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Technology and Education - a natural fit for Africa

By , ITWeb
16 Nov 2016

Technology and Education - a natural fit for Africa

With the exception of South Africa and Botswana, governments willing to commit significant resources to ICT is a relatively recent trend in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2010 Kenya completed the East African Marine System (TEAMS) undersea fibre optic cable project which increased East African broadband and led to the establishment of Kenya's Information and Communication Technology Authority.

Throughout Africa's shift away from economic disconnection to technological advancement and integration with the global economy Rwanda has come a long way since the 1990s. The Rwandan government has placed becoming a technology hub at the centre of the country's national priorities.

This wise move has highlighted the potential of African nations to shape ICT policies as a catalyst for innovation with global applications. The country has adopted e-government service initiatives, actively forged partnerships with international investors and significantly reformed its private sector.

Rwanda is now the highest ranked African country—ranking 54th on the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business list—ahead of countries like Chile, Luxembourg and Greece. Rwanda now has a ministry exclusively devoted to IT and the country has made undeniable progress in shaping a business environment driven and shaped by technology.

Africa's emerging technology movement and especially Kenya and Rwanda's formation of ICT authorities to guide the sector have prompted other governments such as Nigeria, Ghana and Tanzania to define and augment their own national technology strategies.

Referring to Rwanda's Vision 2020 Programme launched by President Kagame in 2000, the Minister of Youth and ICT, Jean Philbert Nsengimana has said: "Our development strategy has been clear from the beginning [...] ICT would be one of the foundations of our transformation." The objective is to transform Rwanda to a knowledge-based, middle income country with science and technology at the intersection with business and government.

In education, Rwanda has embraced technology at the primary school and university level through its "One Laptop Per Child" programme and a partnership with Carnegie Mellon University which is now offering advanced degree programmes in Computer Science and IT on campus in Kigali.

Rwanda's commitment to science and technology is now paying off because it is increasingly being regarded as a "start-up" country. Some of the interesting developments are:

  • The country is manufacturing laptops for the Argentinian hardware maker Positivo BGH through its Kigali Special Economic Zone
  • A tech-driven African Smart Cities Initiative is being hosted as a joint venture with Ericsson
  • The $100 million Rwanda Innovation Fund will be launched next year to invest in early stage tech start-ups.
  • Rwanda is leading in drone technology and is also looking to lead in other cutting-edge technologies such as blockchain and others

Natural link

Technology and education is a natural link for Africa. Not only does technology facilitate learning but the sector can also provide jobs for the future. Technology can stimulate entrepreneurship and innovation. However, to capitalise on the development potential of technology, sustained access to meaningful education is vital. In fact, it is critical to long-term improvements in productivity, the reduction of poverty cycles, demographic transition, preventative health care, the empowerment of women and reductions in inequality.

Over 60 million children of primary school age are not at school—a shocking number when one considers that they are being denied the promise of youth. Most of these are in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

In particular getting girls into school and ensuring that they stay and learn has what UNICEF calls a "multiplier effect." Educated girls are likely to marry later, have fewer better nourished and educated children, and educated girls are more productive at home, better paid in the workplace and more able to participate meaningfully in social, economic, and political decision-making. There are many other benefits to proper education for girls.

Access to basic education lies at the heart of development and by now the commitments to Education for All and the Millennium Goals should have resulted in a more equitable participation in basic education; lower levels of gender inequality; smaller variations in enrolment rates between rich and poor and urban and rural areas and a smaller spread of achievement between the best and worst performing schools. It should also have reduced the proportions of children who are significantly overage for their grade. However, this has often not been the case.

Governments and development agencies are failing these children. In 1990 national leaders and international development agencies met in Thailand and committed themselves to making primary school access universal by 2000. In 2000, in Senegal, they met again, reviewed progress that had fallen short of expectations and moved the target to 2015. Now the Millennium deadline has come and gone. This is a tragedy. It betrays the promises made in 1990 and 2000 to those who were children then, and are now young adults.

There is no good reason why children who are of school-age are not in school. There are lessons to be learned from a country like Haiti—one of the poorest countries in the world.

Haiti's economic struggle since its independence is common knowledge. Human living conditions in this impoverished nation have barely improved after decades of financial aid. The devastation of the 2010 earthquake—and more recently Hurricane Matthew—have made matters worse by destroying most of the infrastructure including schools, roads, and hospitals.

In 2012 my government began to research new and innovative ways of funding the many development projects needed to stabilise and improve the lives of the country's population.

The Haitian Ministry of Education estimated that 43,992 schools were affected by the earthquake—23% were either damaged or completely destroyed. About 1.5 million children and young people under the age of 18 were estimated to have been affected by the earthquake either directly or indirectly. Approximately 720,000 of these were aged between 6 and 12. It was essential for education to continue and some schools were held under canvas because of the large number of schools that had been completely destroyed.

Realising that Haitians could only break the vicious circle of impoverishment if they received quality education it was necessary to step in and help them. Only then would they be able to move forward as educated, and skilled citizens. Only then would they realise their full potential and in turn be able to support the human development of others and an inclusive economic growth path. But where were the funds to come from?

My government and I realised that they needed to think very creatively to identify new sources of potential revenue through innovative financing mechanisms and especially for education. The most viable of these were evaluated and it was decided to levy a micro-contribution on all money transfers into the country from the millions of Haitians living abroad (diaspora).

A micro contribution on international telephone calls coming into the country increased the revenue to be channelled to education and the Free and Universal Education for All Programme (PSUGO) was born. As many as 72 schools were built and free, quality education provided for 1.4 million needy children. In some cases homeless children were accommodated in boarding schools and elementary school attendance rose from 55% to 90%.

If Haiti—one of the poorest countries in the world—can do this so can any other country. It just requires steadfast commitment from the government and the will to succeed. Where there is a will there is a way. We owe it to the kids to get them into school.

* By Laurent Lamothe, President and founder of LSL World Initiative.

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