The e-schools satellite learning programme, run by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad), has linked less than 100 schools in Africa to the internet.
The programme, first announced in 2003, aimed to connect more than 600,000 schools on the continent, and to internet-enable all African secondary schools within five years in all primary schools within a decade.
“The demo project is complete in nine countries: Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Mali, Mauritius, Rwanda, South Africa and Uganda,” says Jeanne Meta of the Pretoria-based Nepad e-Africa commission, which overseas the project. “Six schools in each country have received at least 20 personal computers in a lab, training for both learners and teachers, administration connectivity, various educational software and other apparatus.”
The 54 schools also received health, agricultural and other materials for the benefit of the broader community.
Meta says: “Seven other countries have since joined the e-schools programme, bringing the number of schools participating to 96.” The schools – not all officially launched – are in Algeria, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Mozambique, Nigeria and Senegal.
Nonetheless, says Meta, “Nepad e-schools initiative has been a catalyst.”
For example, earlier this year Cameroon education minister Louis Bapes signed an agreement with Microsoft and Advanced Micro Devices for a year-long e-schools demonstration project to accompany Cameroon’s 17 new multimedia centres.
The e-schools programme also gave generators to Bungulubia High School in rural Uganda and schools in Lesotho that were off the electricity grid. A school in Burkina Faso is the first to run its computers using solar panels.
Participating computer companies including Hewlett Packard, Oracle and Cisco Systems are apparently waiting for financial input from governments before proceeding.
The e-schools business plan prepared by project manager Katherine Getao was ratified several months ago and sponsors of the online education portal are being sought. But problems remain.
“The pilot projects may have created a very high level of expectation among the private sector that Nepad would drive the roll-out of large-scale technological infrastructure into schools across the continent,” says Neil Butcher, an educational technology consultant from South Africa.