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Vol.28 No.4, October 1996
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World-Wide CHI: The Voluntary Workcamps Association of Ghana's Computer Literacy/Distance Learning Project

Osei Darkwa

As the world increasingly moves toward an information society, computers and information and its use will play a leading role in this transformation. Today, one cannot talk about development without talking about computers. Computers and computer literacy are indispensable in today's information society. This underscores the need for creating a computer literate society.

Africa, the second largest continent of the globe, with a population of over 500 million, is said to be the least computerized continent. Internet connectivity is very low, and so is the man-computer density ratio.

In Ghana, the use of electronic networks and information technology is in its infancy. Computers have yet to penetrate many sensitive sectors of the Ghanaian economy. Coupled with this is the fact that many Ghanaians lack computer skills in all areas, from basic knowledge and use to advance knowledge and computer management. Added to the aforementioned problems is the lack of educational and training facilities to help train people acquire basic computer skills. These problems often force user organizations to hire experts from overseas, some of whom may lack knowledge about the culture of the country in which they operate.

Some organizations in Ghana have received a couple of donated computers from a number of international donors who have, over the years, become sensitive to the plight and need for computers in Ghana. Computers have been donated to selected primary, secondary, and tertiary institutional establishments. In addition, the African Internet Forum (IBRD, UNDP, CIDA, USAID and others) have been working to increase connectivity in rural Ghana at subsidized rates in places where there are digital automatic exchange and decent outside electricity generating plants. Also, the Addis-Ababa based UN Economic Commission for Africa has been playing a leading role in the campaign to promote electronic networking for development, and to bring a number of African countries (including Ghana) on to the Information Highway. In spite of these isolated initiatives, successful use of available equipment and services has, however, been limited due to lack of computer knowledge and the internet. Thus, there appears to be a great need for computer literacy in Ghana.

It is against the backdrop of these factors that the Voluntary Workcamps Association of Ghana (VOLU) has decided to launch its Computer Literacy Project. The Association believes that as the world increasingly moves toward an information society computer literacy should be a part of the overall literacy drive. Since no Computer Literacy program exists in Ghana beyond some sporadic initiatives, and since the need for computer literacy is great, VOLU, in conjunction with Operation Crossroads Africa, Inc., hopes to launch a Computer Literacy Education this summer. In time, VOLU hopes to move this program to the national level and hope that it will serve as an example for similar efforts in other African countries.

The broad objectives of the Voluntary Workcamps Association/Crossroads Sponsored Computer Literacy Project are to:

Consistent with the above-stated objectives, VOLU and Crossroads hope to teach participants basic computer skills to enable them:

The VOLU Distance Learning Program

The future of Ghana depends on its ability to strengthen and grow its economy, to strengthen and grow the businesses and industries now in place, to create new businesses and new jobs, and to attract foreign business and investment.

Appeal for Equipment and Financial Support

Ghana can only do these things it is able to develop the literate and trained workforce that an economy needs if it is to compete in the global marketplace.

Ghana needs people trained in business, in technology, in the trades, in science, in engineering. However, it does not have the secondary and tertiary institutions it needs for such development: it does not have the buildings, nor the teachers, nor the equipment. That is why we are proposing to create a new kind of teaching institution that needs no capital for brick and mortar, and for school buildings - a teaching institution that uses teaching talent around the world, until Ghana has its own trained teachers.

Goals of the Program

The distance learning project will use the computer, itself the key Ghana's future, to connect the students of Ghana to the teachers of the US: teachers in US community colleges, for one, institutions that have the technical and vocational programs of instruction that Ghana needs.

We intend using camps of the Voluntary Workcamps Association of Ghana as computer learning centers. The camps will be equipped with computers, modems, VCRs, audio and videotapes, and books. Students will get intensive instruction in the basic functions of the computer, and then begin their technical and vocational studies.

The following groups will be involved in the computer literacy/distance learning project:

  1. The universities in Ghana
  2. Employers and their upper echelon managers
  3. Those in the government charged with: a) education; b) economic development; c) tourism; d) international goodwill.
  4. Church leadership, both clerical and lay
  5. Funders (both local and international)

Sponsoring Organizations

The Voluntary Workcamps Association of Ghana

The Voluntary Workcamps Association of Ghana (VOLU)is a self-help organization with a 50-year record of Herculean accomplishment at the grassroots level throughout Ghana. VOLU has ties with a number of organizations in Africa, Europe, and North America. It is one of the oldest voluntary organizations in continuous operation on the African Continent.

The annual activities of VOLU can be categorized into the following: manual work programmes, social service programmes, leadership and vocational training programs, and computer literacy program (VOLU's newest program to be launched this year). VOLU has been running nearly 30 youth workcamps per year. By increasing awareness of how the computer and electronic connectivity can reorient youth toward the economy and labor market of the 21st century, VOLU hopes to stimulate ideas and new programs. At the same time it wants to build itself to be a youth leadership organization that can think globally while acting locally.

Connecting to the internet on a permanent basis will enable VOLU move forward with its plans to set up hands-on computer/E-Mail/Internet tutorial workshops and to bring long distance education to the doorsteps of millions of high school graduates who otherwise would have no opportunity for such intimate exposure to computer technology and long distance education.

