Across disciplines and industries, people are talking in global terms. Stanford Professors Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller want to use their education platform Coursera to offer higher education classes to the world at no cost. Organizations like TEDGlobal and GOOD magazine boasts goals that “develop mutual understanding” and “push the world forward.” Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering is one division in one university, yet their new vision hopes to “face global challenges” and even the sub-set of Northwestern’s Master of Engineering Management program hopes to “solve the complex issues in today’s technical and global companies.”
With the new emphasis on the global issues and the global community, it’s important to consider the state of engineering across the world–Northwestern’s Masters of Engineering Management program includes students from around Chile, Mexico, and India among other countries. Unfortunately, the continent of Africa is often over-looked when considering technology. Not one African university made the recently released Times Higher Education 2011-2012 Top 50 Technology and Engineering Universities.
Many African countries are in need of experienced engineers. The non-profit Engineering for Africa is attempting to address this problem by sending teams of students to countries like Malawi, Ghana, and Liberia to fix serious infrastructure and technology concerns. For example, the mission to Ghana involves projects like waste management and building foot bridges; however, the next step is to start educating engineers in Africa.
In 2004, MIT provided the Takoradi Technical Institute in southwestern Ghana with a “Fab Lab.” Essentially, the lab is used to teach everyone from children to adults, many of whom had no previous computer experience, how to complete practical projects like building antennas and solar-powered machinery using the attached software system. Fab Labs have also been installed in Norway and Costa Rica, among other cities, and will some day allow these remote communities to communicate with one another.
Another non-profit, the World Wide Web Foundation, is aiding communication within Ghana by teaching entrepreneurs how to develop mobile web apps. Ghana residents can often only access the internet via their cell phones, so mobile apps are essential in effective internet use. The first training session has already led to the development of 10 mobile products. A recent Mobile Web Ghana event called Mobile Web West Africa 2012 brought together entrepreneurs from across West Africa and showcases the power of trans-national collaboration. Ghana resident Arif Bin Yusuf wrote of the event: “I was so happy to realize that there were people who were as much enthused about mobile apps development like I was.”
Resources like Fab Labs and “world-wide” internet classrooms are the first steps in bringing the entire world to the threshold of the global technology community. What do you think needs to happen to create opportunities for engineers in Africa? What needs to happen for prestigious programs and universities to open in places like Ghana?