Uganda is one of East Africa’s big players where technology and eLearning are concerned. Yet despite a booming tech scene and high mobile penetration rates, it lacks electricity. Most power is derived from the Nile dams, and supplies only 10% of the population. To tackle this deficit – most marked in rural areas – the country’s educators are turning to innovation.
For Asia Kamukama, innovation means a four-by-four with solar panels strapped to the roof, the boot containing all the equipment needed for a fully-functional ICT classroom. She is Executive Director of the Maendeleo Foundation, an organisation that makes computers available in areas of Uganda where there is no electricity or broadband Internet.
While infrastructure in the equatorial region is underdeveloped, it does have a key advantage: plentiful, reliable sunlight. Mobile solar classrooms, an ever more common sight trundling along the potholed roads of rural Africa, show that the creative use of an abundant resource can overcome disadvantages.
The solar classrooms are usually staged at local community centres or libraries – a practice which, while it ensures the ICT training offered reaches as many as possible, is mostly based on pragmatic grounds.
“Some villages have just paths and no roads for the car to reach them,” Kamukama explains.
In this way the Maendeleo Foundation has reached 37,000 people in East Africa – 80% students, but also teachers and out-of-school groups: youth, women, farmers and local business people.
For Asia Kamukama, the solar school is not a stop-gap solution, but a complement to the education system and a vital technology for future sustainable development across Africa. She believes it is now the task of governments to carry on her work. In her opinion: “Solar schemes, if subsidised and promoted across Africa, offer affordable power solutions to all income brackets.”
Increasingly, education providers in East Africa are weighing up the benefits of grid versus solar energy and finding that solar comes out on top. Jared Ogunde, CEO of the Scientific Advisory and Information Network in Kenya, explains the calculation:
“Installation of solar power equipment may need some substantial initial capital; however, once the installation is complete and everything is in order, there will be no additional cost except for a little maintenance after a long period of time. The [yearly] cost of fossil fuels on the other hand comes to quite substantial amounts. To add on to this, the cost of fossil fuels keeps on rising, whereas the sun will always be there for free.”
This sort of innovation is highlighted every year at the eLearning Africa Conference, where grassroots activists and government representatives meet to work towards change. Taking place in Kampala, Uganda, from 28 – 30 May this year, its programme, now online, unites developers, researchers, technologists and teachers from across the Continent under a common theme.
This year’s edition, “Opening Frontiers to the Future”, is set to highlight the many ways in which innovations in education, such as the solar classrooms, are helping to realise Africa’s potential.
Keynote speakers including leading entrepreneur Rebecca Enonchong and Bitange Ndemo, senior lecturer at the University of Nairobi and former Permanent Secretary of Kenya’s Ministry of Information and Communication, will present expert commentary, success stories and incisive critiques of Africa’s eLearning scene. Giving key insight from some of the most influential companies in the eLearning sector will be: Noah Samara, Chairman and CEO of Yazmi; Jochen Polster, Vice President EMEA, NComputing; Mark East, General Manager Microsoft EMEA and ASIA Education Industry Group; and Bright Simons, writer, researcher, social entrepreneur and President of pioneering eHealth network mPedigree.
Over 60 parallel sessions will highlight the staggering diversity of technology and education that is transforming education in Africa. In addition, on the 28th, a varied selection of workshops will give participants the opportunity to learn hands-on skills for blogging, digital video authorship and digital entrepreneurship.
A diverse mix of grassroots practitioners, governmental representatives, academic researchers and teachers, business leaders and innovators, this Conference will be an opportunity for all to learn, share and inspire each other to work towards the fulfilment of Africa’s potential.
The full programme can be viewed here: www.elearning-africa.com/programme_table