NORTH AFRICA: Digital education plan approved

The five countries of the Arab Maghreb Union - Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Libya and Mauritania - and five European countries, France, Spain, Italy, Malta and Portugal, have agreed to cooperate to promote digital education in universities, research institutes and schools to try and bridge the 'digital gap' between Europeans and Maghreb residents.

The regional e-education cooperation plan was announced at a 5+5 conference Digital Education of Quality for All held in Biarritz in France last month.

The main aim of the Mediterranean plan is developing human resources in ICT through education and training of teachers in schools and lecturers in universities as well as institutes of information and communication technology.

The 10 Mediterranean countries will collaborate in developing digital learning and will draft a Mediterranean Charter for internet use in education institutions to support development of ICT. A Mediterranean certificate for education specialists in digital learning will be issued and recognised by the 10 countries.

As well as establishing e-partnering programmes among various Mediterranean institutes to promote communication among young people with different languages and cultures, plus setting up a digital education fund, the plan calls for dissemination of digital educational content and training teachers in ICT's pedagogical uses.

To ensure the plan is implemented and to take stock of progress, the 10 countries pledged to re-convene each year. A group of senior ICT experts will be set up to develop a plan of action for regional and sub-regional projects.

The plan will be reviewed during the next 5+5 education meeting in Tunisia in 2010.

"Along with other recently launched e-initiatives, this is an important step in the road to expand equitable access and improve the quality and relevance of higher education to knowledge-based sustainable development in Africa," Hilmi Salem, a scientist and higher education consultant at a Palestine-based sustainable development research institute, told University World News.

These underway e-initiatives include a US$17.6 million Network of African Institutions of Science and Technology, a $1billion pan African e-network project to connect African countries to satellite and fibre-optic networks for promoting online education, and a Tunisia-based online African academy.

"To ensure full benefit from such a regional cooperation plan, developing ICT human resources is not enough but more assistance is needed to build adequate and reliable ICT infrastructure for providing, fast and reliable internet connection," Salem said.