ICT integration in education in Africa plan must reach out to “marginalized populations”

Half of all the schoolchildren in the world are in Africa, the forum on ICT integration on education and training being held in Tunis heard. But so many of those children, and other students, are hard to reach for reasons including geography, connectivity, health, and competing priorities. These are marginalized populations, and a session took place on 11 December, the final day of the three-day forum, on “Utilizing ICT to expand learning opportunities for marginalized populations”. Gabriel Cohn-Bendit, secretary-general at the Réseau Education pour Tous en Afrique (REPTA), opened the session, describing how his organization had opened schools in Africa for children who had been excluded from school for various reasons.
He said that, for instance, in Africa, parents might need their children to work in the fields, so his organization helped to bring the schools and classrooms nearer to the community. Mr. Cohn-Bendit commented that when ICT arrived, he thought “this would be wonderful for Africa”, and that his organization fought for the use of ICT.  But the advent of ICT brought its own challenges. He said there was a danger that those who had already been excluded could be excluded again because of technology.
His organization was able to develop software to teach children to read and write and had started to adapt it to use African languages.
Ms. Nafisa Baboo, senior inclusive education consultant for the Light for the World organization, gave a presentation on “Towards Inclusive Education: the potential of accessible ICT to increase education participation and achievement for persons with disabilities”. She reported that more than 10 million schoolchildren in sub-Saharan Africa had a disability. If they are excluded from education due to disability, such exclusion has a direct effect on the economy, she said. A loss of between 3% and 7% of GDP can result, according to the International Labour Organization.
Of enrolled children with disabilities, said Ms. Baboo, only 5% to 15% have accessed to technology adapted for disabilities.
Her organization was working to solve that problem. She pointed out that “mobile devices provided the greatest potential to increase independent living for people with disabilities.”
Living in remote areas in Africa creates marginalization. Taha Mansour, director of the Tunisian e-School, described how his country brought e-education to remote areas of his country. Even after the modernization of the Tunisian telephone system in 2000, many areas of the country remained unconnected. The authorities helped bring computers to children in those areas by the use of buses equipped with technology.  Mr. Mansour described the project as “successful but with shortcomings”, adding that the country needed to integrate ICT into the school curricula.
Mr. Hamadou Saliah-Hassane, of TELUQ Montreal at the University of Quebec, described his organization’s work on empowering African marginalized populations by using networked mobile laboratories over the internet. He noted that children in remote areas can become marginalized and miss out on school by becoming ill simply by not having access to clean water, so helping with health and sanitation can be part of a successful educational project.
Ms. Abigail Cuales Lanceta, of the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization Secretariat, gave a presentation on “The Use of ICT in Reaching the Unreached in Education in Southeast Asia”. She described the size of the task by saying that two-thirds of the population in Southeast Asia lived in villages. Nevertheless, 78% of Southeast Asians use ICT, broadband internet is a reality in the region and that five countries in Southeast Asia had 100% penetration of mobile phones. “The rest are catching up”, said Ms. Lanceta.
She reported that the ASEAN community had a master plan on ICT for the period 2010-15, and recognized ICT as an engine of growth. She highlighted the “unattached” groups that her organization was trying to reach.  They included girls and women, migrant families, learners with disabilities, street children, orphans, and children and people affected by HIV/Aids.