Food for All? Equitable IT Access at Eritrea Institute of Technology

6th of November 2015

No news, good news? In this case it is true. Thursday and Friday have gone smoothly, with even some time for a tea break that we shared with EIT staff, ELFA and KUA members.

The most important tasks have been finalizing the questionnaire that we want to run with EIT students to find out more about the ICT penetration and the usage habits of  digital services and contents.  This survey will help us to design the educational ICT services that the ICT Center should provide in the future. It has been hard for us to put ourselves in the Eritrean context. Coming from Finland, we are spoiled with choices: we have 100Mb internet links at home, smartphone in every student pocket and so on. Do Eritrean students have access to internet at home or at the dorms? How many do have smartphones? If we move important educational services online, or just to the local network, we should understand that not everyone can use it. Penetration of smartphones can be as low at 5%, computer labs are mostly used in the practical exercises of the course, and only the library will ready about 50 computers for accessing digital content. 50 computers cannot serve a student population of 7000. In the future we need to think how to reach the rest of them so that the investment in digital material is worth and equitable, to avoid the privileged ones becoming more privileged.

A more equitable approach would be to focus on the teachers, all teachers have a desktop connect to the local network, though the links to the ICT center vary in speed. Offering reliable digital services, like e-mail, remote backup, access to material, we can improve the education of all the students. Obviously, not all teachers have the same digital literacy and training campaigns should be carried out.

The questionnaire was piloted with about 8 students, their answers have taught us a lot. One the one hand, we have learnt how test questions are written here and how English can be understood or misunderstood by students. An improved version of the questionnaire is coming soon. On the other hand, we have had a very clear picture of the emerging themes when it comes to digital services and content. Lack of reliable internet is major complain by the students.

Unfortunately, our project cannot cover faster internet as it quite expensive in the current situation. The project, however, can improve the perception of the digital services that can be provided without external connectivity. Staff at the College of Engineering and Technology are already using an online platform to handle the enrolling of courses and other administrative issues. Deploying this service to other colleges at EIT and other Eritrean Universities would be of great help to the staff.

As a side note, for the last four days I have been eating in the staff canteen. And again no news, this time from my guts. All is good. In fact, the bread is one of the ones I have tried in a long time, freshly made at the university. I am looking forward to offer the bread to my colleagues from UEF coming to Asmara this Sunday!

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