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[NAIROBI] A project aimed at creating digital centres in schools throughout Africa is set to grow, following the successful outcome of a pilot study.

The 'electronic schools' (e-schools) rollout project in Africa, led by the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) will now be implemented in 600,000 schools within the next decade, said Thoko Mogkosi-Mwanatembe, chief executive officer of Hewlett Packard in South Africa, at an international conference on electronic learning in Nairobi, Kenya this week (30 May).

The project promises educational opportunities to more people and a reduction in the digital gap between rich and poor.

The pilot study was tested in 120 schools in 16 different countries in the continent. It recorded a 35 per cent improvement in students' examination performance in places where e-schools are operational.

International technology companies Smart Technologies, Hewlett Packard, Nokia and Microsoft will support the NEPAD e-schools initiative.

Smart Technologies announced at the conference that they are donating equipment such as 'smartboards' — electronic blackboards that enable teachers to communicate information to hundreds of students at a time — to help the project. They have already supplied 50 smartboards to Kenya, Rwanda and South Africa. 

Anju Visen-Singh, a marketing executive at Smart Technologies, said that by donating equipment they hope to create an infrastructure for information and computer technology (ICT) in Africa to support electronic learning.

"We are seeing a tremendous interest in the use of ICT tools to fight poverty and to narrow the inequity gap in education," said Visen-Singh.

But she warned that the success of the project depends on the speed at which teachers can be trained to adopt the new technology.

Kenyan education minister George Saitoti said using ICT in education was improving the effectiveness and flexibility of delivering higher education to a large number of students.

Some African universities have set up digital libraries, allowing them to compete with other universities on a global scale, he said.

Kenya can begin to solve its teacher-shortage problem through e-Learning, he pointed out, because the initiative would require fewer teachers,

But he said that African states still need to strengthen their ICT policies for e-learning initiatives to succeed.

Inadequate technology content in school curricula and school managers who lack the necessary skills to use the new technology are further impediments, he said.