Business News of Thursday, 13 October 2011

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Inaugural Alcatel – mPedigree – OSTEC ICT Education Conference

At a conference organized by Alcatel-Lucent and mPedigree Network and supported by the World Bank, Ghana Chamber of Telecommunications and OSTEC Ghana Limited at the Alisa Hotel on the 13th of October 2011, the participants agreed to create a new collaboration effort aimed at pushing the use of ICT in the Ghanaian educational sector in order to enhance outcomes.

The conference attracted a broad set of stakeholders from the educational, telecoms, ICT, and social activism communities, such as leading executives of MTN, Expresso and Tigo; award-winning start-ups such as Nandimobile and TechAide; grassroots initiatives such as the Yonso Project; top officials from the World Bank; and leading think tanks and NGOs, such as IMANI and ACET.

Alcatel-Lucent, the multinational telecom solutions provider, and its R&D arm, Bell Labs, currently has a strong focus on mobile-learning systems, and its President of the Asia-Pacific region, Rajeev Singh-Molares, is the Chairman of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on ICT. In his comments at the workshop, Chris White, who works in the CTO Office at Bell Labs, highlighted the rich array of existing capabilities that can be applied to enrich the educational landscape in societies looking to promote innovation in educational delivery. He however cautioned against focusing on technology in a vacuum and ignoring the institutional context that is required to support technology applications.

Selorm Branttie, who works with the event co-organiser, mPedigree Network, which has already won international acclaim for its use of mobile technology to fight the counterfeit and fake medicines trade in Africa, and increasingly in Asia, pledged the organization to new efforts to deepen their advocacy around the use of ICT to promote national development.

In several remarks during the event, Kwaku Sakyi Addo, Chief Executive of the Ghana Chamber of Telecoms, emphasized the importance of not perceiving the telecom sector as a cash cow that can be milked for instant revenue but more as a platform for broad innovation across multiple sectors. He explained that for telecom companies to be able to support educational projects and other essential sectors, constraints currently facing the industry needed to be addressed. He mentioned the tax system, the burdensome system for issuing permits for masts and other telco infrastructure and the regulatory regime as key areas where urgent attention is needed to ensure improvement.

World Bank Senior Country Officer, Dante Mossi Reyes, renewed the intergovernmental organisation’s continued resolve to partner government, civil society and business to enhance the contribution of telecommunications to poverty reduction and welfare improvement across the urban-rural, gender and socio-economic divides.

Mavis Ampah, a senior ICT Specialist within the World Bank’s Global ICT Policy Unit, and Yaw Owusu, the Founder of the Ghana Cyber Group – promoter of the Ghana Technology Park concept, were highly aligned in their views about the effectiveness of ICT in the campaign to bridge the graduate skills-gap which they were able to show works strongly against the employability of university graduates in the job market.

The conference climaxed with a brainstorming workshop during which a number of proposed ideas were scrutinized and refined. The participants finally settled on one concept to serve as the principal subject of advocacy over the coming year.

The agreed concept is expected to guide a project whose primary aim shall be the improvement of access to knowledge and learning content to help address the educational needs of schools and communities.

The project will foster collaboration between generators of educational content such as publishers and teachers, operators of mobile telephony services and owners of data centers, as well as government, schools, community leaders, private sector owners of data-rich applications and NGOs. Through the project, content for teaching and learning such as the school curricula, text books, teachers notes and creative learning tools, would be organized in various formats and made accessible from an open platform through device-neutral channels.

Students, teachers and parents can access the system for content using various devices connected to the internet such as laptops, desktop computers, mobile phones and tablets.

The project will also make the content accessible through mobile community tele-centers so that students without access to mobile devices or computers can access content for learning and teaching at these community tele-centers. Beyond delivering content for learning needs within the formal educational system, it will also be utilized to deliver content for learning by people outside of the formal education system such as information on entrepreneurship for young entrepreneurs, and training information for farmers and vocational workers.

A working group, made up of participants at the conference has been constituted and tasked to work on the concept and translate it into a implementable project which mPedigree and other stakeholders will support through advocacy for roll out on telecom platforms and innovative financing mechanisms. Some software writers, data providers and publishers at the conference expressed their interest to work on finalizing the conceptual designs and blueprint for implementation.

Through various advocacy tools, government agencies will also be approached to incorporate elements of the projects into ongoing efforts to improve education using ICT tools.

*Alisa Hotel*

*North Ridge, Accra*

Contact: Michael Kottoh, ACET