'Dazzling Technologies': Addressing the Digital Divide in the Southern African Universities27 February 2016
The ‘digital divide’ is both an infrastructural reality and a metaphor for Africa’s position in the global economy. We live in an era that defines itself by the extent to which it interacts, creates and shares knowledge globally, using the network of advanced telecommunications, the Internet. Southern African countries, their universities and research communities, are recognising that focusing purely on basic network infrastructure is inadequate to the needs of scholarly research and higher education in the 21st century. Southern African universities must acquire the means to participate effectively in global knowledge production. In particular, they must adopt and use advanced telecommunications infrastructure in the form of National Research and Education Networks or NRENs and a regional REN to connect students and researchers across national borders. Yet the means to share knowledge is not sufficient to bring about a healthy knowledge economy. A paradigm shift has to be made from a purely technological view of the issues, to a full recognition of the interplay between technological infrastructure and the developmental and knowledge purposes to which it is put. This article provides an overview of the emerging NREN landscape, noting developments under way that are intended to promote and facilitate excellence in scientific networking in the region. It discusses the constraints and enabling conditions for overcoming the digital divide in the Southern African higher education context. Finally, it proposes a rudimentary performance indicator framework for assessing progress.