Harnessing information and communications technologies (ICTs) for the benefit of Africa's tertiary education sector is the topic of the UNESCO-sponsored Expert Group Meeting on Developing the e-Campus Model for Africa to be held next week.
The meeting takes place from 9 to 11 November 2004 at the CSIR and will draw some 35 local and international delegates, representing the tertiary sector in eight African countries. There will also be representatives from Finland, the Word Bank, NEPAD, and various donor organisations, including the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC).
"We'll discuss the role of Africa's tertiary education sector in the transformation of the continent's education systems to promote systemic socio-economic development. In addition, we'll identify the appropriate use of ICTs to alleviate poverty and eradicate exclusion from the global network society, the so-called 4th world," explains Dr Bob Day, who has been working on the Pan African e-Campus project with UNESCO since late 2002.
"Africa has yet to experience the true, wide-ranging benefits that ICTs can bring throughout society," Day notes. "Most large African institutions (including educational institutions) are importers of developed-world ICTs, which have negligible impact on the exclusion and poverty of most African people. ICTs are only just being introduced to some via multi-purpose community centres, school connectivity projects and similar initiatives."
"The belief is growing that the wide-ranging benefits of ICTs can only be achieved by the strategic adoption of open standards, free and open source software (FOSS), and open content," comments Day.
Delegates will be welcomed on Tuesday 9 November by Mr Stranger Kgamphe, Secretary General of the SA National Commission for UNESCO, Dr Phil Mjwara of the CSIR and Mr Hezekiel Dlamini of UNESCO (Accra).
The pedagogical way forward for UNESCO¿s support of the e-Campus project in Africa will be discussed on Wednesday, while delegates will focus on the ICT way forward, with particular emphasis on the use and potential of FOSS in education, on Thursday.
The meeting is hosted and organised by the CSIR Information Society Technologies Centre in conjunction with Day.
Following a Pan African study for UNESCO done last year by Day and Bob Jolliffe of the University of South Africa (UNISA), this meeting will discuss the findings of the e-Campus study report. The aim is to understand and reach agreement on the main issues; to identify areas needing further investigation and research; and giving additional inputs, recommendations and action plans for the report to be finalised.
The Pan African study done last year involved visits to a variety of higher education institutions in Senegal, Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and South Africa, as well as desk-based investigations of Tanzania, Mozambique, Mauritius, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, and South Africa.
An exhibition of ICT projects undertaken by CSIR Information Society Technologies Centre in partnership with the Department of Science and Technology and other stakeholders will be on display at the venue. These include the Digital Doorway, work done by the Human Language Technologies Group, the National Accessibility Portal and projects based on wireless technologies.