The road to Maputo: 21-25 July 2014.
This is the fourth in a series of articles we are releasing as part of our 10 year anniversary. The authors for this issue are Nodumo Dhlamini (ICT Program Manager, RUFORUM) and Lisbeth Levey, (Consultant, ICT for Development) Download by clicking on the following issues to access the previous issues; Briefing note on the 4th biennial conference (third issue), RUFORUM’s Developmental Roots (second issue) and RUFORUM@10 (first issue).
When, Where, and How It all Started
When the FORUM project began, connectivity was not taken for granted the way it sometimes is today. Email utilization on a measurable scale only began in the late 1980s. The story of ICT in Africa is one of profound need coupled with intense creativity to drive the rapid spread of these technologies. The FORUM and now RUFORUM epitomize this principle. In order to understand just how far RUFORUM has come, a few examples are highlighted below of innovative ICT deployment in universities in the five FORUM countries (Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Uganda, and Zimbabwe).
- In 1990, the Bunda College of Agriculture library created an automated bibliographic database of research carried out in Malawi relevant to maize production. This was one of the first such bibliographies created anywhere in sub-Saharan Africa.
- Also in 1990, the small computer center at Eduardo Mondlane University installed an email system, first for the university and then for the entire country, using a dedicated telephone line and a painfully slow modem (1200 bps). These early experiments paid off. In 1995, UEM became the second university north of the Limpopo to achieve full Internet capability.
- In 1991, the University of Nairobi, Makerere University, and the University of Zimbabwe joined an ambitious effort to provide email to their university communities
- In the mid ‘90’s, Rockefeller Foundation helped selected FORUM university faculties and departments create special computer labs and networks, equipped with CD-ROM, in order to access bibliographic and abstracting databases in the agricultural sciences, particularly TEEAL, the full-text CD-ROM agricultural library of about 130 journals. RUFORUM has continued to work with its network—organizing training workshops and subsidizing subscription costs. Because these universities have recognized the importance of TEEAL, more than half of them are paying for their own subscriptions, now that RUFORUM is no longer covering the costs.
- Not content with CD-ROM, the Rockefeller Foundation helped FORUM postgraduate students at Makerere University organize an information retrieval skills workshop in 1997 on using the Internet and search engines to access research information in the agricultural sciences. RUFORUM workshops such as this one continue.
- In 1993, the African Journal of Crop Sciences began as a print journal in the department of crop sciences at Makerere University. It is now fully online and freely accessible worldwide (http://www.bioline.org.br/cs). It was an important vehicle then for publishing FORUM research output and remains so today for RUFORUM.
Key findings from RUFORUM ICT studies
- In 2009 86 percent of the RUFORUM universities surveyed had a campus backbone; 58 percent had ICT policies in place; and 60 percent had central ICT units to manage and monitor ICT projects. However, the Colleges of Agriculture lagged behind in use of ICT for teaching, learning, and research in comparison to other disciplines within the university.
- In 2011 59 percent of the 29 universities surveyed had a rationale in place for e-learning within an explicit institutional plan; 45 percent had e-learning policies compared to 26 percent in 2009; and 32 percent had e-learning units. The situation for the Colleges of Agriculture, however, remained the same—teaching content in agriculture was almost negligible on institutional learning management systems. Click here to view or download the full issue