UN e-schools aim to connect pupils, villagers across developing world

December 15, 2003

The Global e-Schools and Communities Initiative (GeSCI), launched Wednesday at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva, is more than just putting personal computers into classrooms, said Brendan Tuohy of Ireland, a member of the UN ICT Task Force that spearheaded the project, along with Canada, Ireland, Sweden and Switzerland.

“There is a whole range of activities, including training teachers, revising curricula, helping local administrators,” Mr. Tuohy, Secretary-General of the Department of Communications, Marine & Natural Resources, told a press briefing at the Summit today.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that in bridging the digital divide, “we must match the powerful new tools of development with the people who need them most. The Global e-School and Community Initiative does just that, and has the potential not only to improve education, but also to empower people, strengthen governance, open up new markets and galvanize our efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.”

In seeking to address the needs of some of the 370 million school-aged children who are unable to attend school, GeSCI will attempt to transform today’s pilot efforts for ICT education into a comprehensive and efficient model carried out by strong partnerships. By employing such models ICT solutions can be delivered at costs that are potentially five to ten times less expensive than current approaches.

Among the four countries that will use the GeSCI approach, the project in Andhra Pradesh State in India has come the furthest, already having held consultations, agreed upon a model and on the cusp of implementing the model.

In all cases, local governments will bring together all national, regional and local stakeholders in education to create an efficient, comprehensive system for delivering education through ICT with the help of the GeSCI Secretariat.

“This innovative partnership can help millions of children and young people throughout the developing world to improve their lives,” Mr. Annan said. “After all, while education unlocks the door to development, increasingly it is information technologies that can unlock the door to education.”

Underscoring that idea, Task Force member Astrid Dufborg, Special ICT Adviser of Sweden, told the briefing that “one can use quite sophisticated technologies” to leapfrog stages in the development process but it “requires a willingness” on the part of the stakeholders involved to actually do so.