An interim M&E report from the NEPAD e-Schools Demonstration Project, though short on detail and long on the glaringly obvious, presents a frank and interesting look at the promise and pratfalls of e-learning projects in Africa. The project, coordinated by the NEPAD e-Africa Commission (eAC), is a 16-country pilot for a larger initiative that aims to wire 550,000 schools by 2020. In each country, a pair of public-private partnerships between the education ministry, eAC, and a consortium led by AMD, Cisco, HP, Microsoft, or Oracle are to provide equipment, connectivity, training, learning materials, and a year of tech support to six selected schools in each country.
The World Bank press release summarizes some of the issues involved in the rush to meet Target 18 of the Millennium Development Goals:
Noting that the vision for the NEPAD e-Schools Demo may well have exceeded the practical bounds of its reach within the expected timeframe of the initial Demo project, and that the project is a very complex undertaking, given its range of stakeholders and its international scope, the report finds that NEPAD e-Schools remains a ‘work in progress’. That said, the report states that "the purpose of a demonstration project is not just to demonstrate, but also to learn from the experience", noting that lessons about how to coordinate the successful introduction of ICTs into African schools are being learned and applied in a number of areas.
What the release omits are some of the more interesting details of the report:
- As of year four of a one-year implementation, only three of the 16 countries (Kenya, Rwanda, and Mauritius) have fully completed the implementation in all six schools. Implementation has not yet begun in Algeria, Burkina Faso, and Senegal.
- Local IT partners are key to sustainability, as repair and maintenance support was otherwise nonexistent. (Duh!)
- Although students and teachers who got computer training reported that their tech skills were improved, the expected pedagogical shift toward student-centered learning didn't happen.
- Thanks to the initiative, African education ministries discovered the existence of computers and began shifting budget and policy priorities to high-profile ICT development.
- Perceived turf wars between the project implementers and civil society organizations prevented a lot of information and knowledge exchange that might have sped up implementation considerably. Whoopsie!