At the ICT development work face – SchoolNet Namibia realities
Paper presented at the 2005 Open Education Conference, Logan, Utah.
Reading from a recent Microsoft press-release:
” To celebrate a pilot project that was started two years ago, His Excellency, President Hifikepunye Pohamba and the regional CEO of Microsoft, Jean-Phillipe Courtois, officially launched the Pathfinder initiative in Namibia earlier this month. Born out of a Memorandum of Understanding signed with the government of Namibia and represented by its Parliament, Pathfinder supports the efforts of NEPAD and focuses on the needs and educational growth of Africa. Having proven its sustainability (in Namibia), Microsoft is ready to replicate and deploy Pathfinder across other regions in Africa. To date, Pathfinder has been rolled out across 13 schools around Namibia.”
Writing as I do, about the effectiveness and sustainability of open education in Namibia, I am occasionally asked whether my resultant ’bad hair day tails’ about Microsoft and other corporate misanthropies aren’t simply sour grapes. Given the fact that my preferred tipple is whisky, I say clachan a’ choin to this myopic view, and instead call them grapes of wrath strewn along a path of civil righteousness (some call it disobedience), determined as I am to see each and every school in Namibia ICT-empowered in an effective and sustainable manner. And I certainly don’t need a ‘Pathfinder’ to stay on this path – even after a few drams!
What, indeed, is ‘open education’ ? I see open education embracing the great potential and responsibility of humanity to harness and leverage the advances and freedoms provided by information and communication technology in order to extend educational opportunities to all that want it.
In this context, my paper touches on international issues, policy and administrative issues, overcoming barriers to open education, and securing affordable open educational resources. A lot of this is about plain common sense, and a bit of lateral thinking.
Namibia has weathered many naïve, ‘bleedin’ heart, drop ‘n run’ international ICT misanthropies these past 5 years, and one more does not burden the reality that such misguided ‘trick or treat’ generosity does more harm than good in an otherwise well-defined framework of ICT development in education in Namibia.
The Microsoft ‘Pathfinder’ project, World Bank’s InfoDev ‘Namibia Country Gateway’ project, Shell’s ‘Oshana Connect’ project , the Italian CISP telecentre project, World Computer Exchange, US Peace Corps and Rotary Club’s school PC donation drives, to name but a few, have all failed dismally, given their lack of attention to long-term support obligations.
Conventional international ICT development support has traditionally focused on quick project returns based on capital expense, numbers of computers delivered, and shining ‘best practices’ reports filled with ‘kodak moments’.
Example 1: The Shell ‘Oshana Connect’ Project
Take the example of the Shell ‘Oshana Connect’ project in northern Namibia. A project proposal to Shell, put together by local stake holders in 2002, was subsequently awarded to the UK-based Initiative Foundation for implementation. The reasoning behind this, according to Shell, was that the Initiative Foundation had done prior work elsewhere in the developing world, and was hence a trusted international development partner.
According to the Initiative Foundation web site (www.einitiative.org), John Patton, US-citizen, founding-chairman and political scientist, was involved with the Internet and developing communities since 1995 when he first began working on internet connectivity in Russia. In 1999, Patton sought to take his lessons learned in Russia to other developing communities. The web site describes projects in Russia, Sierra Leone and Namibia.
The Initiative Foundation claims that, in Namibia, their Oshana Connect (wireless) internet network reached ten centres and covered an area in excess of 30 km2. The Oshana Connect team was focused on creating a sustainable community network to support local NGOs in their efforts to assist the community, assist local businesses in their efforts to improve their own operations, and provide access and education. The core team consisted of a two project directors – Tuhafeni Hilukiluah who focused on community, managing the centres, programming and content, and Harry Hoff who focused on efforts to build sustainability.
So what happened to Oshana Connect? According to the Initiative Foundation web site, the “project in Namibia is reaching independence. We have had a good first two years and have learned much. In September (2004), we will post our report and plans for the fourth quarter and beyond.’
No such report has yet been forthcoming; our own findings paint a very gloomy picture. Oshana Connect has left the building. Literally and figuratively. Tuhafeni and Harry are purportedly fighting over funds and technologies gone astray, the wireless network has disappeared to more economic climes, and the once lively student computer laboratory at the Ongwediva College of Education has been abandoned.
