Exploring how math changes lives in Africa – a University of Michigan experience
Harry Ngatchu doesn’t have access to the Internet at home, though he’s a doctoral student in computer science and an associate lecturer at the University of Buea.
He keeps his home offline because he said a Web connection would be a constant source of frustration. Internet access is sporadic and unreliable, even at the university.
“Before it used to really kill me, but I’m learning to find ways to deal with it,” he said.
Ngatchu became accustomed to reliable Internet access while studying at Cardiff University in Wales. He said his students aren’t annoyed by the lack of regular access to the Web because they’ve never had it.
“Most of them don’t know any better. For them, this is the norm,” Ngatchu said. “This is one of those situations where ignorance is bliss.”
He said that when it comes to information technology, Africa is playing in an inferior league, and this presents serious challenges to development. But he added that events like the Buea International Conference for the Mathematical Sciences give him hope.
Many of his students are attending the conference, sponsored by the University of Michigan. The event gives them a better idea about what the rest of the world is doing with information technology, he said.
“The main impact of the conference is that it makes the students want to build up their own league,” he said.
Ngatchu said he’s less interested in the Internet and focuses more on SMS and mobile phone communication, which is more accessible and reliable in Africa.
He encourages his students to write telemedicine applications for mobile phones that enable people in remote areas to have better access to life-saving medical information and resources.
“I’m an IT evangelist,” he said. “I preach and talk information technology.”