The ubiquitous term “digital divide” is used to describe a wide range of disparate outcomes demonstrating a gap in technology resources, information, and education. Perhaps nowhere is this divide more apparent, or more discussed, than in sub-Saharan Africa.
Policy makers in Africa and elsewhere have put forth technology, technical competence, and computer and information literacy as solutions for many of these problems. Indeed, ICT solutions may help to solve problems related to education such as teacher shortages, low achievement, high drop-out rates, lack of opportunity, and lack of materials (Wims & Lawler 2007). In response to these opportunities, organizations from around the world have implemented projects across the spectrum of ICT delivery. Prevalent among these are organizations which are somewhat new to international development, that are relatively small, and that do not originate in Africa.
Despite the best of intentions, many of these projects ultimately fail. There are many reasons for this: technology may not be the appropriate solution in the first place, projects may be poorly implemented, equipment may be improperly used, there may be a lack of follow-up, stakeholders may not receive adequate training to support the program, or it may simply be difficult to create and sustain a project within a shifting social and political context. New, small, and/or foreign organizations face specific challenges in the delivery of ICT solutions for education.
Globalization and the changing world economy are driving a transition to knowledge-based economies. In particular, developing countries need knowledge-based economies not only to build more efficient domestic economies, but to take advantage of economic opportunities outside their own borders. In the social sphere, the knowledge society brings greater access to information and new forms of social interaction and cultural expression. Individuals therefore have more opportunities to participate in and influence the development of their societies.
THE CHALLENGES THAT FACE IMPLEMENTATIONS AND SOLUTIONS:
STEP1: Develop a local presence, build local networks, and develop local leadership.
Be able to become viable and successful by basing operations in the local environment, by developing relationships with local stakeholders, and by ultimately having local leaders in charge of the implementation of the projects.
STEP 2: Communication, communication, communication.
Communication, in any organization, can make great ideas into great successes, or can turn great ideas into failures. Operating across international and cultural boundaries amplifies this. Conscious and deliberate attempts to streamline and clarify communication are key.
STEP 3: Cultural competence is obligatory.
The very notion of “streamlining” and “clarifying” communication may be not be easy cultural interpretation of events in Africa. Every phase of operations, from business communications to informal meetings, is governed by the cultural context. Building competence in the local culture is likely the only way to improve this. Of course, there will be missteps and misunderstandings, which should be addressed and corrected as they arise rather than ignored.
STEP 4: Local stakeholders, and the context they are in, are the ultimate judges of success and/or failure.
You will experience a context in which selected solutions (e.g., Linux operating system) are ultimately not viable, and you have to proactively change strategies. Other organizations will face similar barriers to ideas which do not match a changing local context, and must realize that cutting short-term losses in pursuit of ultimate success and longevity of the organization may be necessary.
STEP 5: Evaluation, evaluation, evaluation.
Even organizations which are well-intentioned and understand their stakeholders well can not be sure that projects are having the impact which they assume. This is true of any organization, but is especially true of small organizations in challenging development environments. Proactive Organisations are able to respond to barriers such as those described, in large part, due to formative and summative evaluation measures at all steps of the process.
STEP 6 : Build local skills and local ownership.
For long-term sustainability, these components are vital, this means not only developing
the skills of computer usage, but of troubleshooting problems, and doing so as a community cluster of concerned stakeholders. Other organizations will have different challenges, but the sustainability of efforts, with the eventual goal of limited or no organizational support, must be a component of a successful effort.
STEP 7: Sustain the organization as well as the projects.
Although the stakeholder-driven projects are how an organization demonstrates success and are most often the place where real passion and attention are aimed, the well-being of the organization as a whole must not be neglected. Funding, staffing, and logistical needs of the organization are not sufficient for success, but are certainly necessary.
STEP 8: Do no harm.
The development version of the Hippocratic Oath would be to remain diligent in looking for unintended consequences. Though these may be positive effects in some cases, they are often negative.One inevitable consequence is the eventual disposal of hundreds or thousands of computers in a context not equipped to handle the safety and environmental implications hence the need to adapt to viable technologies which include shared resource computing. All projects will have unintended consequences and organizations must take precautions to minimize negative impacts.
STEP 9: Engage other development efforts.
Most project implemntors s face an energy crisis. Therefore, they have found
themselves tangentially in the field of energy development, researching solar and other solutions,as well as forming partnerships in these areas. The broader lesson is that development efforts do not exist in a vacuum. Education and ICT projects are vital components of a broader holistic development agenda that must include not only power but public health, environment, infrastructure, etc. A synergistic effort among these development sectors is likely to have an amplifying effect, above and beyond the sum of the parts.
All lessons learned the need to adopt viable solutions that are sustainable and achieve set goals will encourage donors ans technology adaptors on the need to facilitate more projects as current in the vibrant Kenya ICT education sector.
Shared resource computing implementor Sight and Sound Ltd are currently working with on various education projects and will work with other organizations that require advise and implementations of our solutions in Africa,partnering with Brazils’ Thinnetworks who currently boast of the Largest Shared resource computing in the World with 500,000 seats on a single project -2011.
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