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ICT is a Function of Education across East Africa

By Thad Kerosky on September 17, 2010

College Students attend to a govt minister

To an outsider, it can seem slightly incongruous that Kenya, Uganda, and small Rwanda have taken leading roles in leveraging mobile and internet technologies for strong social effect where Tanzania (and peripherally, still conflict torn Burundi) have lagged. When looking to explain ICT’s present day regional gaps, it is easy to grasp for many the obvious disparities like the relative lack of modern English proficiency, poverty rankings, cultural differences, the metropolis hub factor, or the historical figures about relative investments made in the colonialism era.

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These are the facts, but to me, the clearest vantage on this landscape is the median higher-education student finished or finishing at government schools across the region. In Kenya and Uganda, this median student is already trained and seeking skilled work. In Tanzania, he (or a lucky she) is an A-level student, college freshmen or sophomore.

A while back, Jon Gosier of Appfrica offered the telling statistic that inspired Appfrica Labs to spring from the Makerere University, long respected as one of the prime East African academic institutions, in downtown Kampala:

In Makerere’s Computer Science program they graduate about 900 kids per year. Of those 900 between 5% and 10% find full time jobs by the same time the next year. Those that don’t find jobs by that time, now have the added pressure of competing with the next class – with a the added disadvantage of a slightly outdated and somewhat unequal education (as education should be getting better with each graduating class)

This, of course, showed that there was a vast amount of untapped talent to inspire in Uganda.

From my own experience working in the education sector, Tanzania isn’t in this situation: in contrast, they’re still ramping up the post-secondary education system to meet even the tiny job market. About eight years past, Tanzania massively expanded its primary school enrollment (East Africa comparison graph) (2002, PEDP). About six years ago, leaders started building a huge number of secondary schools (SEDP) and student numbers (& some teaching standards, like A-level) have gone way up with the greater student base and intense competition.

In the last year they’ve built several huge, new government universities which are starting to accept students in large numbers from these original student cohorts as they now reach adulthood. The government of TZ is also handing out many “loans” which are much like grants to a large fraction of the eligible post-secondary students who apply for them.

The challenge of today is to help these still-green Tanzanian higher-education students realize the communities of ICT online as efficiently as possible so that they have a chance to compete in the regional marketplace. An effective ICT practitioner can not keep themselves current without engaging online. Think of all those students finishing Computer Science at Makerere and getting lost in the progress. Fresh ideas exchanged through newly liberalizing labor market initiatives like the strengthened East African Community (EAC), university-affiliated silicon tech hubs, and high profile competitions like Apps4Africa are fantastic for this.

I am happy to note that Tanzanian academics like Rakesh Rajani (e.g. his comments on the SEDP in 2006 & on Twitter) who led some aspects of the hugely important education expansions in Tanzania are getting behind it. Sure, iHub, Appfrica Labs and Hive Colab are big names in East African ICT today. Tanzania, (and though I can’t speak to them so directly, even Rwanda/Burundi) have a good chance at their own ICT silicon-style hubs as the higher education terrain swiftly develops in the greater Uswahili.

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I am a professional software geek, a Returned ICT Peace Corps Volunteer who has trained teachers and administrated thin client systems in rural Tanzania from 2007 through late 2009. More generally I am an East Africa tech development fan. I greatly enjoy crafting software and IT solutions that solve real problems.
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