Peter Chada is a lucky teenager. The 18-year-old Kenyan attends Aquinas Secondary School for Boys and in spite of being situated in one of Nairobi’s slums the school has been the recipient of 20 free refurbished computers.
With fewer than 2 per cent of African schoolchildren having access to computers, Peter Chada is one of the fortunate few benefiting from an IT education, something which is seenviewed as vital in today’s jobs market.
“Everything is becoming computerised now and if you’re going for a professional or office job the first thing that an employer asks you is whether you are computer literate,” says Peter who aims to become a computer engineer.
The computers have been donated by the Nairobi charity Computers for Schools Kenya which is helping to produce a new generation of computer literate young Kenyans.
Aquinas is now at the forefront of a digital educational revolution that is seen by many as being crucial for Africa’s development.
“Information Communication Technology has been identified by the UN as a driving force for development,” says Tom Musili, executive director of CFSK.
A skilled and computer literate workforce is recognised as being a key factor in stimulating Africa’s moribund economy and its ability to boost productivity and attract inward investment.
“The Kenyan government, industry and civil society all recognise that for Kenya to remain competitive in today’s knowledge-based economy more must be done and done urgently to increase access to ICT skills training,” adds Mr Musili.
To help more students gain access to computer training, last year SchoolNet Africa last year launched a global appeal for 1m PCs to be donated for refurbishment and re-use in schools across Africa.
“We estimate that within the next five years 600m PCs will be decommissioned in OECD countries,” says Shafika Isaacs, executive director of SchoolNet Africa, a network of African non-profit organisations campaigning for greater access to IT in African schools.
“If only a fraction of these PCs were donated then it would greatly improve the IT training and education of young people in Africa.”
SchoolNet Africa is already making progress towards its goal with the agreement this April of a donation of 10,000 PCs for African schools from KPN, the Dutch telecoms group.
Following this success, in June SchoolNet Africa launched its partnership with the UK’s Computer Aid International, the world’s largest charitable supplier of refurbished PCs for developing countries.
Launched in 1998 Computer Aid has successfully placed 50,000 refurbished PCs in more than 90 developing countries and works with more than 4,000 educational institutions, including Computers for Schools Kenya.
“Around 3m PCs are decommissioned every year in the UK and are no longer wanted by the thousands of companies who upgrade and change their IT systems,” says Tony Roberts, director of Computer Aid International.
“Many of these PCs though are in perfectly good working order and whilst they are worthless to most companies they are invaluable to school children in developing countries.”
Computer Aid sources its computers from a wide range of organisations including local authorities, universities and corporations including British Airways, DHL and Shell International Trading.
“Our involvement with Computer Aid dates back to 2003,” says Damian Mulcahy, technology buyer with Shell International Trading.
“Following an upgrade of our PCs we had a suggestion from our internal staff forum that rather than sell or dispose of the computers we donate them to an ethical and environmentally-friendly cause,” he says.
Eventually Mr Mulcahy made contact with Computer Aid and for the past two years he has organised the donation of more than 350 PCs and 450 monitors.
Mr Mulcahy says Shell International Trading has a long term working relationship with Computer Aid. “Quite simply it’s a very good way of passing IT equipment down the line to people who can’t afford it.”
While corporations and other organisations are willing to donate their used computers, according to Timothy Anderson from World Computer Exchange in Boston, other factors are impeding the flow of PCs to developing countries.
“Getting hold of PCs isn’t a problem, that’s the easy part. We have both an enormous supply of computers and an enormous demand from developing countries,” says Mr Anderson. “The issue boils down to how to pay for it.”
Mr Anderson who heads World Computer Exchange, one of the largest providers of low cost computers in the US, believes that if his organisation had more financial resources, then 500,000 schoolchildren in the developing world could be put on line within six months.