Founded in December of 1992 during two days of meetings hosted by Clark Atlanta University. The sessions were chaired by Dr. Shelby Lewis, Associate Provost at Clark Atlanta. Representatives from Kenyatta University, the National University of Lesotho, the University of Manchester, The University of Ottawa, Ohio University, Oklahoma State University participated in the organizational meeting. Clark Atlanta University was designated to be the lead university of the AERN and Dr. Shelby Lewis was selected as Network Chair.
THE MISSION of the AERN was to promote research capacity building through collaborative actions aimed at increasing access which research professors have to essential data bases, to strengthen the community of scholars concerned with African development studies and to utilize the emerging informational technologies to close the gap between the educators in the information poor and the information advantaged universities of sub-Sahara Africa and the “north.”
INITIAL ACTIVE MEMBERS
Menbers of the AERN included North Carolina State University, Makerere University, The University of Namibia, The University of Zimbabwe, Kenyatta University, Ohio University, The University of Manchester, Clark Atlanta University and the National University of Lesotho. Bayero University in Kano, Nigeria, was a charter member but has been limited in participation due to severe communication constraints.
KENYATTA UNIVERSITY was the lead university of the AERN with Vice Chancellor George Eshiwani as Chair and Professor OliveMugenda as Coordinator.
CLARK ATLANTA UNIVERSITY was the lead northern university of the AERN with Dr. Jacqueline Howard Matthews as Coordinator.
EARLY DEVELOPMENTS of the AERN included three initiatives to obtain funding for support of faculty and programme development in the utilization of Information Technology. The first attempt involved Kenyatta University, The University of Zimbabwe and Makerere University in cooperation with Clark Atlanta University, Ohio University and North Carolina State in submitting an “invited” proposal to the United States Information Agency. The second initiative involved The National University of Lesotho and the University of Namibia in cooperation with the same northern members in submission of an “invited” proposal to The World Bank.Neither initiative was successful for quite different reasons. The Ohio University Library, in cooperation with the AERN, made two presentations to USAID leading to a proposal concerned with electronic information exchange as a means to strengthen resources of African university libraries accessible to their faculties and graduate students. This was not funded.
COMMUNICATION LINKAGES have experienced modest success to date. The AERN Homepage has been in operation since 1997 and has been visited on more than 5,000 occasions. The Homepage is hosted by North Carolina State University. It is administered by Dr. Kwabena Ofori-Attah of Cumberland College in Kentucky. The AERN Listserv is hosted, also, by North Carolina State where it is administered by Dr. Sofus Simonsen. The Journal of Practice in Development Education is published at the University of Manchester as an AERN publication, edited by Professor John D. Turner.
MORE RECENTLY, four African university members of the AERN have become partners in the African Virtual University project of the World Bank. Initial contacts between Etienne Baranshamaje, The Bank’s AVU manager, and the AERN universities were promoted as an outcome of early visits to Ohio by Mr.Baranshamaje. Finally, the interest of USAID in supporting a strategic planning activity by the AERN members has led to proposal development and revision by Professor Mugenda. A meeting was held in Lesotho in July of 1999 to further consider the status of the proposal and to do forward planning.
In September of 1999, Professor Mugenda met in Atlanta with Dr. Sofus Simonsen of North Carolina State University, Dr. Jacqueline Howard Matthews of Clark Atlanta University and Dr. Milton E. Ploghoft of Ohio University to brief them on the status of the proposal and to consider future developments.
THE NEED FOR THE AERN, or similar associations of African and northern universities, was derived in large part from the studies of the crisis in research capacities and the sharp declines in research resources of libraries in African universities. The isolation of research professors, the lack of access to information and the growing chasm between the resources of the information rich north and the information poor African institutions were cited by Trevor Coombe, by Kabiru Kinyanjui, by Mayuri Odedra Straub, by George Eshiwani and others who were studying the status of tertiary education in sub-Sahara Africa in the period since 1980.
The uses of information technology to increase purposeful communication amongst researchers, to increase their access to data bases, periodical literature and research reports was a high priority of the AERN.
WIDESEARCH was an initiative of the northern members of the AERN in 1996, to serve some of the reference needs of research professors and advanced graduate students in AERN universities. The service was offered at no cost to the users who could request specific bibliographic and reference information by e-mail, fax or conventional mail. The WIDESEARCH service received only moderate use by faculty and graduate students in two of the AERN universities, most likely due to the lack of dissemination of information about the service. It is possible that the crisis in library research resources has diminished and the need to use computer networking to increase information access has lessened.
ANNUAL RESEARCH SURVEYS was another initiative aimed at collecting and disseminating information about current research activity in AERN universities and sharing, as well, information concerning the priorities assigned to various fields of educational research. Two AERN members have responded.
PROSPECTS FOR FUTURE COLLABORATIONS
It appears that funding agencies such as USAID and foundations such as Rockefeller, Ford and Carnegie, have a current interest in the further development and application of information technology in African education, especially to increase access and opportunity to further education of rural and female populations, to strengthen programmes in family and early childhood education and to improve instructional programmes in the sciences and mathematics. The early experiences of the AERN suggest that network wide projects may be difficult to fund and to sustain, that project collaboration between only two or three universities may have higher success probabilities. It is within this frame of reference that exploratory discussions are suggested to involve the University of Namibia and Clark Atlanta University. At a later point it may be deemed feasible to invite participation of one or more additional AERN members depending upon the nature of the project(s) identified.
PROSPECTIVE DEVELOPMENT AREAS:
- Pilot offering of maths and science courses for which software has been created, field tested, revised and proven to be effective in raising levels of performance by secondary and post secondary students.
- The exchange of selected courses between African and northern universities in curriculum areas where “local” expertise may be limited. The courses may be presented by various means to eventually include web based offerings.
- The targeting of WIDESEARCH as a tool for research support for faculty members and advanced students in those fields where there is limited access to the information resources which can be offered by northern AERN members and by access to the internet.
- Faculty/staff development seminars and institutes dealing with the uses of the INTERNET as an instructional resource in the designing of courses, in support of teaching and as a tool to be finally used by students. The uses of information technology present complex issues for the professors, academic administrators and certifying agencies, not the least of which is the appropriate use and management of the vast resources of the INTERNET. An initiative in this area will provide a cutting edge experience for both African and northern universities.
- Development of strategic plans for the development and application of information technology to the benefit of the national universities and the broader socio-political communities of the nation.
- Creation of an on-line educational research journal which will specialize in reporting the works of scholars committed to the study of African educational development with such journal to be sited at an African university of the AERN . The on-line journal was first considered at a meeting of AERN representatives hosted by Clark Atlanta University in September 1999. A further planning meeting was held in Washington in April 2000 followed by a visit by Dr. Sofus Simonsen of North Carolina State University to the University of Namibia where Dr. Barnabas Otaala hosted discussions concerned with the creation and operation of the on-line journal as a collaborative project of the AERN.
- Most recently, in the Summer of 2000, the HIV/AIDS crisis has been identified by two AERN universities as deserving of “north-south” collaboration in the study and development of educational programming concerned with home nursing practices and with the design of hospice type services. University departments of public health and schools of nursing have expressed interest in collaboration in this problem area.