Department of Academic Computing
by David A. Smith
A new adventure and a new challenge began for me in the year 2002. I accepted a three-year position as Head of the Department of Academic Computing at a new Catholic medical school that was being established in Mwanza, Tanzania, at the Bugando Medical Center. The school's founding was a collaborative effort between the Maryknoll Society, the Tanzanian bishops conference, the Tanzanian government, and the Weill Cornell medical college in New York. Having majored in computer science while in college (before going to seminary) and having been involved in various aspects of health ministries during my twenty years in mission in Tanzania, it seems as if the Lord was preparing me for just this position.
Creating a Bugando University College of Health Sciences (BUCHS) that meets modern day standards is a daunting challenge even in the developed world. In the developing world, the obstacles take on a new depth. Following a problem-based learning model of education that has been developed by Weill Cornell medical college, the Tanzanian school will endeavor to train medical doctors, nurses, dentists and pharmacists to the same level of proficiency as their American peers. With Cornell providing the course curriculum, training for the professors, and computer equipment, my job was to enable the African professors and students to utilize computer technologies in their teaching and learning. Approximately one-third of the course materials are to be computer-based, including the problem-based learning labs in which future-doctors are taught the diagnostic process.
At first, some people might question the wisdom of using computers at all in a poor African nation. In fact, however, it is amazing how quickly new technologies are spreading in Tanzania. In Dar es Salaam, there are over 500 Internet cafes doing a brisk business along with dozens of private computer schools. Most of our Maryknoll missionaries use computers in their ministries, even those in the remotest locations. The government is working to teach computer courses at all secondary schools throughout the country. To encourage the Information Technology industries, the government has removed all customs and taxes from computing equipment.
One also needs to consider the great expenses involved in trying to create a medical school library that would require texts and journals costing hundreds of dollars a piece each year. Now through the miracle of the Internet, many medical texts and resources are available online for free or for minimal cost to Third World medical schools. The wealth of information for research and learning will only continue to expand in the years ahead. My hope is that the Department of Academic Computing at the Bugando University College of Health Sciences will serve to bridge the gap that is threatening to grow ever wider between the have's and the have-not's of our world. By its very nature, the Internet is ideally suited to offer equal educational opportunities to all people. Doctors will no longer need to leave their native country to avail themselves of the world's best educational facilities, and then Africa's sick poor will have more trained health personnel to treat them.
In January 2005, I completed my agreement with the Tanzanian bishops to help establish the Computing Center for BUCHS. I was pleased with all that had been accomplished, and I was happy to be able to hand over to a capable staff (who I had trained) a fully functioning center for academic computing that was prepared to meet the needs of the new medical school for many years to come.