The announcement from the World Bank earlier this week about a new $215 Million Central Africa Backbone Program that will bring low cost, high speed Internet to the region is the latest in a series of good news about improving connectivity across the continent, and between Africa and the rest of the world. Kenya is just one of many East African countries which can expect a decrease in costs and improvement in quality in the not too distant future as a result of the recent landing of the Seacom and TEAMS cables, and two projects which the World Bank supports, the Regional Connectivity Infrastructure Project (RCIP) and (through the IFC), the EASSy cable.
What does, or might, all of this improved connectivity mean for students and teachers in Africa? How can we keep track of all of the related changes happening throughout the continent?
It is certainly true that low-income countries throughout the continent continue to face daunting challenges as they attempt to ensure that all children complete a full cycle of primary education by 2015, something which the so-called Fast Track Initiative is meant to help address. But there is room for optimism too.
Many people see great potential for advances in information and communication technologies to help provide new tools and approaches to educational practices going forward, and indeed the 'potential' is undeniable. Moving beyond the rhetoric, however, it is a challenge to keep track of what is actually happening. As infoDev's Survey of ICT and Education in Africa said back in 2007, "ICT use in education is at a particularly dynamic stage in Africa, which means that there are new developments and announcements happening on a daily basis somewhere on the continent". infoDev's country-by-country surveys were meant to help document these developments, joining existing resources like Schoolnet Africa's African Education Knowledge Warehouse and the long-standing knowledge work of the Commonwealth of Learning and SAIDE. The annual e-Learning Africa conference (whose next offering will take place in Lusaka in May 2010) is just the most prominent example of the increasing regional academic and networking opportunities for policymakers and practitioners throught the continent to stay abreast of the latest developments.
To these efforts we can add that of the pan-African Observatory on ICT use in education, an open knowledge-sharing resource for research on the pedagogical integration of ICT. This on-line information repository is supported by an IDRC-funded project with quite a long name, the "Panafrican Research Agenda on the Pedagogical Integration of ICT" (rather surprisingly for a donor-supported project, it carries no convenient acronym, so it often goes by the shortname "PanAf'). This project, coordinated by ROCARE/ERNWCA and the University of Montreal, working with universities in eleven countries, provides perhaps the best one-stop-shop on the web to monitor the news and many of the more prominent initiatives emerging across the continent. Monitoring its regularly updated, blog-style front page (unfortunately there is no RSS feed available) is, together with strategic monitoring and searching of the AllAfrica.com news portal, a convenient way to stay in the loop on interesting debates, such as that which occured at the recent recent items of note include proceedings from the Acacia Research & Learning Forum on the role of the private sector in all that is happening in this area. The growing interest in public-private partnerships to support action is undeniable, and the recent announcement that the government of Kenya is teaming up with USAID and a consortium of private sector partners on an ambitious joint project to "enable 21st-Century education in Kenya schools" is just one example of such activities. In different ways, groups like PanAf and gatherings like TED Africa and the recent African Maker Faire in Accra showcase a dynamism that is largely unreported by most of the global news media.
Where all this will lead, no one knows, but there is no denying that we are witnessing encouraging developments. For those interested in the potentially transformative value of the use of technology in education, there will be much to learn from the experiences of African educators and students in the coming years.