Million to Bridge
Digital Divide in Ghana
students and faculty at Penn and an African university have received
a grant of Hewlett-Packard equipment and services totaling $1.12
million to lay the foundation for a high-speed information and
communication infrastructure in Ghana.
award represents a breakthrough in the grassroots efforts of Penn's
School of Engineering and Applied Science to bridge the global
digital divide, efforts believed to be the most extensive and
concrete undertaken by an American institution of higher education.
In three years, Penn Engineering students and their professors
have created computer laboratories in four developing nations
as well as impoverished areas of Philadelphia.
events have a more positive effect on a community than the arrival
of digital technology and the web; they are the loudest heralds
of progress and global inclusion," said Engineering Dean
Eduardo D. Glandt. "This program will empower individuals
and change their lives. We are extremely fortunate to be able
to participate in it."
has been said and written about the "digital divide"
that separates the world's wealthier people, who have come to
rely upon the Internet for information critical to their business
and personal lives, and poorer citizens without access to these
revolutionary technologies. Beyond bringing its resources to bear
in tackling this worldwide problem, Penn Engineering is providing
undergraduates an opportunity to learn hands-on about both information
technology and the cross-cultural dynamics increasingly important
to the global workforce.
of the students who have traveled overseas to work on these computer
centers have told me that it has forever changed their lives,"
said Dr. Sohrab Rabii, an electrical engineering professor and
faculty leader of Penn Engineering's digital divide initiatives
in Ghana and other African nations. "At the age of 20 or
22, being involved in an effort like this can have a profound
impact on one's outlook and direction in life."
Hewlett-Packard award, to be administered jointly by Penn and
Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, will
develop a computing infrastructure at KNUST and computer centers
in eastern Ghana, including the nation's second-largest city of
Kumasi. Hewlett-Packard will work with KNUST and Ghana Telecom
in the coming months to put in place high-speed fiber optic lines.
This summer, a team of Penn Engineering undergraduates will travel
to Ghana to offer instruction to trainers on basic computer use,
systems administration and computer repair and maintenance, enabling
them to reach thousands of others for years to come.
summer's efforts will build upon a 30-station computer lab created
at KNUST last summer by Penn Engineering and KNUST students using
technology donated to Penn by national and local businesses. It's
hoped that Ghana, where annual per capita income hovers around
$400, will eventually boast 50 such centers.
addition to enabling our undergraduates to gain a priceless educational
experience, we regard this as a small way for Penn Engineering
to serve the global community," said Dr. Joseph Sun, the
School's director of academic affairs and the person who has spearheaded
the school's technology-based service learning initiatives. "This
is our version of being a good citizen of the world."
Donations of surplus computer equipment have come from Philadelphia's
business community, including Keystone Mercy Health Plan and Cozen
and O'Connor, and from computer giants such as 3Com, covering
the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of computers, servers,
modems and other materials needed for each facility. Additional
funds raised from local and national sources cover the costs of
service programs overseas. Dr. Rabii and Dr. Sun hope that the
Hewlett-Packard support portends a new, more potent phase of Penn
Engineering's efforts to narrow the digital divide. Drs. Rabii
and Sun are communicating with officials in Senegal, Burkina Faso,
Cameroon and South Africa who would like to replicate the efforts
so far in Mali and Ghana.
we set up computer facilities overseas, we consult with local
scientists and officials to determine what people in these countries
want," Dr. Rabii said. "We don't want to go in and impose
a setup that we think will work, because those facilities will
quickly fall into disuse."
Dr. Sun said that with the growth of globalization in virtually
every industry, increasing numbers of engineering undergraduates
and companies view cross-cultural experiences as an asset. Students
who have worked on projects in Africa have received academic credit,
and those who receive university financial aid have been receiving
additional support to cover their travels in developing nations.
support comes via the company's Digital Villages program, which
aims to help communities in developing nations and the U.S. harness
technology in collaboration with schools, universities, governments,
community services, non-profit organizations and small businesses.
the first computer center was built three years ago in Ecuador,
some 60 Penn undergraduates have traveled overseas to help set
up facilities there and in India, Mali and Ghana. Another 150
have worked from Philadelphia to implement local projects and
in support of the global programs, which routinely field four
times as many technology-savvy applicants as there are slots available
on trips to developing nations.