Vision 2020is a Government development program in Rwanda, launched in 2000 by Rwandan president Paul Kagame. Its main objective is transforming the country into a knowledge-based middle-income country, thereby reducing poverty, health problems and making the nation united and democratic. Having this and courageous leadership have been critical in getting Rwanda to where it is today. A strong Government vision and commitment to implementation is essential, with a view to strategic partnership.
Keeping focus and momentum. Laying 7,500 km of fibre, putting laptops in the hands of 200,000 learners in 400 schools around the country. They want 4G/LTE last mile access to 95% of population by 2017 and have been working with the private sector to achieve this. Interestingly the partners will jointly develop this infrastructure and share it, as opposed to each mobile network operator building its own network (that would be too expensive).
Their strategy: as much as possible, let the private sector drive the ICT sector growth.
Focus on the demand side – ensure that technology that needs to be in the hands of people is affordable. They are using the Universal Access Fund to achieve this and are manufacturing devices in-country to lower costs.
Keeping a focus on girls and women’s empowerment. They work to mainstream ICT into girls development programs.
Of course the Rwanda experience is not without its faults and challenges, but it is a country that has genuinely committed to reaping the benefits promised from ICT and the lessons learned along the way are valuable to all countries.
The goal of the event was, through dialogue, to inform the direction of BMZ’s Africa policy regarding bridging the digital divide. It hoped to explore new and innovative ideas for fields of action to implement effective cooperation in the area of ICT in Africa. A new strategic partnership for digital Africa was launched, with a focus on the application of ICT in key areas, including education. BMZ appealed for partners to explore how they could get involved.
The event covered ICT lessons from Rwanda, ICT infrastructure, inclusive digital education, building e-literacy and tools for knowledge transfer.
I sat in on the discussions and summarised the findings from three tables on the particular topic Digital Methods to Transfer Knowledge. In the group was the Rwandan Minister of Youth and ICT, Mr Jean Philbert Nsengimana, and also Mr Günter Nooke, the German Chancellor’s Personal Representative for Africa in the BMZ, amongst others from around the African continent and Europe.
Below are the guiding questions from our session, as well as key points raised. Guiding question 1: What are the most important tools to efficiently transfer knowledge?
All participants agreed the tools should not just transfer knowledge, but allow users to create it. Tools should be used to create, transfer, share and engage.
We did not focus on particular tools, but rather attributes of tools. These included: being mobile; flexible and adaptable to local context; low-cost (where possible); modular and extensible; and lastly “integratable” with existing platforms.
Guiding question 2: How can we optimise and develop those tools and make them available to anyone?
Reduce the cost of usage.
Raise awareness that the tools exist and what their benefits are.
Ensure a holistic view – not just to consider a tool but the ecosystem in which it is used. This includes training, support, pedagogy, connectivity and cost, amongst other things.
Guiding question 3: Is e-learning the formula for success making face-to-face interactions and education dispensable?
No! While everyone recognised the benefits of e-learning – such as enabling distance education, asynchronous and synchronous communication in peer learning networks, and the ability to scale learning beyond fixed time and space constraints – they equally valued face-to-face-based education. Overall, the concept of complementarity, where both approaches are used in the most appropriate way, was seen as the ideal education model.
Open and distance learning represent opportunities, but are not silver bullets.
Mentors, either face-to-face or virtual, were noted as being able to play a valuable supportive role for teachers/lecturers and students.
Guiding question 4: How can development cooperation contribute to building inclusive digital education?
Concerning inclusive education, it was noted that the focus should be on learning and not teaching. The “e” in e-learning should not stand for electronic but rather exchange. We should be exploring digital methods to enable learning, to teach students to “learn how to learn”.
A concern was raised around too much “screen time” for younger learners especially. Finding a balance between digital and offline activities is key here.
Recommendations for development cooperation (and any organisation involved in e-learning really):
Take an ecosystem view and include partners (from government, private, civil society and academic sectors), as needed.
E-Learning today is not just about ebooks and tablets; those are only small parts in the “digital learning experience” that ultimately includes adaptive assessment and personalised learning, digital learning portfolios and digital administration systems. The whole is made up of many interrelated factors, such as capacity, connectivity, content, political and policy support, and sustainable funding models, all of which need to work together in concert.
Do not follow the hype about e-learning and mobile learning. Be informed, be realistic, set a long-term vision (such as Rwanda’s Vision 2020 set in 2000), be prepared for uneven progress across different groups and stakeholders, and most importantly, learn and adapt as you go along.
A model should be developed incorporating many of the above issues, including technology, implementation methodology and a business model. Funding should be provided to pilot the model in a few countries so that it can be refined. Other countries can then adapt it as needed for their own contexts.
A “mini expo” was held where I exhibited Pearson’s X-kit Achieve Mobile and Project Literacy, as well as Yoza Cellphone Stories. Overall it was a fascinating event and a valuable opportunity for Pearson to provide input into the future strategy for a digital Africa. We look forward to continue being a part of the discussions.