|Topic:||Information and Communication Technology for Development|
|Author:||Rev. Prof. Emmanuel Adow Obeng|
|Organisation:||University of Cape Coast|
Ghana’s communications facilities have improved greatly in recent years, but a telephone call still requires persistence and many calls do not go through. There is a great need for a national ICT policy to transform Ghana’s communication strategies. The university’s policy is to prepare students to participate in the information society and, consequently, accelerate Ghana’s development. Computers and a high-speed communication network are being used to facilitate learning, teaching, access to information through the Internet and the university’s administration.
I have always believed that for my country to move her agriculture-based economy towards an information and knowledge based one, she needed to develop and implement comprehensive integrated Information and Communication Technology (ICT) led socio-economic development policies, strategies and plans. Despite my background in Religious Studies, when I became the CEO of one of the principal universities in my country about two years ago, I made it a point to promote ICT with the view to influence the gradual recognition of its role not only at the university, but also in the educational sector as a whole. The advent of the information age has changed the mode of communication in Ghana tremendously. There are many more TV stations, radio stations and telephone service providers. Ghana has experienced increased access to communication with the greatest innovation being the introduction of phone cards, mobile phones and a network of information systems – internet and intranet facilities. All these facilities notwithstanding, making a telephone call still requires persistence and roughly half of the calls made do not go through. The main reasons advanced for these failures are poor regulations and communication strategies. Therefore, the need to transform the communication strategies of the nation by putting in place a national ICT policy becomes paramount. Thus, a way of solving most of the problems associated with ICT requires a well formulated policy that defines various roles and responsibilities for all stakeholders. That was exactly where we started from with the University. An ICT policy of the University focussing on addressing the basic needs of staff and students, especially those who needed ICT in the quest for knowledge in their various disciplines, was drafted. There was also the need for the unification of all sources of information by their interconnection on a single high-speed network. When all of the University’s sources of information were made available from a single source, a lecturer’s PC could be used for research, access to his students’ information held at the administration, or abstraction of bibliographic information from the library or remote database. These facilities had to be easily accessible from the desktop or computer laboratory through a common user-friendly interface. For this purpose, a high-speed communication network was to be made available. It was anticipated, that with the aforementioned in place, it would be possible to expect all students upon admission into the university to acquire basic ICT skills in their own right rather than as adjunct to some other courses. It became evident that integrating ICT effectively into the university curriculum could help promote and improve learning and teaching. Learning is then facilitated through ICT with the internet serving as an additional source of information. The provision of access to ICT services is currently seen as a key to accelerating development in most parts of Africa. Expanding access to ICT therefore became a major concern considering the limited financial resources of the university. The cost implication of financing this policy soon became obvious and impossible to tackle without introducing cost effective and innovative measures whiles at the same time, vigorously pursuing various sources of funding. The rapid technological change and increasing importance of ICT however, made sourcing for funds less cumbersome. Not without efforts, the university attracted some funding for the ICT project that was set up through the implementation of the policy. Through that, the university has acquired about two hundred and ten computers with the view to meeting some of the requirements as spelt out in the policy. Definitely two hundred and ten computers is a far cry from being sufficient for a university. Nevertheless, the computer/student and computer/staff ratios now stand at 1: 30 and 1: 5 respectively instead of the 1: 250 and 1: 50 as it was about two years ago. Currently, three out of the five academic faculties of the university and the administration block are completely networked for internet connectivity. The Computer Centre (CC) which is situated at the new site of the university in the science faculty block and the Data Processing Unit (DPU) situated in the central administration block are responsible for academic and administrative computing respectively. Besides this, the Computer Centre is responsible for coordinating the networking of the remaining academic faculties and also, serves as the main hub for the university. There is a radio link (spread spectrum) between the old site and the new site thereby connecting the local area networks on campus into a wide area network. In view of the critical role that has been carved out for ICT in the future development of the university, it is imperative to build sound programmes and infrastructure to facilitate its development. The University is currently relying on a shared 64kbps/128kbps bandwidth for connectivity for the ICT project. This facility made available by a local internet service provider is not reliable because of its downtime. It is also inadequate for the university therefore internet connectivity is rather slow. Using V-SAT could be a way out as it is comparatively cheaper and has fewer points of failure: – the link is direct. Besides, there is no forwarding by local providers who, most often than not, inflate charges – notwithstanding the fact that they frequently go down thereby creating downtime for the users. To guarantee maximum uptime, it is always better to have a direct connectivity at the site where the link will be used. The university has acquired V-SAT equipment, which has been installed at the computer centre. The university is presently seeking funding for bandwidth charges. In anticipation, the university has already put in place plans to ensure that the equipment is used in a sustainable manner. In conclusion, the government, development agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOS) and the private sector are all diligently searching for new and better ways to harness the power of ICT to meet economic, social, and development objectives. The contribution of ICT has impacted the lives of the students and the process of education itself. Until recently, the high cost of providing even basic telecommunication services limited the potential for widespread access to information and communication facilities at the university. With the implementation of the ICT project, information technology is opening up new possibilities and frontiers. The increasing use of ICT has made possible new methods to deliver services and to supplement existing ones in education.