If you don’t believe that the Internet can help train you and master a skill, then go to Machinga Community Day Secondary School. That is how “Machinga Queens”, the nick-name for Machinga Community Day Secondary School netball team was born.

Machinga Queens was coined fast on the heels of the spreading fame of the “Malawi Queens” – the Malawi Netball National Team by the fans in the district. It’s not because of any dynasty connections by the Machinga Queens. No. It’s just that this little known netball team has nurtured netball skills and overwhelmed their opponents each time they meet on court. The fans can only liken them to the Malawi Queens of the national netball team.

Dickens Mkumbila is the coach for Machinga Queens. He attributes the success of his team to Internet facilities at Machinga Teacher Development Centre’s (TDC) Tele-centre. He said the Tele-centre has helped him acquire new coaching skills through online resources and virtual interaction with fellow coaches.

“Because of the Internet access we have through Machinga TDC, I now have an e-mail address and Facebook account through which I connect with many fellow netball coaches in Malawi and abroad, including Griffin Saenda [Malawi national netball team coach],” beamed Mkumbila, who is also a teacher at Machinga CDSS.

He said through his e-mail, he has also been invited and attended many netball coaching clinics and workshops.

This year, the Machinga Queens have not yet lost a game against any of its fellow secondary school sides in the district. All the matches, of course, have been friendlies since there has been no sponsorship for a competitive school netball tournament since last year. But Machinga Queens were the champions when the schools netball tournament was last sponsored last year.

The Queens were also finalists in 2010 and 2011 in the Presidential Cup for Machinga district.

“We lost in both district finals to Machinga Medicals who are more established and have sponsorship. And their players are much older than our young girls,” said Mkumbila.

Machinga Queens were also one of the two districts’ representatives at the regional level of the tournament.

Apart from browsing on netball issues, Mkumbila says he also likes to keep himself abreast with current affairs by tracking national and international news on the Internet.

Mkumbila is one of the few teachers around Machinga district who are now reaping the fruits of Internet connectivity and other communications facilities at Machinga TDC Tele-centre.

Machinga TDC Tele-centre started its operations in 2011 with funding from the World Bank under the US$20 million Regional Communications Infrastructure Programme — Malawi Project (RCIPMW).

The RCIPMW is managed by the Privatisation Commission (PC) which is working with various partners, including the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) and various government departments, to implement various components of the project.

The Tele-centres are being established in various parts of the country under the “Last Mile Connectivity” component of the RCIPMW Project which is being implemented through Macra.

Machinga TDC Tele-centre’s Assistant Coordinator Charles Kashoni said primary and secondary school teachers are among users of the centre in the district. Other users include pastors, youths, civil society leaders, and working class people around the district.

“Of course the number of teachers [who patronise the centre] is few compared to other people, probably because of the small fee we charge for the usage of the facilities” said Kashoni.

He said apart from accessing educational materials on the Internet, some teachers use the Tele-entre as a laboratory when teaching about technology to their pupils.

“Some teachers bring their pupils to appreciate computers and other technology in use here. In such cases, we don’t charge anything,” explained Kashoni.

He said he would propose to management of the TDC to consider offering free orientation sessions for teachers during which they will be sensitised on the advantages of Internet. The session would also offer training on how to operate a computer and access the Internet.

“We will even help them [teachers] to open e-mail and Facebook accounts,” said Kashoni.

The Tele-centre has other facilities such as a photocopier, scanner, lamination and binding machines as well as telephone receivers.

Macra Director General Charles Nsaliwa said the objective of establishing rural Tele-centres is to accelerate information, communication and technology (ICT) growth in the country.

“As Macra, we understand that to achieve meaningful growth, we have to ensure that rural areas are not left behind,” he said.

Socially established Tele-centres are important as all ICT operators concentrate on commercially viable areas where they get a return, Nsaliwa explained

“Our task is to work closely with ICT operators [in the setting up of rural Tele-centres] and monitor their roll out plans to rural areas to ensure that they are implemented efficiently and effectively,” he said.

Macra is also currently in the process of implementing a “Connect- a -Constituency Project” under which a Tele-centre will be opened in each of the 193 parliamentary constituencies in the country with funding from Macra and the Malawi government, according to Nsaliwa.

Through the RCIPMW project, government will broaden the country’s bigger-space fibre-optic cable connection within the country and the rest of the world through under-sea cables on the ocean shores of Tanzania and Mozambique.

“For a long time, Malawi has relied on satellite to connect to the world-wide web. But satellite is expensive, hence the world drive towards fibre optic connectivity,” says PC’s Chief Executive Officer, Jimmy Lipunga.

Lipunga said government will use the resources to fund infrastructure, reform the country’s ICT enabling environment through policy and e-legislation improvement. As part of the package, the project is also implementing the last mile connectivity to government offices, institutions and schools as well as public Tele-centres throughout the country.

The RCIPMW Project Manager, Chimwemwe Matemba, said widespread broadband connection in Malawi would increase economic growth in the country through improved productivity and competitiveness.

He said for Malawi to develop, it would need to increase and reduce the cost of its broadband connection. Matemba explained that this can be achieved through improvement of the country’s digital infrastructure and legislation framework as well as ICT policies that would stimulate private sector investment in the sector.

The RCIPMW project is aimed at helping Malawi address its obstacles to ICT growth, Matemba said.

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