7 May 2012

Rwanda: ICT Infrastructure Lies Idle in Rural Areas

As the headmistress of Ecole Primaire Rusororo in Kabuga, there is no doubt that Marthe Kabibi is an educated woman who is no stranger to the wider world. Yet at the age of 62, she has never used the @-sign in her entire life - she has no e-mail.

"We don't have a single computer in the administration of this school, we do everything in an old-fashioned way and that delays our work," Kabibi says, sitting behind her desk on which blue and red pens are lined up next to orderly arranged piles of paper.

It's not that Kabibi is a technophobe; the school has applied for computers from the One-Laptop-per-Child (OLPC) project when it was first introduced in Rwanda in 2009. "I heard that computers can improve people's lives, and I really want my pupils to get used to them. But until now we haven't got any computers yet," the headmistress says.

Despite the government's drive to turn the country into a regional and continental ICT hub, it is a situation which is not uncommon in rural areas. Teachers have been trained in basic computer skills, the schools often make a room available to serve as a computer lab, and then the trouble starts.

At Rusororo Primary School, for instance, they got a promise from ETO Muhima that it would send technicians to do the electrical wiring of the lab - they never came. "I waited for them in vain until I finally decided to go there, only to find out that ETO Muhima had been merged with ETO Kicukiro," Kabibi explains. "I didn't know who to turn to anymore, I was confused."

Yet a ready-to-go computer lab is a precondition for OLPC to deliver the laptops. "We are now talking to EWSA," Kabibi says.


At nearby APAER secondary school, things are a little better. Their computer lab has at least a few computers, although there is no Internet connection. The problem here, according to computer teacher Jean de Dieu Habiyaremye, is rather the mentality of the students, most of who come from rural areas.

"When you take those students in the computer lab, you notice that they don't really grasp what is being taught. They seem like filled with awe," he explains.

That is complicated by the fact that they only have a handful of computers, so students spend little time on them. The lack of Internet isn't helping either. "We generally teach them the theory," Habiyaremye says. "And it's not easy to explain a student about a router, a modem or wireless connection when they can't see it. They must take a look at working examples."

Now this is Kabuga, which is not some undeveloped backwater, but a booming town on the outskirts of Kigali. Things get worse when you go deep into the countryside. There, many people still don't understand how development can be brought about by computers rather than agriculture.

For instance, in the district of Nyaruguru there is an RDB telecenter to train residents in computer skills for free. It is equipped with all the necessary hardware and has Internet, but according to Fidèle Gakuba, a student who lives nearby, people don't seem interested.

"They don't understand why they should spend time in front of computers. The government has made great progress by bringing free primary education for all, but there are also other things we need to achieve Vision 2020," Gakuba says.

Explaining people that computers and hoes are perfectly compatible would be a good start.

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