VOLU is one of the best examples of the indomitable spirit of all Ghanaians. Its devotion to helping Ghanaian people meet the economic, social, educational and health challenges which loom before them, and to carve out a humane and just future, is unconditional.

VOLU has big, wonderful dreams and a lot of spirit and willingness to work hard, but it has little funds. Perpetually under-funded, VOLU's great accomplishment have come about despite this; all thanks to the generous, tenacious spirit of its volunteers and supporters. Many Ghanaians and friends of Ghana have come forward showing willingness to volunteer time in this wonderful effort. But there is still a lot to be done.

Operation Crossroads Africa, Inc.

Operation Crossroads Africa, Inc. is a non-governmental and non- political agency with a long, celebrated history. Founded in 1958 by Reverend James Robinson, Crossroads Africa (credited by J.F. Kennedy as serving as the model for the Peace Corps) has sponsored more than 10,000 "global volunteers" to work with grassroots NGO's in Africa to promote self-help endeavors in projects ranging from construction of schools and hospitals to public health education, from wildlife conservation to fisheries management, from farming to reforestation, from tutoring academic fundamentals to teaching computer and Internet skills. Crossroads is dedicated to human growth-the growth of individuals, communities and nations. Participation in an Operation Crossroads Africa project gives a hands-on opportunity to learn about and from Africa. Because of its highly successful organizational model, Crossroads continues to be a prototype for broadening international understanding and cooperation while tangibly contributing to the process of human development. One of Crossroads' newest project additions, the African Computer Literacy Program, is aimed at African youth and young adults who otherwise would not have an opportunity for early, hands-on exposure to 1) computers, 2) E-Mail 3) the Internet, and 4) long distance education.

Operation Crossroads has a long standing relationship with VOLU. The resources of these two organizations are highly limited, but they are "rich" with a spirit of cooperation and purpose, and with a feeling that the "impossible" is possible.

The Singapore International Foundation (SIF)

SIF has also shown interest in VOLU's activities and we are currently working out details of their involvement with VOLU.

Current Needs of the Project

The project has several needs; we are looking for:

  1. Money to buy instruction from other countries.
  2. Money for computer learning centers: in VOLU centers, in church basements, in businesses, large and small, in government agencies, in secondary schools -- wherever we think education and training might go on.
  3. Money for training workshops: to teach volunteers and others from business, the churches, education, the government to use the equipment, and to access distant instruction.
  4. Money to ship donated computers to Ghana
  5. Computers to be used to train participants (new and used, XT-compatibles, 386's and up, lap tops, desk tops, multi-media systems, modems, peripherals, monitors, software, printers, hard drives, other computer-related equipment, as well as Apples and Mac's; general productivity and game software and CDs); and office equipment (fax machines, electric typewriters, etc.) in good condition. The need for equipment is great. Without it, this very innovative project will be doomed.

Since the concept of distance education is new, the project is seeking funding to fly Dr. Steve Eskow, president of the Electronic University Network in the United States, to Ghana to give a series of presentations on distance education. Dr. Eskow has expressed the desire to meet with a cross-section of "influentials" in Ghana. Any assistance we can get to make Dr. Eskow's trip a reality would be very much appreciated.

We hope that your caring and generosity will be bold; that you will act with the decisiveness and humanity that Ghana deserves, and in the best expression of the human spirit. We believe that many in different fields and professions, but with shared interests for Ghana, will stand and say they are willing to walk the plank for this effort for Ghana.

Any form of assistance you can offer will be very much welcomed. Please contact the author immediately if you can help this great humanitarian cause.

Author's Address

Dr. Osei Darkwa
Assistant Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago
Director, Computer Literacy/Distance Learning Project
phone: +1-312-996-8508
fax: +1-312-996-2770

Other Contact Addresses

The following, who are directly involved in the drive may also be contacted for assistance and information on the project:

1. Cecil Washington,
Former Director, Operation Crossroads Africa
Tel/Fax: +1-310-632-1582

2. Wilfred Owen,
Reston Enterprise Ltd,
Box 252, Techiman-Ghana,

3. Operation Crossroads Africa, Inc.
475 Riverside Drive
New York, NY 10115-0050, USA
Tel: +1-212-870-2106
Fax: +1-212-870-2055

4. Dr. Steve Eskow, President
The Electronic University Network
288 Stone Island Road
Enterprise, FL 32725, USA
Tel: +1-407.321.8770

5. Dr. Edmund Browne
Tropical Health and Epidemiology Unit
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Keppel Street
London WC1E 7HT, UK
Tel: +44 171 927 2067 (Office)
+44 181 969 4625 (Home)
Fax: +44 171 436 4230 (Office)

6. Dr. Sitsofe Anku

Please communicate at once with the author or any of the above individuals regarding your willingness and ability to help meet these needs outlined. We hope you will do whatever you feel you can. But above all,. we hope you will not ignore our effort to reach out to you for help.

Same topic in earlier issue
Previous article
SIGCHI Bulletin
Vol.28 No.4, October 1996
Next article
Same topic in later issue