Innovation, use of IT still low in East Africa schools

Innovation and use of IT is still limited in universities in East Africa, according to a survey commissioned and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. The survey focused on accessibility, usage and availability of information communication technologies (ICT) services in 50 universities around the East African region, including Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi.
Voice Over the Internet Protocol handsets being part of the offerings by Rwanda’s New Artel: Rwanda is positioning itself to become the regional IT hub.  (file photo)
Voice Over the Internet Protocol handsets being part of the offerings by Rwanda’s New Artel: Rwanda is positioning itself to become the regional IT hub. (file photo)

Innovation and use of IT is still limited in universities in East Africa, according to a survey commissioned and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.

The survey focused on accessibility, usage and availability of information communication technologies (ICT) services in 50 universities around the East African region, including Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi.

Only 43 percent of the 50 campuses surveyed are taking part in global IT competitions that would give them international recognition, according to the poll.

Such competitions involve students or lecturers developing innovative software, and include events like the Google Cup, which takes place annually in Paris.

“Innovative projects give the universities more credibility in the world,” said Meoli Kashorada, a lead investigator for the survey and professor at the United States International University (USIU) in Kenya. “This can be achieved both by students and lecturers.” 

The report indicates that the ratio of students to computers, and the lack of low-cost bandwidth, affects innovation and use of technology at the universities.

Rwandan universities had the best ratio, at an average of seven computers per 100 students. Elsewhere the survey found the ratio to be 6.8 per 100 students in Uganda; 5.2 per 100 students in Kenya; 2.7 per 100 students in Tanzania; and 1.5 per 100 students in Burundi.

The goal for these universities is to have 10 computers per 100 students, according to Kashorada.

The limited innovation and use of IT at the universities has translated into poor records management and admission processes characterized by long queues at universities when new students are being admitted.

An example is Makerere University in Uganda, the oldest university in East Africa that has the best IT facility in the region. The registration process has not been computerized and students have to queue for hours, if not days, to registers for classes.

“There is need for IT department heads to clearly present projects that benefit the whole university and push for reforms,” said Venansius Baryamureeba, the dean of the faculty of Computing and IT at Makerere University. “The young people need to be given the opportunity to be innovative,” he said.

Rwanda, despite having the best student to computer ratio and the cheapest Internet costs in the region due to a government subsidy, also has a high number of students leaving campus to go to Internet cafes to do research online.

Burundi, which is just recovering from years of political instability, has Seventy percent of the university student population in Burundi use Internet cafes to go online.

It is hoped that the switch from expensive satellite connectivity to fiber-optic cables will reduce the cost of bandwidth.

“I hope we shall not be embarrassed if we fail to absorb the fast Internet that is coming to our region. We need to have the capacity to utilize it,” said Francis Tusubira, of the Directorate for ICT Support at Makerere University.

The report mentions Uganda as one of the countries where university Web sites are non-interactive and ICT are hampered by small budgets.

According to Timothy Waema, a professor of the University of Nairobi, there is still time for this to change. He says that university heads need to play a major role in making sure at least 3 percent of their budgets go to ICT in general.

This annual report is compiled by the Kenya Education Network in conjunction with the Tanzania Research and Education Network, the Rwanda Research and Education Network and the Research and Education Network of Uganda (RENU) with funding from the Rockefeller Foundation.

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