Samsung Electronics and Microsoft have recently bolstered investments in software and hardware to help sub-Saharan Africa circumvent long-standing obstacles to IT development such as power shortages and bridge the IT skills gap through public-private partnerships.
Microsoft has translated software into several local languages and is partnering with ministries of education to provide software to schools to support teacher and student training. Samsung, meanwhile, has embarked on a more ambitious project, piloting the Samsung Engineering Academy in Boksburg, South Africa, which is supposed to pioneer a line of "built for Africa" products aimed at an audience of five million people by 2015.
Africa lags behind globally in IT literacy, with computer topics not offered until college, and at times not as a core subject. Microsoft and Samsung have focused on secondary and post-secondary schools, hoping more students can specialize at an early age and spur innovation.
"To nurture ICT as part of the curriculum will most certainly have a positive impact directly on the education sector, increase access to study materials and foster innovation and creativity at an early stage," said Francis Hook, IDC East Africa manager.
Samsung Engineering Academy will address one of Africa's chronic problems -- electric-power shortages -- by providing a solar-powered classroom with 21 solar-powered PCs. The classroom will be in form of a shipping container that can be transported from one area to another.
"With the goal to grow our business on the continent, we also know that we have to sustain our level of innovation; this can only be achieved if we invest in education to facilitate African thought-leadership and to ensure we have access to a large workforce of skilled engineers in the future," said Robert Ngeru, Samsung Electronics East Africa business leader. "The Solar Powered Internet School is a great example of this strategy at play."
Each solar-powered Internet school is built in a 40 foot long shipping container, has fold-away solar panels that can power the unit for up to nine hours a day. The solar-panels are made from rubber instead of glass to ensure they are hardy and durable enough to survive long journeys across the continent, according to Samsung.
"The classroom can comfortably accommodate 21 learners, and includes several layers of insulation and a ventilation system, to ensure a temperate environment is maintained," added Ngeru. "Each classroom is fitted with a 50 inch electronic E-board and different Samsung Notebooks and Netbooks, including the world-first solar powered netbooks and Galaxy Tablets for student and teacher interface."
Samsung wants the schools to have access to all modern equipment by providing an energy efficient refrigerator, a file server, router, video and Wi-Fi camera, all of which are designed to communicate via 3G.
Samsung's initiative will allow it to partner with other providers like Microsoft, which is banking on local languages to allow more people to access education and government services.
"Through partnership with the Kenyan government, Microsoft has developed IT capacity for over 22000 teachers who can now deliver curriculum content in a more cost effective way," said Mark Matunga, corporate social responsibility Manager, Microsoft, East and Southern Africa.
"With the local language pack and a localized interface for its citizens, the government has opportunities to increase online document access, form submission, and other services that will make service delivery more efficient and responsive; we want to eliminate language as a barrier to technology," said Matunga.
Microsoft's translation into Kiswahili has been taken up in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo and Microsoft is hoping developers in the region can provide multilingual apps.
"It certainly makes technology more accessible; if Kiswahili-speaking people can feel more at home and relate to what the technology is about, it can spur such speakers to create content, innovate and amass more technology around the language and in turn attract more users who find relevance (in content and apps)," added Hook.
In supporting the education system, the two companies are expecting to increase their market share and usage of their products in public and private sectors.