At a public school, one of the oldest in South Sudan, pupils mill around a newly built computer lab, taking a peek at a new technology they can hardly comprehend.

“We want engineers out of you; we want doctors out of you,” Engineer Stephen Lugga Juma, undersecretary of the ministry of Telecommunications, the top telecommunications public service job, tells the pupils.

“That is the importance of this lab. Actually, it is the stand of the International Telecommunications Union that telecommunications is now a right.”

The internet-connected lab, at Juba One Primary School, the first at a public primary school in the country, is part of efforts by Africa’s largest mobile phone operator, MTN, to impact education and to propel the country towards achieving a key Millennium Development Goal in a country where less than 10 percent of enrolled pupils complete primary school.

“Our focus at MTN Group is around education in areas of interest that caters for diversities in the markets that we operate in,” Mr. Khumbulani Dhlomo, Head of Corporate Services, MTN South Sudan, says, adding that the venture grew out of MTN South Sudan CEO Mr. Philip Besiimire’s passion for development. “He always asks me, ‘What legacy do we want to leave in South Sudan when we go back to our motherlands – we can’t just put up a network and do nothing for the community?”

The goal of the lab project is to capture talent at its freshest and earliest development stage and ensure that children have love, appreciation and passion for ICT and knowledge in general.

“We hope that today, here, we have planted a tree of knowledge that will grow into a giant that takes South Sudan up into the knowledge skies and make it compete with the best of the best globally,” Khumbulani adds.

“We hope that these children will inspire other children of their generation in other schools and around the community to dream big and live their imaginations.

The ambition is high, but so is the challenge.

Some 59.9 of primary school teachers in South Sudan are untrained, according to a UNESCO sponsored review in February. For instance, Juba One, with 886 enrolled, despite its location in the center of the country’s capital, has no computer savvy teacher, so MTN included training as part of the computer lab package. The school has no electricity, so MTN had to provide a diesel generator.

City Mayor Chris Swaka reminisces over growing up in a war-torn country with no imagination whatsoever that a new technology, replacing paper and pencil, would one day arrive to this still beleaguered country.

“What we are seeing here today is a revolution in the way we deliver education to our young generation,” Mr. Swaka says as he launches the lab.

“Some of us didn’t access a computer until university, and I was exposed to computers in high school, but primary school is where we should start.”

Yet, for most pupils in this country, a computer is still a myth. “I have seen it on TV,” Mr. Elia John, 15, says as he shrugs, adding that teachers have told him computer skills is now a necessity for a bright future.

“We are happy to become the first public primary school to get a computer lab,” Headmistress Batul Sediq German says, hastening to add: “This is not just for the pupils; the teachers must also acquire computer skills.”

By Julice Perpetual

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