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Obstacles to Schools Computerization in Ethiopia

Obstacles to Schools Computerization in Ethiopia: New Solutions

Summary

In today’s interconnected world, most academic institutions feel the need to


be able to rapidly respond to changing situations within and outside their
institutions to enable them better manage and run their organizations and
offer the most compelling educational services to the community. To this
end, some institutions are resorting to employment of modern ICT
infrastructure through computerization and automation of basic processes.
However, most schools and educational institutions are holding back from
computerization, intimidated by the high cost of ICT equipment and
infrastructure acquisition in the Ethiopian context! What cost-effective
solutions can be provided for this situation? This article explores trends and
opportunities in the local and international ICT Space that can be employed
to facilitate computerization of Academic institutions in Ethiopia (and perhaps
other African Countries) as well as the benefits that can be derived from this
potentially large market.

Introduction

The greatest obstacle to computerization of Academic institutions in Ethiopia


(and other African Countries) today is cost! This has become a dilemma to
most schools. This is so because most school owners and directors readily
admit and understand the benefits of computerization! Today, more than
ever before, a strong ICT infrastructure has become the lifeblood of many
academic institutions in all strata of the education space (nursery schools to
tertiary institutions).

The most well organized schools are those that are computerized, thereby
removing drudgery and effectively cutting the amount of time it takes to offer
quality based services. The most profitable are those that have a web portal
linked to a strong back-office MIS package through which student and staff
recruitments as well as payments can take place instantly. The most
progressive (registering year on year profits together with strong academic
performances) are those that can provide both faculty and students with
modern tools with which to work!

Why then are most schools and academic institutions shying away from
making the necessary investment in computerization that would vastly
improve how most academic institutions are run?

A Panorama of Current Academic Institutions

Before we can proceed further, it is useful to assess the current academic


environment in Ethiopia! In Ethiopia, Academic institutions of all types may

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Obstacles to Schools Computerization in Ethiopia

be grouped into publicly funded and owned institutions on the one hand and
privately owned institutions on the other!

For Primary to Secondary Schools, Private schools appear to be better


funded, better equipped and more efficiently run than public government
owned schools in the same class. For Tertiary institutions, Government
owned universities and colleges are often better equipped, funded and better
run than private colleges/university colleges. This state of affairs sheds light
on the caliber of pupils being turned out of our academic institutions.

Pupils attending government-owned primary and secondary schools are more


often ill-prepared for attending tertiary institutions when compared with
pupils attending private schools of the same level. The reason for this is not
hard to discern! Apart from the fact that Governments’ attempt to provide
education for all means that Public schools are often overcrowded and must
run at least three (3) shifts a day to accommodate as many pupils as possible
(most private schools have one shift a day and perhaps private lessons,
tutorials or special coaching sessions for underperforming students later),
you will often find that Public schools (Science Labs, Computer Labs, etc) are
often not as well equipped as those of private schools. In addition, the
instructors with the best skills most often turn to the private schools because
they are better remunerated there!

The situation just described is the reverse in the case of tertiary institutions.
One often finds that government-owned (public) tertiary institutions have a
well prepared budget that allow them to make procurements of large
quantities of equipment and these also receive regular aid donations through
Aid Organizations. In contrast, privately owned tertiary institutions in Ethiopia
today are not as well funded (except perhaps for a few such as Unity
University College). This situation in Privately owned University Colleges is
also characterized by penny-pinching on the part of the owners whose prime
motive is profit rather than imparting an education!

Benefits of Education Sector Development

The national education policy aims to provide education for all as Ethiopia
races to meet the famed Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This means
the Government must do all in its power to make education available to all of
the masses. In this respect, the Government of Ethiopia must be commended
for its sheer determination and effort as seen through, the number of primary
schools that have either been constructed newly or existing ones that have
been reconstructed and the rapid construction of new universities and
colleges within the national education space as well as Government’s
inventiveness in the education sector.

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Obstacles to Schools Computerization in Ethiopia

This activity brings about three direct benefits. One is that many more people
can attend school at all levels at affordable costs even though several shifts
still need to be run at the lower levels. The second direct benefit with many
ancillary opportunities and spin-off benefits is that employment opportunities
of all types are generated. Additionally, Government also raises revenue
through schools fees, and employment income taxes.

