Government has changed the Connect a Constituency Project to Connect a School Project and targets to connect internet to 7962 public schools, Information and Digitalization Minister, Moses Kunkuyu, announced in Parliament.
The targeted schools and their surrounding communities, said Kunkuyu, present the existing demand for internet and digital services, which is a potential effective mechanism to connect digitally side-lined communities.
The project change, according to Kunkuyu, has been effected because Connect a Constituency–implemented in the last eight years to bridge the digital divide–faced a number of challenges that affected the project’s value for sustainable economic and social development.
Among others, the challenges included: Suitability of sites to the intended use of services of the telecentres, exorbitantly high construction costs of up to K80 million per centre and persistent procurement bottlenecks and rising costs of materials and equipment.
Therefore, Kunkuyu said the Connect a School Project is a turnaround strategy that will utilize existing infrastructure (schools) to connect school going students and members of the community to the internet.
“The overall goal of the project is to expand ICT access and use by students and local communities including young people, the disadvantaged and vulnerable groups such as women and girls, older persons and those with disabilities.
“The main objective is to promote broadband internet connectivity, access and use of digital services in communities. This Project will promote schools as community ICT centres in the country,” he told Parliament.
Kunkuyu further said the project is founded on the premises of digitized economy as espoused in international, regional and national policy frameworks, among others.
The minister cited the Malawi 2063 vision which, he said, boldly states that the country will position itself as a global competitive player if it embraces ICT as a driver for development.
“This will be through adoption of a world-class globally competitive digital economy with sound e-commerce, e-learning, e-health and e-governance systems.
“There will also be promotion of investment in Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) infrastructure to increase digital access and adoption of robust telecommunications systems that are fast, reliable and affordable.
“Connecting schools provides many benefits including access to an ever-growing volume of educational content, online learning, use of online applications to participate in the evolving knowledge society and achieves cost efficiencies by automating manual tasks and reducing expenses associated with textbook printing and distribution,” he said.
According to Kunkuyu, key stakeholders include, among others: Ministry of Education, Ministry of Information, Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority, Ministry of Local Government and Malawi Institute of Education.
He said the Ministry of Education aims at connecting a total of 790 schools (primary and secondary) per year for a period of five years.
“On the other hand, MACRA will connect 250 secondary schools by 2026, targeting at least 50 schools per year. The Ministry of Information, through World Bank’s Digital Malawi Project, targets 160 education institutions to be connected by 2025.
“MACRA, through the Universal Service Fund (USF), will also cover internet payments for a period of 5 years, only to the schools that will be connected by MACRA.
“In the interim, before the expiry of the 5-year internet support, the schools and communities will undergo digital skills and capacity building in order to enhance self-sustainability. In addition, Ministry of Education has also started budgeting for internet packages for some schools”.