Afghanistan tech training programme produces first graduates

A recently created course in computer networks is attempting to address the global digital divide and give women new opportunities

A high-tech training programme set up as a public-private partnership in Afghanistan's capital has produced its first batch of graduates, a third of them women.

The graduates completed the University of Kabul's Cisco Network Academy programme, set up by the United Nations, the European Union and Cisco in an effort to introduce high-tech skills to one of the world's most poorest countries.

The initiative is part of the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Initiative, set up in July 2000 following the G-8 summit, to help bridge the so-called "digital divide". The programme in Afghanistan seeks to give economic opportunities to those who have previously had little chance to educate themselves, particularly women, who were not allowed education under the country's fundamentalist Taliban regime.

The 280-hour, Web-based curriculum teaches students to design, build and maintain computer networks and prepares them for industry-standard certification.

Among the first group of 17 graduates are six young women. One of them, Rita Dorani, said it was "essential" for Afghan women to get involved with IT. "My message for all Afghan women is to try as much as possible to learn about computers," she said in a statement.

The Kabul Academy aims to train 200 students by the end of 2003. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) will help set up two more Networking Acadamies in Afghanistan, with one in Mazar-e-Sharif and one in Kandahar. These will offer basic training for civil servants and the public and will create partnerships with the private sector.

Cisco provided networking equipment for the academies and trained the Afghan instructors. The UNDP supported the training, provided computer hardware and facilitated the partnership with the university. The European Community provided $500,000 (about £317,000) to support the ICT training centres.

Cisco has set up more than 10,700 academies in 149 countries since the first was launched in 1997. They offer courses in nine languages. UNDP has partnerships with Cisco in over 60 countries.

Twenty-six women from 16 English-speaking African countries recently graduated from another Cisco Academy at the IT Centre for Africa (ITCA) in Ethiopia, a partnership between Cisco, the UN and the Economic Commission for Africa. The next group will come from French-speaking African countries. The ITCA programme aims to improve Africa's high-tech skills pool while improving women's access to new technologies.

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