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Computer scientists from the School of Computing have connected the University of Ngozi (Burundi) to Internet via satellite

In December, the TEDECO (Development and Cooperation Technology) Group, based at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid’s School of Computing, is to conclude its first year of collaboration with the University of Ngozi, located close to the Rwandan border in northern Burundi.

The University of Ngozi, which is now training a total of 1,500 students, was founded in 1995 in an attempt by the leaders of several religious communities to set up a joint project that would bring together the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups on opposite sides in the civil war that ended in 2005.

The TEDECO Group, staffed by three professors and over 20 students from the UPM’s School of Computing, has travelled to Burundi 19 times this year as part of this cooperation.

The TEDECO Group’s first job at the University of Ngozi was to set up the infrastructure required for teaching. At the start of the cooperation scheme, Ngozi University’s School of Computing had no more than 40 computers, only 17 of which were working, to cater for a total of 250 computing students, as well as office automation courses for students of other degrees.

The country’s first programming course

The primary aim of the cooperation was to teach a number of courses, including programming (the country’s first), digital electronics and databases. This academic cooperation led to an increase in the number of students at the University of Ngozi, as the number of first-year students enrolling at the School of Computing tripled from 17 to 65 since the cooperation got under way.

This training has compensated for the shortage of local professors with enough expertise to teach subjects in many technical fields, as qualified professionals have emigrated to other nearby countries where the standard of living is higher.

Courses were taught not only by School of Computing professors, but also by local final-year students. These students have also repaired and installed computer equipment and software.

The goal of this first cycle of cooperation with the University of Ngozi was to provide higher technical education, from which 200 students, from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania, have benefited so far.

Computing infrastructures

Additionally, TEDECO has gone ahead and equipped the School with other basic infrastructures: it has wired two whole university buildings, and it has set up a computer room to house an Internet café, installed servers and started up an intranet, as well as a computer centre with two laboratories to host training activities.

The TEDECO Group has installed a satellite dish to connect the university’s computers to the World Wide Web via satellite. The University of Ngozi is now the only university in the country (and neighbouring countries) where professors and students have access to Internet.

While the infrastructure was being developed, University of Ngozi students and staff were trained in how to maintain the hardware and software. The UPM’s School of Computing continues to provide remote technical assistance via Internet.

To cover the costs of the Internet connection (some 300 dollars a month), an Internet café was created. The Internet café serves students and other groups outside the university that pay an amount in return for using Internet. This, the TESON project (from the Spanish Technology for the University of Ngozi’s Sustainability), is then a sustainable infrastructure.

Some 25,000 euros have been invested in this, the first cycle of cooperation, which has basically served to fund 15 of the trips undertaken during this period. The second period, which will call for many programming hours, will be much more costly and intensive.

Next cycle of cooperation

The second cycle of cooperation, for which the TEDECO Group is now seeking funding, aims to equip the University of Ngozi with the programs it requires to manage its operations.

Computer scientists from the UPM’s School of Computing will develop the software required for university management, library use and student follow-up, etc. Other universities will be able to use all this software in the future.

According to Susana Muñoz, Director of the TEDECO Group, this cooperation is part of the international framework of technology transfer to third world countries.

Other European universities are also cooperating with the University of Ngozi. The University of Bologna is cooperating on a training programme with the School of Medicine and the University of Salamanca on the deployment of solar panels to combat the country’s deficient energy infrastructure.

Burundi is close to the bottom of the world economic development ranking. Around 95% of the population makes out a living from subsistence agriculture.

Eduardo Martínez | alfa
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