Government employs Internet to boost education in Liberia

FREETOWN, SIERRA LEONE – University of Liberia (UL) students can now check their bio-data and registration information online through a project facilitated by the government and installed by Socket Works, an IT firm headquartered in Ghana.

Socket Works has also provided free 16-hour Internet service daily since April 2007 for the more than 15,000 UL students through the Socket Works Bridge Project, commissioned by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

“We are really making good use of these facilities,” said Alex Bryant, a UL student at the university’s newly constructed Centre for ICT. “It is a real privilege for us to be communicating and keeping abreast of the trends in the technological world as part of our academic pursuit. We never had this a few years ago.”

The ICT center, situated in a warehouse-type hall on the UL campus, contains 200 flat-screen desktop computers with Internet facilities for students. An additional 50 computers were installed in the staff laboratory. According to one of the center’s attendants, 30 of these computers are configured to use Microsoft Word and other productivity software.

The center is open for students everyday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Students produce their ID cards to use the facilities for a restricted time of 50 minutes, unless the center is not full.

This form of online access for students — through a school’s portal — is the first of its kind in Liberia’s education sector.

Computer literacy among Liberian students and instructors is now improving after the country’s 14-year civil war, said Carlton Boah, deputy managing director of Socket Works Liberia. According to Boah, the free service will expire by the project’s second year, when students will be charged a small amount. The generated income will be shared between UL and Socket Works based on a workable arrangement. This initial contract will run for five years, at which point the university would either decide to extend the contract or take over the system.

“Apart from UL, we are also putting similar systems in place for the United Methodist University, which has a population of well over 2,000 students, but the installation is yet to be completed,” Boah said. “After UMU, we plan to introduce it to other schools too.”

“In all, this project is aimed at helping boost computer literacy in the country, not only for the students but for their administrators too who are not computer-literate,” he explained. “It will also help students be at par with other students in various parts of the world. We ought to always remember that Liberia is just coming out of a brutal civil war.” In the years to come, Boah said, Socket Works is planning to introduce the system at the K-12 level.

“We’ll focus particularly on pupils between grades 6 and 12, known as children of the war, where we have the most deficit of education and computer literacy,” he said.

The system will not be limited to UL but will be extended to all institutions of learning in the country, irrespective of them being public or private, Deputy Information Minister Gabriel Williams confirmed.

“It is part of the government’s plan to link all colleges together online and ensure that ICT improves in the country,” Williams said.

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