The government’s effort to achieve a knowledge-based economy through reforms that target information and communications technology policy in education is facing challenges of being costly and unsustainable.
Dubbed ICT in Education, the policy seeks to increase access to basic education, improve quality of basic education and promote independent and lifelong learning while contributing to the development of a work-force equipped with ICT skills needed for a knowledge-based economy.
At secondary education, the programme is largely implemented through smart classroom concept under which two classrooms are refashioned with standard furnishings, equipped with 50 computers, connected to 4G Internet and electricity.
Ideally, the classes should also have digital white boards and video conference infrastructure.
Ministry of Education officials could not share cost estimates of attaining a reasonably equipped smart class-room but a source familiar with the concept quoting ministry internal reports put the figure at Rwf50 million.
The estimate could be justified given that one computer is being procured at $264 (Rwf237,116).
Education figurs for 2017 show there were 1,332 government aided and owned secondary schools – the government is implementing the programme in own schools — and mobilizing the private ones to do so.
N Computing labs
Previously, the government established “N Computing labs” at secondary schools where one uninterrupted power source serves 10 computers with a set of desktop, keyboard and mouse cost an average of Rfw120,000. “This should have been customised under smart classroom concept. I do not know why that [N Computing] changed. With the advent of Positivo all ICT equipment are sourced from the company,” a ministry official said preferring not to be named.
To this end, critics say the programme is too costly for the ministry to sustain.
Experts say the programme is not adequately cushioned against the challenges that failed One Laptop per Child (OLPC) programme.
Initiated 10 years ago, OLPC aimed at government providing primary school going children with own laptop each but education officials say with each laptop costing Rfw179,634 it was bound to be too much for government to sustain.
Ministry of Education data of 2017 indicates there were some 2.5 million pupils in primary around 774 being in primary 3-6.
Suppose the 774 are to given laptops it will cost government Rfw13.9 billion. “While a device for every child remains the end goal, MINEDUC is shifting from One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) to the concept of a “Smart Classroom” following changingtechnology, to reduce costs and increase access and equity,” Ministry of Education says in ICT in education policy statement adopted by the Cabinet in 2016.
Also, high costs of Internet and power make smart classrooms costly to maintain. For instance, at College Saint Andre where KOICA donated such two classes, internet consumption will increase from 3Mbps to 10Mbps costing the schools Rfw212,000 per month.
According to an analysis by the Ministry of Education, such as in sufficient electricity coverage, low internet connectivity rates, lack of ICT equipment, and lack of ICT culture needed to be addressed before for the new policy to work.