BEHEIRA: A small village school in Kom Hamada, Beheira on Sunday recently became the first school in North Africa to be fully equipped with wireless Internet access, Smart boards (interactive whiteboards), and fully equipped computer labs.
The official launch of the program was held at El Haddeen Secondary School.
Five other Egyptian schools outside Cairo will soon follow suit in a joint education project driven by The New Partnership for Africa s Development (Nepad), sponsored in Egypt by HP and Oracle, as well as Gimpex and Alkan Telecom, and coordinated through the Education and Information and Communications Ministries.
Dr Henry Chasia, Executive Deputy Chairperson for Nepad, told The Daily Star Egypt that the project was not only about Information and Communications Technology (ICT). It s teacher training, it s education, and it s health, all in one.
This technology will enable the young people of this village to tap into the global mainstream of information and knowledge, where they will learn and play, expand their imagination and their creativity, collaborate with peers across the African continent and across the world, and generally participate in defining the future of their world.
Chasia added that the establishment of health points is another key component of the project. At these centers students learn about nutrition, physical fitness, and diseases and ailments relevant to their locales. The advantage, explains Chasia, is that with Internet access, students receive the most current, sometimes life-saving, information.
While he is enthusiastic, he explains that possible difficulties in long-term implementation may arise if governments do not have enough commitment, for example, by not providing sufficient resources or training during the roll-out of the project.
With regard to whether the new skills could leave children overqualified for traditional work and lead to further migration to urban centers, Chasia admitted that we would have to wait to see what will happen but that he believed the skills could be used in local communities.
Minister of Education Yousry Al Gamal said that improving the education system is not restricted to the capitals and big cities but extends into the villages.
The new technology is to be integrated into regular curricula to enhance learning in all subjects, rather than being a goal in itself. Al Gamal explained that one need not carry the whole safe, but to carry the keys. There are many safes now.
“This generation must learn the language of this era, he said.
He also hopes the new equipment will transform the learning process for Egyptian students. From when they re young, students should not just receive education but should be sharing in the process and finding their own answers.
Student Kamal Tawfik, 15, says he and his friends are excited about the new technology. Of course it will be better; it s electronic learning. You can learn a lot of things rather than just learning from textbooks.
Samual Mikenga, Nepad Communications Manager, told The Daily Star Egypt that students throughout the continent involved with the project have been excited and overwhelmed.
After they get used to it they wonder how they were living without it.
He explains that the project is important for Nepad as a tool towards development, to fully realize local potential.
Private companies sponsor the project completely for one year, providing the necessary technology, infrastructure and training. Additionally, the 42 schools throughout Africa already involved are linked through IT technology to share ideas and exchange information or concerns in an e-Schools network.
After one year the project will be handed over to the government. The decision and funding to spread the program beyond the initial trial schools also resides with national governments.
While in Egypt Oracle and HP have provided all technologies for computer labs in their respective schools, Gimpex is donating Smart boards and Alkan communications is providing Satellite Internet services over wireless networks. More than 50 companies are participating throughout the continent, including Microsoft, Cisco, and AMD.
Egypt is the sixth of 14 countries intended for the pilot section of the project. The project s vision is to reach all African secondary schools within five years and all primary schools within ten years, connecting more than 600,000 schools to ICT and Internet.
The project was launched in Uganda in 2005, followed by schools in Ghana, Lesotho, Kenya, and Rwanda.