Special Debate

The African View of Silicon Valley

Berlin (GER) / Mauritius, September 2017 - What do Africans really think about the grandiose education projects promoted by outsiders that promise to transform their lives? A special debate at this year’s eLearning Africa conference will provide the answers.

The 2017 eLearning Africa debate promises to be livelier than ever. The motion for discussion is "This House believes that grandiose Silicon Valley initiatives have rarely taken account of local contexts and are not what Africa needs."

The recent announcement by Google that it will spend $50 million on an African education initiative is the latest in a series of projects designed by international organisations to use technology to promote the transformation of African education and thus provide a stimulus for local economies. But some initiatives have provoked severe criticism. The "One Laptop per Child" project, for example, which sought to partner with the Kenyan government in providing laptops for every child in the East African country, was criticised for focussing on hardware rather than communications infrastructure.

Confirmed keynote speakers in the debate, which will be held near the Mauritian capital, Port Louis, on 29 September comprise representatives of government, the private sector, and IGOs. They are Dr. Daniel Wagner, Professor of Education at the University of Pennsylvania and Director of the International Educational Development Programme; Dr. Bitange Ndemo, former Permanent Secretary in the Kenyan Department of Education and Senior Lecturer on Entrepreneurship and Research Methods at the University of Nairobi; Steve Vosloo, a mobile-learning specialist and Senior Project Officer at UNESCO; and Alice Barlow-Zambodla of South Africa's e/merge Africa Network.

The debate will be chaired by the editor of the eLearning Africa Report, former British parliamentarian Dr. Harold Elletson, who initiated the eLearning Africa Debate, and H.E. Ambassador Keshwar Jankee, the Ambassador of Mauritius to Germany.

Dr. Elletson said, "The eLearning Africa Debate is a unique event. It provides an opportunity for an open discussion about issues of immense importance to anyone with an interest in African education and the role it can play in achieving the African Union's vision of a transformed continent. People are often passionate in expressing their views in the debate, sometimes highly emotional, and always full of the conviction born of experience. The debate is always both spirited and great fun. I am delighted that the Mauritian Ambassador to Germany will be helping to chair this session. He follows in the footsteps of Dr. Mor Seck of Senegal and Charles Senkondo of Tanzania in helping to ensure that proceedings run smoothly and that as many people as possible are given the chance to have their say.

"This year's debate is likely to be a real firecracker. The theme of eLearning Africa this year is 'context' and, whilst many people recognise the value of international education initiatives in Africa, some people say that they take inadequate account of the African context. We've got some great speakers to open the debate. Two of them will argue for the motion and two against. Then we'll throw the discussion open to the floor and invite conference participants to tell us what they think."

The eLearning Africa Debate 2017 is an opportunity to discuss the merits of the plans outsiders have for African students. Are they making a positive contribution to African education or are they sending Africa in the wrong direction? Are they what Africans need?