8 ICT Days a Week in Eritrea

13th November

While I had already been for a week in Asmara, Monday, 9th of November, marked the start of the ICT4EEDU activities. Together with Roman Bednarik (Senior Researcher at UEF)  and Juha Eskelinen (CIO at UEF), we started the baseline of the project and run the first course of the project. Five days later, on Friday, we achieved everything we aimed for, but felt that the working week could have had 8 days to do things more calmly.nor

The baseline of the project aims to assess the state of the IT network at EIT and the penetration of ICT devices amongst the EIT population. Juha Eskelinen and Samuel Tewelde have spent several days mapping the status of the network at EIT, and plotting the future ErUNet (or Eritrean University Network). Samuel Tewelde has been thinking and proposing such a network for a couple of years now, and we may see his seed growing under the ICT4EEDU umbrella. After having a functioning network and functional digital learning services at EIT, the plan is to connect the different Eritrean Higher Education Institutions to a non-commercial network with high bandwidth and low cost, akin to FUNET in Finland and MoRENet in Mozambique.

During the week, intensive lobbying has been applied to all the possible educational and network stakeholders. Exploratory presentations of the ErUNet idea were carried out, in chronological order, at the National Commission for Higher Education (NCHE), Ministry of Transport and Communication, Eritel (the state phone operator), and Ministry of Education. If budget and time allows, ICT4EEDU will link EIT with the National Commission of Higher Education and the Medical College in Asmara via a wireless link.

The PD and UCD course explicitly aimed to prepare a group of deans, teachers, and students to gather service requirements by taking into account, and interacting with, the final user. Several methods have been presented in the 3 sessions of the course. Implicitly, we are learning about students and teachers demands for the ICT Center, and for the future educational technologies lab. For example, students of the course have been using “personas” to describe the profiles of possible users of the educational technologies lab. Also, they have mocked up several mobile user interfaces and evaluated them heuristically. By request, ICT experts from the Ministry of Education have attended the course. To our delight, they have seen the need to design the new webpages for teachers, and they will involve the teachers in the process.

Another nice outcome of the course is a short video that we are editing. We asked some of the participants of the course to give us feedback for our activities and to express what the will like to do in their dream edtech lab. Soon we will release it!

In this busy week, we have made final refinements to the  questionnaire that assesses the spread of ICTs amongst the EIT students. We have not yet collected the completed questionnaire, but we hope to get between 200 and 300 answers. The students from the PD and UCD course have been piloting the questionnaire as well, and also learning who to make better questionnaires by reviewing our earlier, and poorer, versions of the questionnaire. Hopefully, they will learnt that improving is constant and that getting user-feedback is important in designing anything, even a user-feedback instrument like the questionnaire, let’s call it meta-user-feedback.

Johanna and Rediet are the latest local recruits to the HEI-ICI projects and will be diving their time between the ICT Center and the Digital Library at EIT. Johanna did her final project on digital libraries and has shown a great interest in educational technologies.  She will be a great asset to the ICT4EEDU project as a cornerstone to our gender mainstreaming approach. After a short training, she has already conducted the first focus group with 5 female EIT students. They discussed about the difficulties present for all, and some especially for women, when accessing new technologies in Eritrea.

We ended the week with a great dinner at Spaghetti and Pizza House (S&PH) together with Samuel (ICT Director) and Gebrai and Teklay (Deans of Science and of Engineering respectively). S&PH has become our second home at Asmara; their great pizzas, spaghettis and the amazing fresh fish from the Red Sea are a reason on their own to visit Asmara.

I am looking forward to coming again to Asmara. I have had the pleasure to work with excellent colleagues at EIT and at UEF, and I can see the huge potential of this collaboration to positively impact how things are done in both countries, Finland and Eritrea. I have also attended quite a few coffee ceremonies, and have drank more coffee in 2 weeks that in all my previous life. However, a new opportunity has appeared at a different continent and I may be changing jobs soon. I will keep you updated!

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