The inspiring impact of research and education networks
They provide higher education establishments and research centres with affordable and reliable connectivity and services. Thanks to lower connectivity prices and user-dedicated services, they help schools, vocational centres and universities provide a better experience and foster more opportunities for their students.
When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in 2020, the global learning crisis deepened and inequities in education worsened. Many African countries enforced various lockdowns and millions of students could not attend their classes in person. NRENs stepped in and proved crucial in the very survival of education institutions across the continent, supporting millions of students, researchers and academic staff in a smooth transition to remote learning.
From routing devices to discounted data bundles
An example of this was the Research and Education Network for Uganda (RENU), which brought Metro eduroam to over 500 hotspots countrywide, providing off-campus Wi-Fi connection to users who could not visit their university campus.
Building on the success of this service, in September 2022, RENU launched eduroam on the Go, a pocket-sized routing device that enables researchers and university staff to connect to eduroam full time and not only from a few fixed locations. Both innovations work with the same authentication infrastructure as eduroam, so the features of security and gratuity for the users remain unchanged.
Meanwhile, in Kenya, university students could access their online education resources thanks to Kenya Education Network’s (KENET’s) partnerships with commercial internet service providers offering discounted data bundles.
However, once a student is connected, what about the services they can access? Students need to be able to follow online courses, join training sessions, download study materials and upload their assignments.
With these needs in mind, NRENs like ZAMREN in Zambia, TENET in South Africa, SLREN in Sierra Leone, MARWAN in Morocco and CCK in Tunisia offered free access to video-conferencing tools like Zoom and Jitsi, and platforms for learning management systems like Moodle to their member institutions to help lecturers and students sustain teaching, ensuring learning continued across the continent during the pandemic.
By giving students the same opportunities to connect and have access to material and training, NRENs are providing them with the prospect of better employment opportunities.
Ranging from ICT workshops and capacity-building tutorials – like the Campus Technology Internship Program (CTIP) run by Eko-Konnect in Nigeria and the Somali Network Operators Group (SomNOG) by SomaliREN – to hackathons for young girls, like ICT4Girls, also in Nigeria, these and other internship programmes and training courses that NRENs run contribute to the employability of the local university graduates.
They also improve service delivery, aiming to bridge the gap between today’s advanced computing and networking technologies in the continent’s higher education community.
In a world where the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have become parameters to measure the very purpose of existence of an organisation, every day NRENs in Africa prove inspirational to other organisations and businesses around the globe in the achievement of SDG 4 (quality education) and confirm their identity as key players in making concrete progress towards a better planet for learners.
Silvia Fiore is communications officer at GÉANT, the pan-European data network for the research and education community, and is communications coordinator for the AfricaConnect3 Project where she works with her colleagues from the UbuntuNet Alliance, WACREN (West and Central African Research and Education Network) and ASREN (Arab States Research and Education Network) to promote the impact that African NRENs have on the wider research and education community. Visit the AfricaConnect3 SDGs Info Centre to learn more about how African research and education networks are contributing to the SDGs. This article was first published on the AfricaConnect3 website.