The NEPAD e-Schools Initiative is the key to bridging the digital divide and ensuring socio-economic development of African countries, said the Deputy President of South Africa, Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka, when she opened the NEPAD e-Schools stakeholders conference, held in Johannesburg from 15-18 April 2008. The conference, which was aimed at discussing NEPAD e-Schools progress and the business plan, was attended by South Africa's Minister of Communication Dr. Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri, the Minister of Education Naledi Pandor, and the Minister of Education of Gabon, Michel Menge, as well as permanent secretaries and directors-general from 17 African countries, other government officials, private sector companies, teachers and learners.
“To participate in the worldwide knowledge economy, we have to strengthen our collaborative efforts and develop effective national and co-ordinated regional strategies. Our countries must become knowledge economies to stay above water,” said Deputy President Mlambo Ngcuka.
“We recognise that this NEPAD e-Schools Initiative holds substantial benefits for all African people. Through the use of ICT, we can raise the levels of our educational standards and improve the education and skills of our young people. And above all, we can address inequality, poverty and unemployment in our countries.”
She noted that taking this initiative forward marked the beginning of meeting the challenges of bridging the digital divide.
“People-first” -- the best approach for ICT development
The Deputy President advised participants to always put people first in the approach to ICT development in addressing the ICT skills challenges of the 21st century.
“ICT skills development is not only about infrastructure, it is about the interface between infrastructure, connectivity, electronic content and people.
“It is not the hardware or the software that makes the difference. A connected learning community is functional, well managed and is one where every member contributes to the achievement of common goals. It is ‘people first’ – it is about teacher development, management efficiency and skills improvement.
“Most importantly, it is about building the ICT skills of our people because we know these skills are a sought-after commodity, and those who have the skills have a better chance at surviving the 21st century challenges.”
ICT broadband connectivity critical to NEPAD e-Schools success
Deputy President Mlambo Ngcuka noted that Africa was experiencing the fastest growth in Internet connectivity but said more needed to be done to ensure all Africans use ICT.
“We need to harness this growth so that we use information and communication technologies to change the lives of all our people for the better.
“We have to find ways in Africa to get sufficient, sustainable and affordable connectivity to teachers and learners, especially if we are to fully capitalise on the potential that ICT holds for education. Only when we have cheap broadband access to the Internet for all schools will we be able to participate fully in the global knowledge society. The way we learn and teach has to change.”
Good Lessons from NEPAD e-Schools Demo
Dr Henry Chasia, Executive Deputy Chairperson of the NEPAD e-Africa Commission, said the benefits of the NEPAD e-Schools were many -- as had been proven in lessons learnt from countries where the e-Schools had already been launched.
“Reports from the demonstration project have shown that ICT improves the quality of teaching. A teacher in a rural isolated school who is connected to the Internet has access to a wealth of educational materials to prepare his lessons, can exchange information with colleagues, and enrich his or her courses by using ICT in the classroom.
“We also expect the NEPAD e-Schools to enhance collaboration among African countries by enabling teachers, for example, to collaborate in the development of educational content, by enabling governments to pull together their buying power in order to negotiate better prices for equipment and satellite access, and by collaboration in the manning of the satellite systems control centres, etc”.
The countries participating in the demonstration project are: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Mali, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda. Of these, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Mali, Mauritius, Rwanda, South Africa and Uganda have already launched the NEPAD e-Schools in their respective countries.
NEPAD e-Schools business plan approved
At a separate meeting involving permanent secretaries and directors-general of Ministries of Education and ICT, representing 17 African governments participating in the NEPAD e-Schools Initiative, the e-Schools business plan was endorsed as a framework for development of the initiative.
They agreed to take advantage of lessons learnt from the 51 schools in the countries that participated in the NEPAD e-Schools Demo Project, and to use the business plan as a broad framework for the further development of the project -- to transform 50% of all secondary schools in the participating countries into NEPAD e-Schools by 2015; and use common procurement standards and joint negotiations to achieve bargaining power through economies of scale.
The participants called upon national governments to establish, empower and equip national implementing agencies or institutional frameworks for the implementation of the NEPAD e-Schools by 2010.
About NEPAD e-Schools
The NEPAD e-Schools Initiative was adopted as a high priority NEPAD ICT project by the NEPAD Heads of State and Government Implementation Committee in March 2003.
The overall aim of the Initiative is to harness ICT technology for the improvement of the quality of teaching and learning in African primary and secondary schools, whereby young Africans graduate from these schools with ICT skills that will enable them to participate as equals in the global information society and knowledge economy.
The NEPAD e-Africa Commission is spearheading the implementation of the NEPAD e-Schools Initiative, which has the following components running in parallel: the NEPAD e-Schools Demonstration Project; the NEPAD e-Schools Satellite Network; the establishment of the national implementing agencies; the development of teacher training, content and curriculum development and the NEPAD e-Schools business plan.
These activities will converge towards large-scale roll-out. Implementation of this initiative will be carried out at national level with coordination taking place at the continental level.
The e-Africa Commission has been planning and implementing the various components of the NEPAD e-Schools over the past four years.
Significant progress has been made in the implementation of the Demo Project. Nine countries have launched NEPAD e-Schools in their countries, equipment has been installed, teachers have been trained and pupils have been exposed to the wonders of new technology in more than 80 community schools in Africa.
The business plan provides the link between the Demo and the roll-out. The main objective of the business plan is to develop a planning framework that will outline the input, process and resource mobilisation for the massive roll-out of the NEPAD e-Schools Initiative.
The consulting firm, Ernst&Young, was contracted to develop a draft business plan in consultation with experts appointed by the governments of the participating countries, RECs, the African Development Bank, the lead private-sector consortiums and civil society organisations. //Nepad Dialogue