in education across the African continent reminds me of the Curate's Egg, in that it is good in parts but leaves much to be desired when taken as a whole.

None of us can doubt that Africa's future is in the hands of its young people. The better the education they receive, the better they are equipped to be economically active, socially responsible and globally competitive. Many African countries have a fundamentally good education system, with good curriculum, good teachers and good standards, while, regrettably, many others struggle to provide a meaningful academic outcome for a significant proportion of their young citizens.

Regardless of the level of achievement, Africa shares common challenges in the delivery of education - lack of resources, lack of content, lack of infrastructure (particularly in rural areas). But 21st Century technology can go a long way to solving these problems, if governments and the school and college administrators take advantage of the successes that have been achieved in many locations.

The key ingredient is the spread of the wireless networks, linked to the growing number of submarine fibre-optic cables around the African coast or to the satellites spinning in the skies above. Providing affordable access to the networks for students and educators enables the delivery of top quality up-to-date learning materials to all learners, regardless of location.

Some of the "good in parts" examples that show what can be achieved:

  • In Kenya, the "Solar Classroom in a Box", provides 10 computers that run on solar power for $16,000.
  • Also in Kenya, the curriculum is being digitised, so that it is available on Kindle e-readers.
  • In Ghana, an MTN ICT Centre of Learning serves more than 40 schools in a locality - 3 of a planned 10 have been rolled out.
  • Also in Ghana, 160,000 laptops have been supplied to schools, with plans for 400,000 more to be delivered.
  • In Rwanda, Galaxy Tabs are provided in school libraries.
  • Zambia has set the goal of "every desk one computer" and is seeking funding from government and sponsors to achieve it.
  • Bilateral partnerships with multinational suppliers give Ministries of Education access to affordable products.

InfoDev (a World Bank agency) carried out a survey in 2007 of the role played by ICTs in African education. While accepting that 5 years is a long time in both politics and technology innovation, many of the survey's observations remain true. Countries in North Africa have benefited from better bandwidth and a closer relationship with Europe. Countries with stable economies are able to extract the added value from ICT support of education, albeit still too dependent on donor contributions in some instances. Other countries still need skills, infrastructure and funding to advance the use of ICTs in education. An opportunity not to be missed!


By Adrian Schofield, Manager, Applied Research Unit, Joburg Centre for Software Engineering @ Wits University


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Adrian Schofield

Adrian Schofield has spent more than half his life working in and for the South African ICT industry at national, regional and global levels. For the last 10 years, he has conducted applied research for the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering and is currently serving as a Board member of the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA), the Africa ICT Alliance (AfICTA)... See More

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