SocketWorks to Promote E-Culture in Sierra Leone

The Sierra Leonean arm of SocketWorks Global is working to establish an e-culture in the country, said SocketWorks CEO Patrick Taylor.

"What we are doing in Sierra Leone is to introduce the e-culture into all the spheres of endeavor in the country," Taylor said. "We believe that developing countries can be transformed to developed mainly by the use of ICT in all spheres of business."

Though SocketWorks' business solutions cover three industry verticals, Taylor said his company has started with its e-education program.

The company, which also provides e-health and e-government products, signed a contract with the statutory body for education in Sierra Leone, the Tertiary Education Commission, in 2005 for the deployment of its online tertiary institution portal.

The portal is a Web-accessed platform that captures all processes of educational institutions to facilitate e-learning and e-management.

"To date, we've started work on portals for Fourah Bay College, Institute of Public Administration and Management [IPAM] and College of Medicine and Allied Health Science," Taylor said.

Of these institutions, SocketWorks has only completed the installation of the portal for IPAM. It is the first of its kind in the history of Sierra Leone, as it allows online student registration.

As a result, IPAM's student admission process was paperless this year. The portal accepts online payment through the use of scratch cards and can process promotion from one grade to another.

"These customized programs enable students to interact with their lecturers, register for courses [and] have access to libraries -- not only in Sierra Leone, but in the world," Taylor said.

He added that IPAM's portal allows for chatting, discussion forums, Web mail, online course transfers, the management of assessment plans, grading, and the uploading of lectures and assignments.

The installation of similar portals for other colleges will be completed this academic session, Taylor said.

SocketWorks' business model is a pay-as-you-go service, with no cost to schools, despite the bundling of all necessary tools, including computers, Internet access and software, Taylor said.

"When this business model was developed, we discovered that the education sector is the less-funded aspect of our nation," he explained.

After calculating that students spend an average of 3,000 Leones (US$1) per hour browsing the Internet, SocketWorks devised a cheaper rate, with students paying 100,000 Leones in total for facilities. Of that price, the school receives 10,000 Leones for fuel, Taylor said.

However, to bridge the digital divide created by the country's devastating civil war, Taylor said SocketWorks has also started meeting with clients to market SchoolPlus, aimed at nursery and primary school pupils.

SchoolPlus will manage similar facilities as the tertiary institution portals but with additional services, such as the management of meal and bus schedules, car pooling, disciplinary records and parent teachers associations.

"It is our hope that in about five years' time, the level of ICT is comparable to others in the world," Taylor said. "By then, we should have this ICT culture spread from kindergarten to university level."

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