A CERTIFICATION CEREMONY FOR GRADUATES OF IEARN - SIERRA LEONE. HELD ON THE 15TH SEPTEMBER 2005, AT THE ATLANTIC HALL, NATIONAL STADIUM HOSTELS, FREETOWN COMPILED BY: ABDUL RAHMAN Some six years ago, IEARN - Sierra Leone was founded by a very young and energetic and dedicated man in the person of Mr. Andrew Benson Greene Jr. at a time when many were sceptical about his venture. Although he knew that the task involved was quite enormous and challenging, with dedication and unrelenting effort he was able to ride the storm amidst complex intriguing problems, including the rebel war which was still looming. When all was over he and few of his colleagues branded it "We Still Survive". IEARN which stands for International Education And Resource Network is a nonprofit organization which focuses on information, technology, and communication (ITC) as a gateway to promote equality and participation of youths in society. An area in which youths have an edge is the emerging information society driven by new technologies. Youths are often the leading innovators in the use and spread of ITC. They adapt quickly and are generally quite hungry for the great quantity of information locally and globally that can be provided through this emerging technology. The proliferation of information and communication technology present both opportunities and challenges in terms of social development and inclusion of youths. Youths often use ITC to access entertainment and news sites and as a personal meeting space through chart programmes. There is also an increased emphasis on using ICT in the context of global youth priorities such as access to education, employment, and poverty eradication. Yet questions remain as to whether ICT can empower young people and improve their lives or whether they are deepening the already existing inequalities and division in the world. The important concern of a global "digital divide" apply as much to youths as to any other age group. The hope and positive promise of our future is in our children and youth. The chairman of the occasion, Mr. Bockarie Ennsah, in his remarks at the certification ceremony, told the graduates that the certificates they will be receiving are very wonderful and they must treasure them among their most precious possessions. He went futher to ask whether there is hope for a better tomorrow, he asserted that, yes, the future holds a positive promise and that the hopes and promise for our future are in the hands of children and youth. He said, " sitting and wishing makes no man great;” therefore, he admonished them to keep tapping the keyboard as a way of improving themselves. Mr. Enssah gave a brief overview on the importance of information and communication technologies as a significant factor in developments, having a profound impact on the political, economic and social sector of many countries. By expanding the notion of information and communication technology from newspapers, radios, televisions, camcorders, computers and cell phones, the full impact of ICT on the social development of youths can be better understood. The distinction between old and new technologies may soon become outdated as satellites technology and internet combine in innovative ways to reach a wider range of target audience. Mr. Mohamed Pa-Momoh Fofanah, Director of Defence for Children International, gave a brief but comprehensive talk on the use of ICT. He emphasized that education is paramount for a country's development, for it is only the right to education that will salvage the plight of children and youths. He urged the graduates to celebrate their challenges, to serve as the " Tomorrow of Our Today." He said lack of access to ICT has remained a major challenge to youths. Special efforts must be made for youths in rural areas to establish connectivity given that rapid development in ICT has made it possible to overcome the physical impediments of distance and topography at a reasonable cost, an obstacle that for a long time has limited the development of telecommunication infrastructure in rural areas. Shared access to these services can increase their impact. When available, ICT has a potential to improve young people's access to better education. That is why IEARN – Sierra Leone, have taken advantage of ICT to provide distance learning, create internet fora, and create a database system that will facilitate a faster and reliable way of retrieving information. Technology is changing the way classrooms operate through integrating multimedia textbooks, on-line research, and student presentations that make the learning process more interactive and participatory. Mr. Charles Lahia told the graduants that the certificates will give them an insight in what they want to be, and it also acted as an impetus to reach their goal. They should also use this certification ceremony as a moment of reflection on how long it took them to get a certificate and thereby attain the height of great men and women. Their achievement is all about the will of science; that is, where science sees itself. He said that the measures to improve access to internet and to increase ICT literacy at large should be encpouraged and that the effective use of technology should help to strengthen various forms of youth engagements. The Director of IEARN Sierra Leone, Mr. Andrew Benson Greene Jr., in his opening remarks highlighted the Herculean task that he meted when trying to establish IEARN - Sierra Leone. He said the programme in 1999 through the dedication and inspiration of young people who voluntarily came on board for the success of the programme. All about IEARN he said, "is connecting youths, making a difference" Mr. Greene admonished the graduates to keep doing in their own little way, things that are innovative. In one of his classic examples, he gave a scenario of how a little boy helped an entire community in getting safe drinking water through the use of the net by soliciting assistance. Therefore he urged the students to open up to new forms of technology. Skills and accessibility to ICT are keys to providing employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for youths. Mr. Greene maintained that many young people, however are excluded from the ICT revolution, and others are affected by the way ICT may challenge other traditional forms of socialization. ICT can be an independent factor in the lives of young people, influencing the behavioural and value patterns that differ from those of the older generation. To illustrate, ICT creates a new landscape of socialization; the direction of socialization can be reversed as younger generation teaches the elders to use the emerging technology. He went further to commend the services rendered by staff of IEARN especially Mr. Richmond, Mr. Daboh, Babadi Thomas, and Mrs. Shirley, whose unrelenting efforts are paramount. Additionally, he noted that ICT has resulted in global consumerism through television, music, video conferencing, tele-cards, etc. One will be able to access information at a very high speed. He reminded the graduates that the certificates they would be receiving are highly treasured, as they were achieved against very high odds. And very soon, there will be a growing effort to promote social action and community development among youths through e-communication "cyber participation" and e-citizenship. Today, ICT and new media are becoming core components of youths civic engagement and activism. Given the existing connection between new media, the internet and young people, it can be inferred that new media and ICT have enabled young people's activism at a general level and it continues to influence in the diverse forms it has taken, especially for communication and coordination of youth movements and for contributing to a sense of e- solidarity among individuals and groups with different agendas. In his contribution, visiting IT specialist Dann Harman, who is in Sierra Leone for nine months, made mention that computer skills can be means of improving oneself in building one’s future. He gave an example of Google, which dominates the internet search business, much as Netscape once ruled in web browsers and Real Network did in media players. Begun as a project by two young graduate students in 1988, Google today carries out more than two hundred million searches a day. He further went on to say that, domestic policy in one country has a corresponding impact on other countries. Collective online writing and editing of documents are common features of today's youth activism. Such tools are commonly used by young people to prepare and contribute their submission to political processes and international meetings. One of the tutors, Mr. Daboh, gave a testimony in which he outlined some of the problems with students he faced during the course like lateness, unethical dress codes, lack of discipline, and gender inequality. On his achievements, Mr. Daboh mentioned that students were very much comprehensive, grasping the basic skills training as many could be able to operate different programmes ranging from Excel and Power Point. He advised the parents to keep trying by giving their resources as a means of investing in their future development of their children. The representative of the Principal of Ahmadiya Muslim Secondary School, observed the unrepresentative nature among students; fewer than two thirds of schools were represented, with the conspicuous absence of his own school. He advised that in the future he will like to see a much wider representation of students. The climax of the occasion was reached when students of the IEARN Musical Department, led by Lansana Conteh, performed five songs on stage all with HIV/AIDS and Reproductive Health messages. Witnessed also was a great performance of comedians, which created spine chillers that threw the audience into frenzy. This was a manifestation on the diverse talents of students of IEARN. The vote of thanks was given by one of the female students on behalf of her colleagues. On a whole, the occasion was a success.