Spring-Summer 2005

Burkina Faso, West Africa: A Case Study of Internet Development and Usage in Higher Education in Emerging Countries
Africa spotlighting Burkina Faso
Africa spotlighting Burkina Faso
Burkina Faso

Among the former French colonies of West Africa, Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta), gained its independence in 1960 and became one of the first countries in francophone Africa to gain access to the Internet in 1989. With a population of 12.2 million and a per capita gross national product (GNP) of $300, it is one of the poorest nations in the world, with only 32% literacy, according to the U.S. State Department's Bureau of African Affairs.

The leaders of the country believe that Internet usage can accelerate social and economic development. A National Information and Communications Infrastructure (NICI) Development Plan was approved in 1999, addressing the areas of (a) computerization of the state/administration, (b) reinforcement of national capacities and the quality of training and research, (c) improvement of economic potential, (d) development of community communication centers, and (e) infrastructure development. The NICI Plan 2000-2005 includes a detailed Internet Initiative to (a) establish a national infrastructure through expanding the existing FasoNet, (b) increase the connectivity rate (from 256 Kilobits per second to 512 Kbps) between FasoNet and Teleglobe Canada, their international ISP, (c) reinforce training at training centers, and (d) develop national expertise through trainer training.

The University of Ouagadougou in the nation's capital currently uses the Internet for two purposes: to improve communications and to increase accessibility to useful information. The Internet greatly enhances communications and the exchange of information between faculty, staff, and students and provides savings when compared to other electronic forms of communications. The costs for Internet communications are lower than the telephone or FAX, making the Internet the least expensive communications tool to use. For faculty, staff, and students, the Internet helps in meeting the need for resources otherwise only available in libraries. The NICI Plan foresees education and research institutions in Burkina Faso connected together through the Internet, allowing them to exchange resources, collaborate at a distance, participate in virtual training, and use scientific and technical information to facilitate learning and socio-economic development nation-wide.

The RESAFAD computer lab

There are, however, major problems. First, equipment and connectivity is limited. In 2001, the Direction de la Promotion des Nouvelles Technologies de l'Information et de la Communication (DPNTIC), the department for promoting the use of the new information and communications technologies, indicated that there were only 1,700 Internet users and the 14,000 students enrolled in various degree programs on campus. Most of the existing equipment continues to have limited capacity, and connectivity is random. Faculty, staff, and students endure slow speeds when browsing the Internet, and frequently experience being disconnected from the main server, rendering the online experience challenging for campus users.

Internet usage at the Unité de Formation et de Recherche/Sciences Humaines or the Learning and Research Unit/Social Sciences (UFR/SH) is influenced by a lack of computers with Internet access. This academic and research unit is facing mounting internal and external pressures for changing the way information is accessed and how learning takes place and research conducted. When the DPNTIC undertook its general survey, the department inventoried 56 computers available at UFR/SH that were fully functioning; they found half of these were providing access to the Internet, however, most were installed in administrative offices. Only 50% of the faculty members at UFR/SH regularly used the Internet and accessed it in the computer labs located at the technology centers across campus and the central library. Student Internet access at UFR/SH was restricted to graduate students due to the insufficient capacity in computer labs.

In addition to the absence of consistent interconnection among an insufficient number of existing computers on campus there is also a lack of technicians, technology coordinators, and training and support for administrators, faculty, and students. The university has not yet proven to be effective in assessing needs, and disparities between academic units, insufficient coordination of various initiatives, and the absence of an institutional technology plan for administrative and financial management as well as educational purposes all hinder development.

Despite these problems, because the Internet offers a broad range of possibilities for learning at all academic levels, there is a growing interest in financing technology and developing strategies and techniques for incorporating technology into the curriculum at UFR/SH. Already limited Internet use has had a positive influence on learning for everyone. On campus, the administration is now increasing computer support and training to administrators, faculty members, and students.

While the obstacles remain substantial, there is promise for the future. A short-term plan for improving Internet use at UFR/SH is necessary. UFR/SH and the university must find effective means for additional equipment acquisition and increased the connectivity. Creating faculty and student labs and providing additional assistants are additional steps that would have immediate positive effects.

The case of the University of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso provides information about a state of limited connectedness within an academic unit, suggesting the type of assistance that is needed. Deconstructing this information might provide a better understanding of the patterns, opportunities, and needs elsewhere in the emerging countries.

Ibrahima Poda is an Instructional Technology Specialist at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio; William Brescia is an Assistant Professor of Educational Technology at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.


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