By hosting the next eLearning Africa, Zambia is confirming its commitment to placing Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) at the heart of its development projects and is highlighting the different plans and programmes in progress that incorporate ICT as an essential development factor. “We are very excited about this conference and see it as an avenue that can open up the country. It is a window of hope and a great opportunity for us,” says Professor Thomson Sinkala, Chair of the Zambia National eLA Committee.
In March 2007, the Zambian government launched its national ICT policy which will form part of a long-term plan called ‘Vision 2030’, the main aim of which is to become “a prosperous middle-income nation by 2030”. This long-term programme is supplemented by further plans, designed to promote Zambia’s social and economic development. The 2006 – 2010 plan – the fifth of its kind – for the first time places a direct emphasis on ICT to support the country’s development ambitions. Part of this plan involves installing fibre optic cables and telecentres for the benefit of rural communities. The National Development Plan is seen as an accelerator for the multiple uses of ICT, especially regarding knowledge sharing.
[callout title=Access to ICT]Zambia covers around 752,000 km² and has almost 12 million inhabitants, giving it a population density of 16 people per km². Currently, only 1 person in 400 owns a PC or laptop and only 1 in 100 has access to a telephone. Consequently, the impact of ICT in education remains low, both in terms of equipment and teaching methods. The few equipped schools are, in the majority of cases, supplied with second-hand or rebuilt equipment. Closing the digital divide is one of Zambia’s major aims. Statistics reveal the enormity of the task but the government, fully aware of the situation, has set itself ambitious targets, in particular to become a platform for ICT connected to its eight neighbouring countries.
Within the framework of the national ICT programme, a committee dedicated to eLearning has been established. This committee works closely with the government and can exercise full powers to propose and coordinate strategies in the field of eLearning. It has identified the lack of ICT skills and the cost of purchasing technology as the main obstacles for the integration of ICT in the Zambian education system. Zambia is classed among the poorest countries in the world* thus reducing the digital divide presents a real challenge. Nevertheless, the recent directions in governmental policy and action already being taken, together with the partnerships in progress, form a link between the government and civil society, giving hope for radical change. According to Lee Muzala, a member of the Zambia National eLA Committee, the exemplary nature of the current projects should set the tone for what will follow. The Zambia National eLA Committee ambition is to establish a firm link between ‘private projects’ and the government, with the aim of creating energy and fresh ideas, as well as leading the government towards the involvement of all the country’s schools.
A Selection of ICT Initiatives and Projects in Zambia
International Institute for Communication and Development (IICD)
IICD supports the reinforcement of the capacity of ICT networks for multi-partner development (ICT4D) in several countries and Zambia in particular. These networks encourage knowledge-sharing and activities to promote awareness on different levels, according to the needs of each country. Notably they support the Global Teenager Project (GTP), the Education Support Network Project (ESNet) and Enhance the Visual Presentation of Education Content (ENEDCO). More information can be found at www.iicd.org
Global Teenager Project
The Global Teenager Project (GPT) aims to encourage the use of ICT amongst teenagers and to develop their conceptual understanding of the different ways in which ICT can be used to help them achieve at school, especially in allowing them to communicate with other young people around the world. For example, the GTP enables its users to participate in learning groups in different languages, to organise international conferences on global citizenship and to publish specialist literature. In Zambia, 15 schools participate in the project and are involved in online exchanges with students from 85 different countries. More information is available at www.globalteenager-zm.org.
eBrain is a not-for-profit, membership-based organisation that promotes the development of ICT in Zambia. Its overriding objectives are to lobby, advocate, build capacity and conduct research on ICT for development issues. More information can be found at www.ebrain.org.zm
Computers for Zambian Schools Trust (CFZS)
Based at a boys’ high school in Lusaka, CFZS takes in PCs to recondition and redistribute to schools to be used to support the teaching of computer studies. The main activities in which the CFZS is involved include the training of ICT teachers, the provision of technical support to schools and the recycling of computers. To date, the project has reportedly sent 5000 computers to 300 schools in Zambia. More information is available at www.cfzs.zm.
With the support of audiovisual operators, SchoolNet Zambia has enabled teachers and students at several schools to make use of a satellite in order to access educative programmes. SchoolNet Zambia is also a partner of ‘Computers for Zambian Schools’ which works on reconditioning computers.
The University of Zambia and the Copperbelt University
The University of Zambia and the Copperbelt University offer computer science as a subject in its own right and both institutions have invested in highly-developed ICT infrastructures. More information at www.unza.zm.
Interview with Mr Lee Muzala, President of the eBrain Forum and Member of the Zambia National eLA Committee
Survey of ICT and Education in Africa: Zambia Country Report, available at www.infodev.org.