MTN skills next generation of university researchers in South Sudan

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At an ICT boot camp at a university, Dr. Pauline Elaine Riak, points to the next generation of university enrollees and, bluntly, tells them they would remain at the bottom of the food chain unless they mustered information technology.

“In many countries, children your age are computer literate,” the Jamaican-born, Stanford-trained, deputy Vice Chancellor of South Sudan’s oldest university, Juba, tells pupils, many stepping at university for the first time to witness the launch of the three-day ICT boot camp, meant to inspire support to the country’s pitiful ICT sector and skill educators.

“Information is power, and if you’re computer illiterate you’ll not have access to power; you’ll be less powerful than your neighbors,” she says. “We’re trying to build a center of science, technology and mathematics to reach out to you, young pupils who are not here yet, because we find that our students in the science-based classes are not good in their skills. So we are building a center to expose young students, like you, to rigorous science, technology and information, such that when you come to our classes you’ll not be left behind.”

The ICT boot camp, part of 21 Days of Y’ello Care, a Corporate Social Responsibility staff volunteerism initiative of MTN Group, coming on the heels of equipping two elementary schools with internet-connected computer labs, is meant to introduce pupils to ICT at an early age and tutor educators and students on how to exploit recent technologies for research. The boot camp is a joint effort between MTN and ZTE, a global provider of telecommunications equipment and network solutions, which donated part of the hardware.

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“We hope that by showcasing the power of ICT and how it relates to society, we’ll position the young generation with skills necessary to tackle the challenges of the future,” MTN South Sudan CEO Philip Besiimire said.

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“Some of us came to know computer at an old age,” Suba Samuel, the minister of Education for Central Equatoria State, one of the ten administrative areas in South Sudan, said, “but we want this generation to know the computer at a tender age so that it’s a part of their life.”

Yet, even at the 40-year-old university, with 10,000 students and 3,000 staff, where MTN equipped the library with a computer lab and solar two years ago, internet-connection is absent, reflecting the uphill task ahead for the country’s ICT sector.

“Two years ago, MTN put up a computer lab and a solar power system,” Dr. Sallah Khatir Jubarah, the Principal of the University, said, “but we don’t have internet; we can’t talk of internet at this university, even when conducting research.”