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African Union Program Aims to Connect Students to the Internet


The New Partnership for Africa's Development – an African Union program focusing on reducing poverty -- is planning a project to link schools to the internet. A pilot of the e-Schools Initiative recently wrapped up in 16 African countries. From Blantyre, Malawi, VOA reporter Lameck Masina has the details.

Schools in more a dozen African countries have been equipped with computers. The countries taking part in the pilot stage of the project included South Africa, Rwanda, Senegal and Uganda. Students and teachers were taught how to use the internet.

Edmund Katiti is an official with NEPAD, the African Union's New Partnership for Africa's Development. Katiti is the policy and regulatory advisor for the NEPAD e-Africa Commission, a body that overseas the expansion in Africa of information and telecommunication technology, or ICT. He says the initial trial of the project, which started in 2003, was a success.

"The demonstration phase has come to an end now," says Katiti, "and we are going to have a roll-out. In [that] phase, even countries that were not in the demo phase can join."

Katiti says in the first phase, equipment was installed and teachers were given training and shown how to maintain the equipment.

He says the project planners are now working on implementing improvements suggested by stakeholders. They want all schools to have common standards for the technology. Schools that do not get electricity from the national grid will have to buy generators and solar panels to power the computers.

Katiti says to achieve their goals, planners are calling for close cooperation between ministries of finance, education, and science and technology.

"They need to have agencies that coordinate between these ministries so that the initiative can be rolled out. And of course," he continues, "part of the responsibilities of these implementing agencies is to ensure that [they have the to] rollout this initiative."

The project is a joint venture of the NEPAD e-Africa Commission, and the engineering consortium Cisco, which has links to Microsoft.

They will help establish an Africa-wide satellite system that will connect the schools to the Internet and to a central point in each country that will feed them educational content on a regular basis.

Each school will be equipped with a computer laboratory with at least 20 computers, as well as printers and scanners, and the necessary infrastructure.

NEPAD hopes the project will cover around 600,000 secondary schools across Africa by 2015.


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