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Public ICT Resource Centers for students and teachers in West Africa

By Wayan Vota on July 16, 2010

Our initial primary pursuit is the establishment of our inceptive ICT lab in the eastern district of Freetown, Sierra Leone. Similar projects that strive to foster educational and technological advancement in West Africa struggle to thrive because their extensive use of power renders them unsustainable. In this region, gas is required to power used or new standard computers, generators, and grids, yet gas is un-affordable. Thus, labs that utilize such equipment cannot be maintained, and ultimately are not successful. LAM-TECH Foundation, Inc. advocates an energy-efficient and sustainable design to ensure lasting effectiveness. Our model requires an initial investment, but ultimately is preserved as a self-sustaining operation. LAM-TECH currently has a team of five volunteers in Sierra Leone conducting research on the positive and negative effects of the use of virtual science labs in high school education compared to traditional labs.

LAM-TECH Foundation, Inc. seeks to educate, support and empower each underserved individual in our target community. It is our goal to become the premiere source for mainstream and alternative science and technology education in West Africa. Through the establishment LAM-TECH Foundation, Inc.’s ICT labs, we will improve the quality of education for students, teachers, and educational facilities throughout West Africa, helping communities to gain independence, knowledge, skills, and ability.

Sierra Leone’s socio-economic and political stability has declined dramatically since the 1980’s due to its inability to manage internal problems and external macroeconomic policy changes. It worsened in the face of a decade long civil war, which brought about widespread issues concerning education. Lack of access to education is a pervasive problem in Sierra Leone. Many of the country’s residents are illiterate or have received very little formal education. The statistics are shocking:

•Only 39% of the population (10 years old and older) is literate.
•The literacy rate of men is higher than that of women nationally and by region. The national literacy rate for men is 49% while that for women is only 29%.
•40% of individuals in Sierra Leone age 6 to 29 have never attended school or received formal education.
West African countries suffer from a poor science and technology education, low rate of science and technology graduates from secondary school and universities, limited number of job placements in the technology industry, and a limited use of science and technology processes and procedures by students and teachers to solve everyday problems in Sierra Leone. West Africa’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in education survey results of 2009 compiled by InfoDev.org indicates that the education sector’s ICT infrastructures are under-served. In Sierra Leone, there are approximately 81 technical/vocational education institutes serving 5,824 students with a teaching population of 219 educators including university professors but only 2% of these students are computer literate.

The total number of science and technology education students and teachers continues to gradually decrease due to lack of adequate teaching materials, availability of science and technology education tools, resulting in poor results in national examinations starting in junior high school and continuing through to college/technical/vocational/university. The table on the following page illustrates the dire results

Several reasons exist for these statistics, including a lack of standard policies for the use of ICT in education and government. The lack of adequate science and technology curriculum for educational institutions, high cost of PCs & Internet connectivity, lack of science and technology laboratories in more than half of the high schools and inadequate supply of chemicals, apparatus, high cost of materials and chemicals to build new science labs and teaching materials were labs are available, and lack of qualified human resource capacity to service institutions of higher learning in addition to political instability, all contribute to the low percentages illustrated in these numbers.

LAM-TECH Foundation, Inc. understands that all of these problems cannot be solved at once but starting from the following a multi-layered approach will ensure its success.

Goals and Objectives

The mission of LAM-TECH Foundation, Inc. is to promote and increase the penetration ratio of science, information technology and computer science education to under-served students, teachers and communities in West African countries. In pursuit of this mission, our organization has established the following goals and objectives

•To become the premier source for mainstream and alternative science and technology education resource center in West Africa.
•Establish one center of at least 10 personal computers in every senior high school and college by 2020, bundled with custom developed educational software systems covering all subject areas in the West African Examination Councils curriculum.
•Increase student pass rate, teacher effectiveness, college admissions into science and technology programs, and youth employment in the ICT and education industry.

•Train at least 10% of the teachers in year 1
◦15% in year 2
◦20% in year 3
•Increase the pass rate in science and technology subjects taken at the BECE & WASSCE by 5% in year 1
◦10% in year 2
◦30% in year 3
•Increase the number of successful college admissions into science and technology degree programs by 5% in year 1
◦10% in year 2
◦30% in year 3
•Increase the number of youth employment in the ICT and Education industry by 5% in year 1
◦10% in year 2
◦20% in year 3
•Achieve a 15% improvement in each focus area of our program by the end of year 3

To accomplish our established goals and objectives, LAM-TECH Foundation, Inc. implements the following programs and services. This methodology was determined based on research on the target population, as well as the organization’s own established history of success.

Our main competitive advantages are our approach and the equipment we plan to utilize. We plan to use computers, printers, copiers and network devices with the lowest power consumption requirements in their class. None of our equipment will use more than 50 watts; they will range from 20 to 50 watts. Seventy percent of our power will be allocated to our solar grid – the most significant expense of our project, but also the element that will ensure sustainability and long-term success.

The savings will continue because the main source of energy to power the centers and our offices will come from renewable energy sources (solar, wind and batteries). Currently, there are only about 10% of the current non-for-profit organizations in West Africa with knowledge of low power computers and renewable energy solutions for rural areas.

Another advantage to our approach will be our accessibility to a full range of complimentary products and services to ensure students and teachers receive complete benefit. We will train them on computer use and repair, effective research practices strategies to perform experiments using virtual simulations where laboratory materials and equipment are in limited supply or non-existence.

Our team has extensive knowledge in the field of ICT and renewable energy through experience gained by working with fortune 500 corporations in North America and Europe, as well as non-profit organizations in India, South and East Africa. These regions are aware of the benefits of using low power computers and renewable energy sources to establish computer centers in rural area.

The ICT Resource center will provide virtual science and technology labs, document services, desktop publishing, internet access, basic ICT training, and digital library, and prometric testing. Virtual labs will feature demonstrations, videos, video training, and audio books. We will develop one centrally located public center in each provincial headquarter town with at least 50 workstations, three color and black copiers/printers, and two binders and laminating machines. The goal is to have each resource center opened for at least 12 hours a day.

The center will generate its own funds for operating expenses through monthly, quarterly and yearly membership fees from ICT Club members. Photocopying, desktop publishing, computer repairs and maintenance services will be offered to the public as well as a means to generate income to sustain the centers. This program is the first to be implemented because it will create the greatest impact and become self-sustainable to attract more donations from potential donors. The project will be duplicated in selected underserved senior high schools and colleges with at least 20 workstations to minimize congestion and maximize total community impact

The following illustrates the evidenced long-term cost-effectiveness of low-power Student and teacher enrollment rates continue to decrease from junior high and, senior high to post-secondary institutions at an alarming rate. The following chart displays the highest level of education completed by Sierra Leoneans.

Stay tuned for complete proposal in the coming weeks

Filed Under: Economic Development, Education
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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks and is the Digital Health Director at IntraHealth International. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of IntraHealth International or other ICTWorks sponsors.
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