Microelectronics is recognized as a very important technology that can lift Africa’s economy if it can penetrate into the economy. There have been many challenges associated with making this technology widespread in the continent. They include inadequacy of quality teachers, equipment and tools, social amenities, among others.
The following under listed ideas are proposed are ways that can help in diffusing microelectronics in Africa by working with foreign universities and institutions that can provide technical and managerial supports to organizations in Africa.
Internet Virtual Classroom (IVC)
This is a ‘classroom’ on the Internet where instructors and students interact via computers. Besides lecture notes, VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phone, live-chats and online-conferencing are vital components of this classroom resources. The motivation is to create a virtual traditional classroom on the web and educate students separated by physical distance from the instructors.
Many European and US universities use IVC to coordinate their satellite campuses and distance education programs. It offers to Africa a framework through which they can tap the pool of their experts in Diaspora, which increasingly prefer to live in the developed nations.
The importance of IVC is to solve the problem of lack of quality microelectronics tutors in the continent by connecting people in the developed world to educate students in Africa.
By implementing IVC across the continent, it would be easy for African nations to absorb new ideas and technologies through seamless interactions with the external world. Think of engaging a professor of microelectronics from MIT teaching students in University of Nigeria, Nsukka. That experience and connection can lead to new insights from the students. Any process that helps to expose students and small firms to microelectronics will facilitate its transfer.
The telepresence technologies, like the ones offered by Cisco and Digital Video Enterprises, would become one of the most important ways to connect students and instructors in developed nations and Africa. With a high-speed technology that provides high bandwidth, these technologies can help leverage the skills of experts in developed nations to advance technical education in Africa.
It also offers a good platform to link citizens of developing nations in Diasporas who are experts in microelectronics to make contributions in their native nations. These citizens can live in their adopted nations while assisting their native ones in developing this important technology.
Telepresence refers to a set of technologies which allow a person to feel as if they were present, to give the appearance that they were present, or to have an effect, at a location other than their true location.
Telepresence offers some advantages in terms of virtual reality, which cannot be easily produced in IVC. Telepresence offers ‘live’ classroom despite the small latency and can be a very effective two-way communication between the experts in developed nation and students in Africa working in labs or classrooms. With it, direct supervision of experiments or homework is possible.
Through this technology, it would be possible for anyone in any place with network connection and Telepresence equipment to educate and train Africans, either in the public or private workplaces. Because of its efficiency, it can easily translate to good results where people master skills that used to require traveling abroad locally. Many universities in the United States have these tools and if African schools can acquire them, there would be possibilities of integrating world class experts in teaching in African schools.
The availability of experts who can teach the students is not enough, the students must actually have to practically learn and design. That is why multi-platform foundries are required, to provide foundry services to students and universities. Through this process, they will have improvements in skills, develop competence and can potentially graduate to establish small and medium enterprises which will help in the diffusion process of microelectronics.
One way of realizing this practical exposure is to have a continental level fabrication service similar to MOSIS of USA, Europractice of Western Europe and CMC of Canada. Through this, students will have the opportunity to design, fabricate and test their microelectronic systems. This is one area African Union NEPAD can help to assist microelectronics education in Africa. They can fund or subsidize these programs for African universities.
Nothing teaches better than doing. By focusing on developing foundries, Africa will empower its universities and SMEs to have practical skills which will be spur innovation and competence. As they develop and grow, many multinational firms will like to tap into the skills. The continent enjoys fairly good labor costs. This means that many will come to build plants to benefit from these skills. That is how microelectronics transfer will take place in the continent.
The foundry is a solid infrastructure that drives many programs on microelectronics. It will be necessary to develop capability in the knowledge industry. By building them, a process that creates an environment for microelectronics transfer will be implemented in the continent.
Enabling Environments for SME
Africa was able to diffuse information technology consumption through a business-center model where small and medium enterprises (SME) educated and trained clients for small fees. Governments must provide the enabling environments in the forms of electricity, telecommunication, and other infrastructures.
A good business environment will help the SMEs to grow and that will help them to enter into joint ventures and partnerships with external firms. Doing this will help them get skills and expertise that will improve the technology landscape of Africa. China has done remarkably well because of the institutional support from its leaders. The reforms and developments have helped many Chinese firms to partner with western firms. In the process, they have transferred technologies to China and China is doing great. Africa must do the same by having an environment that promotes business.
It is important to know that without enabling environment in the areas like power, property rights, transport, Africa will find it harder to absorb new technologies like microelectronics and nanotechnology since the scale of trade and partnership will be smaller.
Open Design Academic Program
The big divide between the microelectronics education in developing nations and developed ones will require a coordinated program to bridge it. We propose formation of Microelectronics Academic Network in each African nation. This will offer the schools the platform to seek for discounts from CAD (computer aided design) manufacturers, multi-platform foundries and efficiently share and collaborate on designkits and techfiles as the license owners provide them.
This will become a hi-tech equivalent of open source software development, but within a national level. A coordinated continental program will only focus on fabrication because of the expensive nature of the equipment.
The continent must pursue a plan to work to support its tertiary institutions to share resources and collaborate in the process of developing microelectronics.
Education Package for Diffusion
Microelectronics is vast; accordingly, efforts must be made to develop the right format as African students are being engaged. There should be scholarships supported by NEPAD to send African students for trainings on microelectronics related areas.
In summary, the 21st century is a knowledge century and knowledge will rule modern man. A bottom-up creative technology programs are necessary in Africa towards sustainable transformations into knowledge economy, especially with Africa’s plan for a common currency with potentials of delivering larger market.
Due to the high-specialized skills and capital-intensive nature of microelectronics, good technical education is a prerequisite for sustainable adoption and diffusion across Africa. Also, new applications like IVC and Telepresence could be vital along with a coordinated and planned academic network designed and implemented at both national and continental levels.
There is need for more economic, social and industrial coordination in the continent. Africa must reform various sectors in accordance with industry trends. Education, especially technical education, must be supported. Efforts must be geared in adopting microelectronics as its offers to stimulate the integration dynamics by delivering knowledge products which are homogeneous and hence can mitigate impacts of trade shocks across regions.