Because Government is committed to meeting the Millennium Development


Goals, Government has put in place policies to enable private enterprises and
individuals participate in the education sector. This has resulted in privately
owned institutions of all sizes and types springing up across the country. This
leads us to another major direct benefit that education brings – it generates
revenue for Government from private sources in the form of profit tax, salary
income tax as well as the creation of more employment opportunities, plus
wealth creation for the proprietors of such institutions (and of course wealth
creation for the nation) and other ancillary benefits thereof as such wealth is
reinvested in the economy and thus trickles down to other members of
society. This expansion leads to why ICT is ignored in education.

ICT Led Education

There is one glaringly missing component is the current rapid expansion of


the education sector – ICT! Whereas, we have heard a lot about ICT led
development, ICT in industry, etc, we have heard very little about ICT in
education. This has left the few operators in this sector (principally software
vendors providing products for schools and universities) to lead efforts to
introduce, implement and perpetuate this technology!

This state of affairs has led to a situation where some private schools and
universities have adopted some measures in computerization and automation
while publicly owned institutions have been largely left out of the game. This
may be attributable in part to a lack of knowledge on the part of regulators of
the powerful role that ICTs can play in education and the tremendous
benefits that can be derived!

Where ICTs have been employed at all, this same general lack of all-rounded
knowledge has resulted in a skewed appraisal of the employment and use of
ICT in education focused mainly on the provision of Internet connection for
faculty and students and provision of basic computer courses to students –
other facets of employment of ICTs within the education sector have been
largely ignored.

Roles of ICT in Education

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Having made the point that current ICT Education policy in Ethiopia is
somewhat skewed with heavy emphasis on Internet provision , it is relevant
to briefly review the specific roles that ICT can play in the education sector.

ICT Led Education Development can support Government’s effort to provide


education and employment for all and to meet the MDG’s (now just five years
away) in more ways than one. This means that a broadened strategy to use
ICTs in the education sector needs to be employed. The following points
come to mind easily along with anticipated benefits and gains:

1. Build capacity for efficient school management (and therefore more


efficient provision of education) through the computerization of the
school (admissions and registrations, grades, report cards, transcripts,
discipline, school-parent communication, etc) thereby building capacity
of faculty to use computers and software in day-to-day management
and driving wealth creation for Schools Management Software
Vendors, Hardware vendors, etc along with the ancillary benefits to
Government in the form of taxes and increased volumes of trade.
2. Prepare students for a place in an increasingly interconnected world
through early introduction of ICT courses and internet access and
general computer awareness.
3. Provide Research opportunities and education-based social networking
for both management and faculties through internet and innovative
employment of internet technologies.
4. Employ internet and computing technologies to offer distance
education by primary, secondary and tertiary institutions thereby
extending education to all and accelerating progress towards meeting
the MDGs. This can be done by exploiting new computing devices
developed specifically for education such as the One Laptop Per Child
initiative or the new net top based computing devices based on
processors such as the Intel Atom to make sure that all have access to
computers.

The application of ICTs in education along the lines just described would
enable not just the provision of internet but also collaboration among
instructors and students, extension of the current education infrastructure to
create a sort of computer-based School Net, capacity building of teachers and
school administrators as they use the computers for school administration.

Capacity building of teachers and school administrators through


computerization is most especially important for several reasons:

1. School Enrollment can be stimulated through remote and distance


education thus accelerating progress towards meeting the MDGs

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2. You cannot expect teachers who are ICT illiterate to teach basic
computer courses to students effectively
3. Teachers and Administrators can become ICT-literate very quickly as
they employ computers for day-to-day tasks in the school.
4. ICT literate faculty and school management will find more innovative
ways of employing computers in the teaching profession and can
become responsible global citizens through participation in today’s
dynamic online social space characterized by social networking sites
such as Face Book, Twitter, etc which are powerful networking and
information sharing sites
5. ICT Literate school staff and faculty can easily harness the power of
ICTs for research to find material that can enhance the classroom
experience.

