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Increasing Computer Literacy in Africa

Khaitsa Wasiyo *

In 1989, the Hasegawa family of the Kyoto Computer Gakuin (KCG) established the International Development of Computer Education (IDCE) program, a special program to expand computer education. Over the past six years, the IDCE program has donated almost 2,000 computers and provided computer instruction to countries in Asia, Europe, Africa, and South America. IDCE, which has also been registered as a non-profit corporation in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is headed by Yu Hasegawa, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University. Her mother, Yasuko Hasegawa, presides over the KCG in Kyoto, where over 2,500 students study computer science. Founded by Shigeo and Yasuko Hasegawa in 1963, KCG was the first private computer institute to be established in Japan.

IDCE's launched its first project in Thailand by donating 300 8-bit personal computers. It was such a success that several projects have been completed in other developing countries. Hundreds of computers have been sent to secondary and upper level schools in Thailand, Ghana, Poland, Kenya, Peru, and Zimbabwe.

IDCE's goal is to widen access to basic computers for educational purposes in developing countries, where often there is no public access to computer technology. The program aims to increase basic computer skills and encourage computer education. The program is also a medium for encouraging cultural exchange between Japan and participating countries. Ms. Hasegawa says, "We believe that the spread of education in science and technology can be the key to a country's future economic independence and prosperity." Not everyone agrees with her, however. "I have been told that what Africa needs is not computers, but water and clothes and other necessities of life. But I think they need both. The African people have a great desire to learn and to utilize the tools of modern technology. I believe that if we provide the seed, this capability will flourish."

The IDCE Five Step Program

The program entails the following five steps:

1. KCG donates one to three hundred computers to the government of the participating country.

2. The recipient government is responsible for maintaining and distributing the computers to schools all over the country.

3. KCG provides instructors to the recipient country to teach an intensive course to selected teachers of the schools receiving the computers.

4. Local instructors are taught how to operate the machines as well as educational strategies useful for teaching computer skills. This is a two-phase instructional program. The first technical training is a 15 to 21 day intensive session in the recipient country, during which time local teachers learn the basic programming skills and tools. According to IDCE Curriculum Director, Mark Johnson, the goal "is to teach instructors how to think linearly like a programmer. Once this hurdle has been crossed, the rest of the course is a snap."

5. The second phase is a more intensive session that takes place at the Kyoto Computer Gakuin for a few trainees who excelled in the first phase. The session in Japan is an international joint training program with teachers from East Europe, Africa, and South East Asia. The instructors from Japan who had taught the graduates of the first phase in the home countries are available to welcome them and to continue this education process. There have been two joint training courses so far. In 1992, 40 people from around the world enrolled into this intensive program, living and studying together. In 1994, the joint training session was held in October as part of Kyoto's 1200th anniversary. The session involved over 40 teachers from Peru, Zimbabwe, Thailand, and Ghana.

After going through the five steps in the program, the recipient country establishes a computer education program at schools for the general public. KCG and the countries continue to work together in encouraging and supporting computer education.

Programs in Africa

To date, IDCE has conducted three successful programs in Ghana, Kenya, and Zimbabwe.


On May 29, 1991, Dr. R. G. J. Butler, the Director-General of the Council For Scientific and Industrial Research, said in a letter to IDCE, "Third world countries like Ghana are making all efforts to enter and compete in the computer age. This is particularly vital for the growth of the science and technology sector as well as for industry in these countries. In this regard, the donation of 200 computers by the Kyoto School of Computer Science in Japan is an important and laudable gesture. It will go a long way to facilitate the building up of Ghana's capabilities in computer science." Over 24 teachers from secondary schools and polytechnics enrolled in the first phase.

Although the basic steps of the program were completed in 1991, KCG and Ghana have continued to collaborate in the efforts to promote computer education. In 1993, the Ministries of Education and Science and Technology opened a computer center named after the president of KCG, Yasuko Hasegawa. At the opening ceremony, the Minister of Education announced the increase in the budget for computer education in Ghana. Since the project was so successful, it has also become a joint project with the Ministry of Education. In 1994, another phase of the project was implemented, involving one hundred 8-bit and 16-bit computers.


The IDCE Kenya program—a national training workshop—was organized in a joint effort with the Kenya Industrial Research Development Institute. The secretary of the National Council for Science and Technology, Professor Ogallo, who officially opened the workshop, praised the donors for the 200 computers donated to educational institutions, 40 of which will be used during the workshop. The rest will be distributed to polytechnics, universities, and other educational institutions.

Several local teachers from Kenya had the opportunity to go to Japan for more intensive studies during the first international training program. The Kenya program has been applauded by Prof. Karega Mutahi, Kenya's Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Research, Technical Training, and Technology. Dennis Ouma, MIT Kenyan graduate and program instructor, observed: "We started our teaching with a simple overview of the computer, and then moved on through programming and an overview of the operating system and basic software. It was designed to enhance their computer literacy and I think we really succeeded." In 1993, the basic five steps were successfully completed.


In November 1994, KCG completed the last step of the International Development of Computer Education program. Computers were well received by the Ministry of Education and distributed to several secondary and polytechnical schools in the country. The first phase of the program took place at the National University of Science and Technology, in Bulawayo.

I participated in this program as one of the three US-based IDCE programming instructors. The instructors met with the students every day for two weeks from 9 am to 5 pm, sometimes longer, and introduced them to the core concepts of BASIC, a programming language, and computer operating systems. There were students there who could program in COBOL, and FORTRAN, and others who had never seen a computer let alone touch one. And yet, it was the eagerness with which the teachers embraced the course that impressed me. I was amazed at how quickly the teachers progressed through the curriculum. Towards the end of the program, it was a pleasure to see them programming database sorting programs! During the ceremony, as I heard the teachers talking and laughing at the simplicity of their earlier struggles with programming assignments, there was a sense of empowerment and an appreciation for computer education.


At ceremonies in Thailand and Japan, the Minister of Education of Thailand, and the Ministers of Education and of Science and Technology in Ghana presented awards to Yu Hasegawa and Yasuko Hasegawa for founding the IDCE program, and to Wateru Hasegawa, Vice-President of KCG, for donating most of the computers.

The key long-term players in this program are the recipient countries. The program is most successful in a country with a government that understands and appreciates the value of computer education. Governments should be aware that teaching computer information processing skills are a basic requirement in education for young people, and not just for the corporate world.

The goals of IDCE are simple and yet will have a significant impact on the increase of computer literacy in African countries: IDCE intends to make education in science and technology available to the ordinary people. As Ms. Hasegawa says, "The spread of education in science and technology is the key to a country's future economic independence and prosperity, and we wish to participate in the promotion of global computer education by passing on our own experience."e;


Khaitsa Wasiyo is ATF's Director of Sales and Marketing.

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