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Erick Tambo: ‘Digital education makes an important contribution to sustainable development’

Name: Dr. Erick R. Gankam Tambo
Lives in: Bonn, Germany
Country of origin: Cameroon
Period in Germany: 1998 to today
Educational institutions: Technische Universität Dortmund, FernUniversität Hagen
Occupation: Associate Academic Officer at the Institute for Environment and Human Security of the United Nations University (UNU-EHS) in Bonn

Dr Erick R. Gankam Tambo came to Germany as a student in 1998. After studying at TU Dortmund and obtaining a doctorate from FernUniversität Hagen, he now works at the United Nations University in Bonn. He researches and develops projects in the field of digital education as an element of development cooperation in science. With his work, he would like to make a contribution to a sustainable exchange and transfer of knowledge and technologies from North to South.

What is the appeal of digital education in development cooperation?

Erick Tambo: Education – whether it is digital or not – is the foundation of all development. But digital education can reach a far larger target group. And it reaches it directly. The resources become directly available to the people they are intended for. In my opinion, the greatest appeal of digital education lies in the direct interaction it makes possible. The results of cooperation are immediately apparent. Digital education is a very dynamic field, we too can learn a lot from it.

Personal Details

Through his institute UNU-EHS, Erick Tambo is involved in a project with the Pan African University Institute of Water and Energy Sciences (PAUWES), which was founded by the African Union (AU) in 2014. As one of only five institutes of the Pan African University located on the African continent, PAUWES is intended to contribute to the establishment of a network of institutes of higher education in Africa, to close gaps in African higher education and to promote science and technology on a level of excellence.

Other German institutes of higher education in partnership with this project are the Institute for Technology and Resources Management in the Tropics and Subtropics (ITT) at TH Köln and the Centre for Development Research (ZEF) of Bonn University. The project is funded by the Federal German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) via the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). Further partners are Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and KfW Entwicklungsbank.

A description of the project ‘Higher Education Cooperation with PAUWES’

Digital education creates jobs

What other opportunities does it open up?

Erick Tambo: Digital education can make a great contribution to the struggle against unemployment, especially among young people. This is particularly important for Africa with its largely young population. The jobs of the future lie in digital education itself and its surrounding areas. Also, it helps to convince highly qualified people to stay in their countries. Knowledge and job opportunities are more independent and no longer tied to a particular location. This way, know-how and expertise in the diaspora can be efficiently used for the development of both individual countries and the entire continent. This is in keeping with the concepts of Brain Gain and Brain Circulation. Another great advantage is that it is hard for national agencies to censor digital knowledge.

And where do you see the greatest risks of digital education in development cooperation?

Erick Tambo: I see a risk when aid does not lead to capacity building, but stays an end in itself: Projects could be only implemented because their subjects sound good or are currently in fashion. But they have no sustainable effect locally and the resources could be used more efficiently. That is why digital education should concentrate on the establishment and strengthening of appropriate local structures and capacities (material and non-material support of local initiatives, education of multipliers, ‘Training of Trainers’), in the sense of an exchange and transfer of knowledge and technology.

There is no alternative to digital education

In a debate at the German Forum for Higher Education in the Digital Age on advantages and disadvantages of digital education in Bonn in April 2016, you described e-learning as existential. Why?

Erick Tambo: The number of graduates of secondary education is enormously on the increase – especially in development countries. E-learning enables us to reach substantially more college students and to provide them with a high-quality education. Resources, which are frequently scarce, can be used more efficiently, for instance for digital learning infrastructure (virtual classrooms, libraries or laboratories). And experts of teaching and research can be involved independently of their own location. There is no other way to meet the existing demand. And that is why I see digital education as existential and without alternative.

You have been living in Germany since 1998. Why did you come to Germany?

Erick Tambo: The reasons were mostly pragmatic. My family and I privately organised and financed my studies in Germany. Here I had a chance obtain a high-quality degree without paying any fees. Also, I had the opportunity to work and gather practical experience while I was still a student.

And did it work out?

Erick Tambo: I think so: From the winter semester of 1999 to the summer semester of 2006, I successfully studied Applied Informatics at TU Dortmund. In 2005, I even received an award for exceptional achievement of an international student at TU Dortmund from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). During my main studies, I was supported by a grant from the DAAD for six months.

In parallel with my studies, I worked as a student assistant at FernUniversität Hagen, as a system developer for ‘Interactive Learning Systems’. I obtained my doctorate there between 2006 and 2010. During this period, I was supported by a three-month grant from the Hans Böckler Foundation.

German Forum for Higher Education in the Digital Age: ‘Digital teaching in development cooperation’

Stronger involvement of the private sector

What could Germany do in the field of digital education in order to help more people to benefit from our education system?

Erick Tambo: Germany could strengthen digital education as an element of development cooperation in three areas: first of all, by financial support for innovations in digital education, secondly, through technology transfer and thirdly, by a stronger involvement of the private sector. I see great opportunities here, especially regarding the third point. Economic cooperation could create a win-win situation: The target countries would benefit from new local capacities and the companies would gain new clients. This is precisely the form of cooperation that leads to sustainable impacts. 

What is particularly important to you in you work?

Erick Tambo: The transfer of knowledge is very important to me. We can only address problems of global relevance, such as climate change, if we exchange and transfer knowledge and technologies across the continents. In this way, my work contributes to the development of the African continent and to the solution of global problems. That makes me very content.

See Dr Erick R. Gankam Tambo's profile in the Community

Interview: Verena Striebinger

April 2016


Katrin Jullien
1 May 2016

Thank you for the interesting interview. How we can get in touch with Erick Tambo? I am the chair of a Berlin based NGO called Leapfrog which supports IT education in East Africa

Raymond van Diemel
27 April 2016

Are there any differences between online education and digital education?

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