The Kenyan government is turning to solar power to overcome a lack of electricity that has hampered an initiative to roll out computers in schools across the country.
Insufficient investment in renewable energy and electricity generation has left several countries in East and Southern Africa including Kenya, Zambia, Malawi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with power shortages affecting e-learning projects.
The Kenyan and the Zambian governments hope that most schools in the two countries will have power to effectively implement the e-learning and projects by next year.
In Zambia, the government is looking to expand the national power grid, and has started connecting schools rural areas through the Rural Electrification project. But the Kenyan government will be procuring solar panels to facilitate the deployment of computers in 130 schools.
"Measures are being taken to ensure that 130 primary schools have solar power by next year," said Aden Duale, Majority Leader of Kenya's National Assembly.
Zambian president Michael Sata said last month the Zambian government will accelerate the rollout of ICT in schools to enhance both access to and the quality of education.
Both Zambia and Kenya signed up to the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) e-learning project.
In 2008, Nepad unveiled a plan to equip schools with computers and connect them to the Internet. The business plan was adopted by African ICT ministers that year. The project is aimed at creating a critical mass of African youths with ICT skills to narrow the digital divide between Africa, America and Europe.
The project has so far not been fully implemented partly because of a lack of electricity in most schools and the lack of sufficient bandwidth. While there has been steady improvement in Internet bandwidth in general, due to a number of undersea cables serving the region, there are fears that the school project might fail due to a lack of constant power supply and the fact that most schools are not connected to any power supply at all.
"The Nepad e-school project has failed to make an impact because the driver in this project is electricity, which is in short supply the whole of Africa. Unexpected development projects, including mining, in Africa are demanding more power than what is generated," said Edith Mwale, telecom analyst at Africa Center for ICT Development.
Power shortages are taking place at a time when the region is trying to convince international companies to invest in the telecom arena in order to expand the sector and improve communications.
Meanwhile, Kenya and Zambia, like many other countries in Africa have been facing the challenge of raising funds to buy generators for schools that are not connected to the national grid. The initial phase of the e-schools project was launched in 11 African countries including Egypt, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, Mauritius and Senegal in 2003 after African presidents approved that plan.
After a trial, Nepad through its e-Africa Commission, based in Johannesburg, extended the project to cover all of Africa. Nepad hoped that by 2015, the project would cover around 600,000 schools on the entire continent. Each school, according to the Nepad plan, is supposed to be equipped with a computer laboratory containing at least 20 computers, a server and network infrastructure as well as peripherals such as scanners, whiteboards and printers.
In the meantime, the Nepad e-Africa program has replaced the e-Africa Commission, with hopes that the new program will better drive ICT sector priorities.