This article was first published on the UbuntuNet Alliance’s website.
The Lesotho Ministry of Information Communication Science Technology and Innovation organised a meeting of stakeholders to lay out a road map for establishing an NREN in Lesotho. The meeting held on September 27, 2023, in the capital, Maseru, was facilitated by Prof Madara Ogot of UbuntuNet Alliance, Mr. Leon Staaphorst of Cambridge Management Consulting (South Africa), and Mr. Letsatsi Lekhooa of the Internet Society of Lesotho.
The higher education sector in Lesotho is facing several challenges, hindering the digital transformation of its institutions to strengthen the quality of education and research output. As highlighted by Mr Lekhooa, these include low ICT penetration due to a “Silo” approach, limited access to digital resources, struggles in remote or blended teaching and learning, inadequate infrastructure hindering research and innovation, high bandwidth cost, and low infrastructure quality.
The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of ICT, in a speech read on his behalf, noted that,
“Currently, [Lesotho] is rife with weak research and innovation infrastructure, and thus it is unable to unlock its developmental potential. Our institutions of higher learning and research struggle to access digital resources needed for teaching, learning and research. Among critically needed resources are meaningful internet access, digital tools and skills.”
He went on to remind the audience,
“We can still vividly recall how a lack of digital resources became most evident in 2020 at the onset of COVID-19 when institutions of higher learning struggled to transition to remote digitally facilitated teaching and learning.”
The stakeholders agreed to establish the Lesotho Research and Education Network to address these challenges. LesREN will be a voluntary membership-based organisation to foster research, knowledge sharing, and innovation. Its main objective will be to enable institutions to collectively procure resources, benefiting from volume discounts and economies of scale.
In the first two years, LesREN will primarily focus on facilitating affordable internet access, enhancing research collaboration, and improving educational resources. Moving forward, LesREN will work towards supporting e-learning initiatives, strengthening research infrastructure, and continuing to foster entrepreneurship and innovation.
The attendees also agreed to establish a National Steering Committee to guide the establishment of LesREN. The committee would follow a comprehensive and systematic plan for implementation, which would cover four main areas:
- Conducting a feasibility study
- Legal registration
- Creating a governing board
- Setting up an operational team
UbuntuNet Alliance pledged to collaborate with the National Steering Committee to ensure that LesREN would join the global community of NRENs as soon as possible and contribute to strengthening the research and education community in Lesotho.