Can Africa use technology to reverse the cycle of poverty and achieve economic growth?
According to the Planet Earth Institute (PEI), a charitable NGO dedicated to achieving the scientific independence of Africa, advanced scientific expertise is the key to long-term sustainable development in Africa.
The global economy is increasingly driven by access to information, which provides Africa with a vital opportunity if it can achieve significant advances in its use of science and technology.
Until now, however, investment in science, technology, and engineering by African nations has been very low, although there is a growing understanding by African leaders that more investment is required. The African Union has declared it will devote more resources to science and technology, however success will depend upon collaboration between business, government and educators.
In building Africa's scientific infrastructure, there are many obstacles to be overcome.
Africa has very few scientists, due in part to the low number of students progressing to tertiary education but also the loss of graduates seeking opportunities overseas. To compound the problem, inadequate resources in many universities and a lack of connections with other centres of higher learning, result in graduates whose qualification compares less favourably than those from international universities.
By bringing together the different stakeholders to discuss the issues (such as at the recent forum hosted by PEI at the office of the Permanent Observer Mission of the African Union to the United Nations), a way can be found to move forward. International organisations (such as USAID and UNESCO), governments and the telecommunications industry already have a number of regional projects underway, and existing small regional programs that are working well need to be identified and increased in scale.
One area where technology offers great opportunities is m-learning – where information and training are provided on mobile devices such as phones or tablets. With the widespread take-up of mobile phones in Africa, this has the potential to achieve massive gains. It’s an arena where business and educators must work together since it requires a shift in thinking – simply making the existing material available on a mobile device will not provide the advances required. And although mobile devices are already widespread, the high cost of connection is a limitation that needs to be addressed if Africa is to make the exponential gains that technology offers.