Rwanda's President Paul Kagame wants to secure a piece of the growing technology market that has already brought so much change to sub-Saharan Africa, and he’s starting young.
Kagame recently announced that he would provide a laptop for every child in his country between the ages of six and 18, reports The Economist. The magazine suggests the move is based on both economic as well as educational motives: The President has made it clear that he intends to have 50,000 computer programmers by 2020 as a result of the laptop program.
To reach that goal, he is working with the American non-profit One Laptop per Child (OLPC), an organization that is the first of its kind to provide durable and affordable laptops to many in the developing world. According to their website they believe (as I do) that a laptop can be a key for children to engage in their own education more fully than traditional rote learning. OLPC claims their laptops offer a way for the user to connect with both their local and greater communities in order to expose them to a world that is often not available.
The more practical economic benefits of such a program are also apparent. The president has already purchased 100,000 laptops from OLPC, according to the Economist, and plans to buy 1.2 million more as early as 2012. Over the long term, the initiative will create more jobs for computer teachers and repairmen.
And Government agencies and businesspeople have already started programs to help educate a computer-savvy population reports The New Times of Kigali.
Understandably, the plan has been criticized by many who think the money would be better spent on more visible and perhaps more necessary projects for the impoverished nation, including food distribution, health care subsidies and infrastructure development. Although the country must never lose focus on these persistent problems, there must also be room for the Rwandan Government to take risks on other fronts. The overall benefits of education are difficult to quantify but are nevertheless unquestionably valuable. Technology markets are on the rise throughout Africa, and President Kagame doesn't seem to want to let this opportunity pass.