Government enters partnership with Microsoft

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Pupils use laptops for learning under the OLPC programme. (File)

The Ministry of Education has entered a partnership with Microsoft Corporation that will see incorporation of information and communication technology into various aspects of the country’s education sector.

Microsoft, a multinational technology company that develops and sells computer software, consumer electronics and personal computers and services, among others, brings onboard access to the latest technology, skills and a wealth of experience.

The partnership is aimed enabling speedy digital transformation of the education sector.

Among the aspects of the sector to benefit from the partnership is the ‘Smart Classrooms Initiative,’ which will complement the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) programme, according to officials.

So far, Smart Classroom implementation is underway in 1,500 ‘smart’ classrooms that are being set up while 150 Microsoft Academies are being set up to help train students, teachers and local community.

The public private partnership will also see over three million students and 61,000 teachers access Wi-Fi internet during learning.

The two partners have since conducted a pilot phase of a connectivity programme that will use a new technology, TV White Spaces technology.

The technology utilises the unused space in terrestrial TV spectrum to provide cheap internet connectivity to remote areas.

Unlike Wi-Fi that propagates to a 100-metre radius, TV White Spaces can propagate the signal to a radius of about 10 kilometres and is more affordable. The pilot tests involved Lycee de Kigali and University of Rwanda’s College of Business and Economics.

Currently, only about 9 per cent of 531 schools in the country have access to the internet. Of these, only 6 per cent of primary and 18 per cent of secondary schools, are connected to the internet.

The pilot phase, underway at the University of Rwanda, will benefit 28,000 students and 1,500 teachers at the institution, and will also see Microsoft offer IT Certification, Cloud Computing solutions and devices equipped with Microsoft products.

Speaking at a meeting with Microsoft officials in Kigali, yesterday, the Minister for Education, Dr Papias Musafiri, said the new technology and model of Smart Classrooms will not render the current OLPC programme redundant but will rather complement the gains already made under OLPC.

With over 250,000 computers already distributed to schools across the country, there were concerns on the fate the OLPC programme.

The minister said the Government was encouraging parents to acquire laptops for their children and had set up schemes to make laptops affordable and payable in instalments.

He said, from OLPC programme, the Government had learned valuable lessons that would come in handy for the next phases ICT in education.

The minister noted that the Government was well aware of issues that were likely to affect the process such as limited electricity connectivity.

“To address such issues we are working out off-grid solutions that tap into solar energy and ensure that technologies introduced are compatible with solar energy solutions,” he said.

Mark East, the general manager of Microsoft Global Sales and Operations, said that the partnership will also present business opportunities for a section of local private sector.

Among the ways they will seek to work with members of the local private sector is rollout of internet connectivity and solar energy provision.

“There will be no waste of investment, including previous ventures such as One Laptop per Child, they will all fit in the ecosystem. We want to empower local partners to be able to contribute toward the vision. We are already working with telecom companies and will be working with players in solar energy provision,” East said.

The partnership will also enable Rwanda to access Microsoft software at highly subsidised costs, which is expected to benefit learners acquiring devices from local computer assembly plant, POSITIVO BGH.

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