Overview of the Obstacles to Computerization

As summarized earlier at the beginning of this article, one persistent


obstacle to schools computerization is cost - Schools already hard pressed
need to find money to buy computer hardware for students, faculty and
management. In addition, to put equipment to use, money must again be
spent on Software including expensive Operating System Licenses,
educational software (for students), internet connection, Office Productivity
Software, networking and interconnection costs, management software for
staff and faculty, 99.9% of which is software made outside Ethiopia. These
costs are aggravated by the fact that Hardware and Software companies
based outside Africa charge exorbitant licensing fees for use of ICTs without
taking into account the African environment. Thus, a school administrator’s
perception, already colored, will often see no reason to spend so much
money that could be used to equip a science lab or provide additional school
seats for students (in a country where many still do not have access to
affordable education) on computers and software when the school can be
managed manually in the same way he has done for the last 20 years!

Another factor militating against the use of ICTs in schools is the experience
that some schools and individuals have had – unsuspectingly purchasing
used, almost unworkable computers from quack operators who along with
other charlatans based in North America and Europe ship obsolete unusable
computers and electronics to Africa. Soon, administrators find that these
computers cannot be upgraded to the latest operating systems or software;
these machines soon breakdown and there are no spare parts or upgrades
available because these have been phased out in Europe and America! And
even where spare parts exists, these are so expensive as to make irrelevant
any cost savings that may have been gained from buying used equipment.
Then suddenly the school administrator is caught in an endless trap of trying
to repair equipment that simply won’t work!

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Obstacles to Schools Computerization in Ethiopia

There are Quack Operators in the Software world too, who sell school
administration software that is ill-designed for a very small sum of money.
Soon, they have finished spending the money and then are unable to support
the software further so that the school administrator is frustrated, cheated
and mistrustful of modern technology initiatives and all who propose them. At
other times, administrators are goaded into purchasing a software product
manufactured for the European or American markets. When the
implementation fails to work for the school, the administrator blames all
software for that failure.

The Solution:

African ICT companies and practitioners must the lead the way to deepen ICT
penetration and provide new services and innovative products specifically
designed for the African ICT context. A number of African ICT companies and
practitioners are beginning to do just this!

Specifically on the education sector ICT development, we have here in


Ethiopia seen the appearance of products such as the CampusManager™
family of software products especially tailor made for the education sector
including CampusManager™ Pro School Advantage Software,
CampusManager™ University Advantage Software and CampusManager™
StudyWeb that provide end-to-end solutions for the education sector
(including Schools/College management, accounting and budgeting, Library
management, scheduling, e-learning, etc) in Ethiopia with plans to expand to
other African countries. These products are offered at an amazingly
affordable cost with the most flexible payment terms. As much as possible,
these products are geared towards zero-additional costs in terms of
Operating System Licenses, and Database Licenses.

On the hardware front, innovative OEM manufacturers such as Nigeria-based


Omatek® Computers are taking on the likes of Dell, Acer and Toshiba on the
continent by making and providing affordable new desktop computers and
laptops on the continent with flexible payment terms for schools and other
companies on the continent.

African software developers and ICT practitioners need to learn to embrace


open technologies to reduce end user cost and many are already doing this!
Africa should perhaps standardize on Ubuntu Linux (Operating System) and
embrace open source databases such as MySQL (Databses), PHP (Web
Development), Java/Jabaco (Programming/Software Development). This will
not just help defray a huge amount of cost to end-users it will also undercut
the greed of companies like Oracle and Microsoft who make databases and
developer tools and then use those same tools to build accounting, ERP and
MIS software such as Microsoft Dynamics Great Plains or Oracle Financials to

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compete with other programmers who depend on building applications using


Microsoft or Oracle tools for a living! At the same time, those programmers
must purchase or license these developer tools for exorbitant sums that will
then be passed on to end users!

Standards and integrity will need to be scrupulously observed! Any local


software product must be as feature-rich, bug free and user friendly as any
alternative data management product built abroad by Oracle or Microsoft or
their likes to win market! Any hardware built locally, must be as reliable and
easy to operate as any of the branded products most often imported from
abroad. If African ICT Professionals lead the way in providing innovative
technologies for the education sector, they will help stimulate learning and
accelerate progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals,
they will create and generate employment locally and create wealth and
revenue, they will make valuable contributions to the development of local
ICT Sector and will encourage innovative use of modern technologies in
society.

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