Will one laptop project define Rwanda’s next 50 years?
As we marked 50 years of independence, one question that kept boggling my mind was the decades that this country lost and what would define the next 50 years.
The last 18 of the 50 years of independence have largely been spent on correcting the historical political mess. On the political front, a solid foundation has been built, based on consensual and inclusive politics. This has not only ushered in a calm political environment, one where every political organisation has a say on matters of nation building, but has also created a fertile ground for building a cohesive nation where every citizen enjoys equal rights and opportunities.
The economics has also worked well and Rwanda today is recognised more for its economic recovery than the past political pogroms.
Institutions that define the character and shape the direction of any functioning state are in place. Though some might be weak, a collective will and effort to have them discharge their obligations with utmost independence and professionalism exists.
However, much as we pride in the journey travelled and certainly look to the future with more optimism, it is definitely difficult to ascertain exactly where Rwanda will be in the next 50 years.
Some skeptics point to possibilities of breaking half-way and becoming like many African countries where endemic corruption and indiscipline have eaten into the fabric of society. But the others, who know a thing or two about the RPF resilience, point to an even brighter future anchored on a foundation that has been laid over the past 18 years.
I will look at this debate from a different lens. Many of us have heard about the One Laptop Per Child initiative. Some within our midst might have reduced its value to mere ‘toy computers.’ Others might look at it as an intention whose vision is farfetched.
But there’s more to these IT tools than we might probably know. And its results will largely define and shape the destination of this country for the next 50 years of independence.
For the past five years, Rwanda has rolled out hundreds of thousands of these laptops. Founded on the vision of nurturing children’s ICT skills from an early age, the one-laptop per child is a transformational initiative that is sparking off a revolution in every corner of this country.
It is changing the way we perceive, interact and use ICT tools starting with young children but eventually trickling down to even the older generation.
The programme is very ambitious. What used to be taught in secondary schools under the ICT curriculum will now be taught in primary schools and what would be taught at university will now fall to secondary schools.
Today, a child graduating from primary school will be equipped with programing skills...meaning that this child can set up basic accounting programmes or any simple solution for a kiosk owner in their community to effectively manage their small scale businesses. The focus is no longer acquiring basic computing skills but a shift to more sophisticated level of computing.
When these children graduate to secondary school, they are expected to leave having obtained IT skills robotic technology, something that was earlier reserved for undergraduate students.
At university, the training will be more advanced, with students acquiring skills in artificial intelligence programmes. This means that in a few years from now, a Rwandan IT undergraduate can be able to design sophisticated software that would probably detect in advance any mismatches in the levels of methane gas in the Lake Kivu or any tectonic movements.
The trickledown effects of this revolution are many.
First is the demand that is created by this ambitious vision. Today we have been importing all computers we use including the ‘One Laptop Per Child’ computers and yet these can easily be assembled here. So instead of Government spending money on importing these tools, the money could be channeled in subsidizing local initiatives investing in this sector.
Secondly, because much of the teaching will be computer based, the demand for locally generated content becomes even more important…giving opportunities in this area.
Therefore looking ahead, this country’s future is best reflected in the on-going silent revolution where a pen or pencil is steadily being substituted with a computer. The future certainly lies in the hands of the young lads we often see pointing and clicking on what some of us call ‘toy’ computers.
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Contact email: akaeus[at]yahoo.com