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Participants support AfDB's new education model for Africa

The aim of the conference was to explore ways in which modern technology can improve access and quality of education in Africa.
On May 10, a high level meeting chaired by President Donald Kaberuka, former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the Web Foundation elicited a lively debate among 10 Ministers of Education and Science and Technology from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Uganda; who met with officials of Intel, Cisco, Alcatel-Lucent, HP, Adobe, and Microsoft among other leading technology companies in Africa. Other country governments represented were Benin, Burundi, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Mauritius, Nigeria and Rwanda. The, AFDB's Director of the Human Development Department, Agnes Soucat, facilitated the debate.

"Technology is the key to bridging the gap between the state of education in Africa today and what it has the potential to be", said Rt. Hon Brown in his opening statement.

The purpose of the meeting was to explore ways in which modern technology can improve access and quality of education in Africa and in which areas should financial institutions like the AfDB and the private sector invest in ICT in Africa. Discussions centered on 5 key themes: 1) increase connectivity to increase access to education through e-learning especially in the rural areas to benefit the poorest; 2) using technology to improve teacher training and quality of education; 3) develop PPPs between government, service providers and academia; 4) energy needs for ICT to flourish; 5) ownership of digital content development.

The Minister of Education for Ghana stressed the need for distance learning programs because they have 45% of teacher absenteeism. Honorable Margaret Kamar, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology for Kenya said that her country was considering investments in fibre-optic cable investment as a solution to the national issue of brain drain and to upgrade the quality of education.

President Kaberuka stressed the importance of technology in addressing the quality of education. "While the challenge of numbers was being addressed successfully, that of quality remains. Science, Technology and Innovation is opening up opportunities which might enable Africa to leapfrog development through education. The track record in a few pilot countries seems to indicate that that was Africa's way to the future", said President Kaberuka

"Now that 20 percent of people had become familiar with computers, the issue was how to bring the remaining 80 percent of mankind on board", said Sir Tim Berners Lee.

The audience grappled with questions on the role of teachers and students with the introduction of new technologies in the classroom and the use of the web as a teaching tool using materials provided for free by high-ranking universities like UK open university, MIT, Harvard, Stanford, and Khan Foundation.

"Training is the most fundamental thing anyone can do. Otherwise utilization will be low and teachers will feel stupid if they don't know as much as the children do", said John Davies, Vice President for Intel .

"Technology is not what is important. We need to train the teachers in using the technologies as well as ensure that the country owns the digital content production", said Ricaud Gervais Auckbur, representative of the Ministry of Education of Mauritius.

"I want to see African countries working together to make the dream "Broadband for all in Africa" become a reality for everyone in the continent - to provide access to affordable communication for education and socio-economic development. This cannot be done on a country by country basis.

Especially, to cover landlocked countries, all African countries need to work hand in hand." said Daniel Jaeger, Vice-President Alcatel-Lucent activities in Africa.

After listening to a fascinating debate and a multitude of country experience, Rt Honorable Brown concluded by stating that such information-sharing was of paramount importance in and of itself and that Africa needed a group of ICT-in-Education champions to address the issues of access and connectivity, fibre-optics technology, teacher training and retraining and how they viewed the way forward.

To continue the discussion and consult stakeholders on its new Human Capital Development Strategy and New Model for Education in Africa, the AfDB organized a 3-hour afternoon session with the same group of participants in the African Union's new headquarters.

The AfDB presented its New Education Model for Africa (NEMA) which is ICT-based, with strong links to the labour market, fosters Public Private Partnerships which would allow educational institutions to tap into the experiences, knowledge and financial leverage of the private sector. It advocates for a shift from a classroom-based education model to one that fosters critical thinking, which would entail moving from a teacher-based to a student-based approach. NEMA also supports a participatory approach in developing education policies involving parents and teachers in decision-making processes.

The afternoon discussion was more technical in nature and centered on what the private sector was offering in Africa to advance access and quality of education. Technology firms encouraged governments to be more creative in using inexpensive low bandwidth for sending and receiving mobile data like email. Microsoft presented its "white spaces" project - the space, which has been freed up on television channels as we moved to digital technology, and if deregulated, can provide affordable access to the Internet.

Ms. Soucat concluded the meeting by proposing that the E-Forum on Science and Technology created after the First Africa Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation be used as virtual platform to create the first group countries to become ICT-in-Education Champions. The E-Forum on STI will be launched at the AfDB's upcoming Annual Meetings from 28 May to 1 June in Arusha.

The First 10 ICT-in-Education Champions will be Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Uganda.