The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) is both a vision and a strategic framework for African renewal that has been created by the Organisation for African Unity (OAU). The overall goal is the development of an integrated socio-economic development framework for Africa. A major component of this framework is the development of information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure as this is seen as being essential to the achievement of long-term sustainable socio-economic development on the African continent. The NEPAD e-Africa Commission is the NEPAD Task Team responsible for developing and implementing ICT projects, one of which is the NEPAD e-Schools Initiative. We talked to Sandy Malapile who is Project Coordinator Content with the NEPAD eSchools initiative.
eLA: What is the background of NEPAD e-Schools initiative?
Sandy Malapile: The NEPAD e-Schools Initiative was publicly launched in Durban at the Africa Summit of the World Economic Forum on June 12, 2003. The Initiative aims to impart ICT skills to young Africans in primary and secondary schools as well as harness ICT technology to improve, enrich and expand education in African countries.
Private sector involvement in the e-School Initiative is through the Information Society Partnership for Africa’s Development (ISPAD). This partnership brings together fiscal and human resources, as well as ICT infrastructure and curriculum materials, from private and public sector partners as well as civil society. The first phase of the Initiative is a Demonstration (Demo) project that is being implemented by the private sector partners.
Project execution will entail at least the following components: infrastructure including computes, communications, networking, power, etc.; ICT training for teachers; content and curriculum development; efforts towards community buy-in, involvement and ownership of the process; “health point” definition issues; organisation and management of the project; partnership issues; and financial and sustainability issues.
There are other strands that form part of this initiative such as Business Plan development, National Implementing agency and Satellite Network.
eLA: What is the aim of the NEPAD e-Schools initiative?
Sandy Malapile: The aim is to equip all African primary and secondary schools with ICT equipment, such as computers, radio and television sets, phones and fax machines, communication equipment, scanners, digital cameras, copiers, etc., and to connect them to the Internet. Each school will be equipped with a ‘health point’. The NEPAD e-schools Initiative will be executed over a ten-year period, with the secondary school component being completed in the first five years. Three phases are envisaged with fifteen to twenty countries in each phase. The phases will be staggered by one year. An estimated 600,000 schools are expected to benefit.
The countries invited to participate in the first phase are those that have acceded to the MOU of the NEPAD African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) as follows: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Mali, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda.
eLA: How are the schools – both students and teachers – reacting to the new challenges?
Sandy Malapile: The first monitoring and evaluation report has been produced providing feedback from the participating schools. The current level of student experience with ICTs and their proficiency in using them is generally quite low. More than 55% of the students stated that they had no experience at all in using computers. Their typical school environment neither provides much opportunity for student access to computers and related ICTs nor the training to use them.
However, they are keen to change this reality! Most students’ comments demonstrate a clear understanding of the ways that the use of ICTs could enhance their learning experience and the importance that they attach to acquiring ICT skills for their future. But they also demonstrate an understanding of the barriers that hinder their achievement of these goals, such as lack of access to equipment, obsolete and poorly maintained equipment, and the lack of trained teachers.
While the majority (75%) of responding teachers have no, or very limited, experience and expertise regarding ICT educational applications, the other 25% do have a good to excellent level of competency and are applying it in their classrooms. This obviously reflects both the training they have received and the ICT resources available to them in their schools. Very few teachers (less than 15%) reported using ICT tools for teaching, communicating with other teachers or students, finding information or educational materials, preparing reports or monitoring and tracking student progress.
But here, too, there is a lot of enthusiasm. The teachers’ comments were extremely positive, and they are highly motivated to improve their skills – for a variety of reasons, including career enhancement, personal growth, or to become better teachers. They are, however, also very aware of the factors that constrain their ability to achieve these goals.
eLA: What are the main problems with implementing ICT in African schools?
Sandy Malapile: Some of the main problems are the often ineffective management of the project in countries, the fact that expectations of governments have still to be clarified, and communication that is complicated by the use of three languages – English, French and Portuguese. There are also current infrastructure problems such as Internet connectivity. We have to align the existing e-learning initiatives with the NEPAD e-Schools, as many activities similar to the e-Schools Initiative are underway.
Also most of the participating countries have an ICT development policy for education or are developing one, but very few have clear implementation plans. It is therefore necessary that each participating country formally establish a National Implementing Agency for the NEPAD e-Schools that will bear responsibility for all operational aspects of the initiative’s implementation.
eLA: What is the NEPAD e-School Satellite Network?
Sandy Malapile: This project is at the core of enabling the Internet-based connectivity for the NEPAD e-Schools Initiative at the Continental level. The aim is to establish an Africa-wide satellite network that will connect the schools to the Internet as well as to points within each country from which educational content will be fed to the schools on a continuous basis. MBV Ubumabono Systems Pty (Ltd) has been appointed to provide the definition and preliminarily design of the NEPAD e-Schools Satellite Network within the next four months.
eLA: Mr Malapile, thank you very much indeed.