BLOG: Mark Pilgrim

What role should Silicon Valley companies play in bringing ICT into African education?


This year’s eLearning Africa helped shed some light on the true state of technological innovation in Africa. During my presentation at the event, I ran a video featuring our African customers and partners speaking about their experience with technology. I think this was key for the audience as the interviews offered an interesting insight into the real ICT needs of the customers as well as useful examples of how they innovate with our technology to overcome local constraints.

The continent has been a major driving force behind the most significant developments in this area and they are right to have been wary of big companies gifting their technology, given how this has been conducted in the past. Although Africa has witnessed a significant rise in the amount of technology schools and other educational institutions have access to, according to the Guardian ‘efforts to close the gap between California's Silicon Valley and the specific needs of millions of African children were not always successful’.

In order to ensure African educational institutions really feel the benefits of technology in the classroom, tech companies need to work closely with their African partners and look at what kinds of solutions are the most practical for the often challenging conditions in Africa. It’s essential that these ICT solutions are robust and durable enough to combat the heat and dust prevalent in such a climate. Solutions which consistently need attention just aren’t feasible. Not only is this frustrating and time-consuming for both students and teachers, there aren’t the available budgets to direct towards 24/7 tech support.

A key example of this is in Isinya Youth Polytechnic, where Judith Mumo Kiolo, Deputy Manager of the college, noted the major difficulties involved with maintaining the PCs they had received. The continuous levels of dust and the tendency to overheat were major factors in exacerbating the problem. National Government Organisations (NGOs) working with these institutions to improve ICT access need to think wisely about the money being spent and ensure it’s allocated appropriately. This is equally true in any classroom in the West, where teachers require ICT to support the learning process rather than interfere with the teaching because of unreliability.

Desktop virtualisation solutions from NComputing are helping African schools, colleges and universities overcome the key challenges related to building and sustaining a high quality ICT infrastructure, including limited access to electricity, financial resources and shortage of IT skills. Everyone understands that ICT needs to work in accordance with available power supplies, which can sometimes be a problem in Africa. However, what’s often overlooked is how Africans are fighting back against growing levels of e-waste and the need for technology solutions that won’t aggravate this further.

In Kenya there is a specific policy on e-waste. In order to reduce the ill effects on health and the environment, the Government has in place regulations to monitor the disposal of electronic products. What’s more, a report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 2010 estimated that 11,400 tonnes of e-waste were being dumped in Kenya over a period of three years and this could rise sharply in the next 10 years as ICT continues to grow. Local NGO Dupoto-e-Maa, found that desktop virtualisation solutions from NComputing support this policy, as there is no need to dispose of big and bulky machines if they break. To put this into context, if desktop virtualisation devices were used at a rate of six to every standalone PC, then e-waste could be reduced by 7.9 million metric tonnes.

For Africa to benefit from technology’s undeniable benefits in e-learning, careful and well-considered decisions have to be made. African countries and its educators are leading this movement and their ideas and determination to provide sustainable ICT solutions were made perfectly clear at eLearning Africa.

Mark Pilgrim,
Vice President EMEA, NComputing

For more information about how NComputing is accelerating e-learning in Africa, please watch this video:


Great conversation! Its interesting reading and understand through the simple technique of writing.
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