Example 2: The Microsoft ‘Pathfinder’ Project
The Namibian Pathfinder project is another example of misguided international corporate misanthropy, launched by Microsoft in Namibia. In contrast to the Oshana Connect project, however, the Pathfinder project continues to get tremendous international publicity as an international ICT development ‘success story’. Marketed directly, and by Microsoft’s preferred international ‘charitable’ channel partner, Digital Pipeline (www.digitalpipeline.com), this publicity stunt is widely seen as Microsoft’s latest strategy to drive Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) and the Creative Commons (in education) out of Namibia, and discourage other African Education Ministries from embracing FLOSS. I think this is a very risky strategy, given the precarious and miniature scale of the venture in Namibia to date.
Consider the facts:
1. The PathFinder project managed to deliver 156 refurbished computers to 13 Namibian schools in two years. At this stage six of the 13 schools are only barely functional – thanks to the efforts of transient summer holiday students from Harvard. The rest have fallen off the Pathfinder map. Two of the six schools have internet access, courtesy of SchoolNet Namibia.
2. The proprietary software bundled with these computers, MS Office and Encarta, was provided at special discounted pricing; the terms and conditions of use, upgrade and renewal remain obscure.
3. Until quite recently, technical support for these schools required an international phone call to a call-centre in Cairo, Egypt (talk about globalisation!!). Microsoft now expects the government of Namibia to take full responsibility for technical support at these schools.
4. To this end, Microsoft assisted the government of Namibia to establish a computer refurbishment workshop at the Windhoek Vocational Training Centre, which expects to recruit ‘junior computer technicians’ for a once-off student fee of N$ 7,000 (US$ 1,077) to gain such skills.
5. Given an apparent desperate shortage of used computers, resulting from the Prince of Wales International Business Leaders Forum (www.digitalpartnership.org) failing to deliver as promised, Microsoft, through Digital Pipelines, now exploits international used computer agencies such as Computer Aid International and Digital Links, which have traditionally tended the needs of CSOs in African countries.
6. Enraptured by the first Pathfinder effort, the government of Namibian agreed to having Microsoft deploy another 390 refurbished computers to 13 secondary schools, for the exclusive purpose of replacing old typewriting classes with the subjects keyboarding and office administration. In order to replace typewriting with keyboarding and office administration, Microsoft is using proprietary ‘trial’ software which will allow for thin client/server configurations in these 30-computer labs. The Namibian schools will serve as guinea pigs to fine-tune this new software which requires a CDROM to boot the workstations. Little, if any, attention was paid to such issues as furniture, electricity and technical support at the schools thus affected.
Reading from another Microsoft press-release :
“The surest mark of success came today, when Microsoft’s participation in the programme came to a close, and the company ceded administration of the Pathfinder programme to the Namibian government.”
This is the key – ceding administration to the Namibian government! I call this bailing out of a project doomed to failure from the start, and leaving Namibia to take the rap for a fiasco in the making. Microsoft has simply passed the buck to the Government of Namibia.
Very few international development projects stay around long enough to experience difficulties, or take any responsibility for the mostly disastrous after-effects of underestimated costs of long-term ICT ownership.
SchoolNet Namibia expects that international development agencies and industry stake holders recognise the importance of a ‘total cost of ownership’ model which ensures long-term internet access, technical maintenance, repair, training and support services to schools provided with ICT equipment.
Other International issues – the use of used computers, US$ 100 laptops, and disposal of E-waste …
SchoolNet co-hosted the first Africa Source Free and Open Source Developers Workshop in 2004, bringing together nearly 100 FLOSS programmers and thinkers from around the world to strategise the future of FLOSS development in the context of bridging educational digital divides. This workshop provided an opportunity for SchoolNet to host a critical one-day meeting on the “One Million computers for African Schools” campaign, bringing together international stake holders to determine the role of refurbished computers in education sectors of Africa. The reports and recommendations from both these events have received considerable international attention, with the result that SchoolNet Namibia expects to receive 5,000 of 10,000 used computers donated by KPN, a large corporation in Holland, in 2005.
Dapo Ladimeji, a London-based African bean-counter and my current worst flavour of the year, recently characterised this campaign as a ‘landfill project’ at a recent ICT meeting in Vienna, Austria. I was somewhat taken aback by this myopic exposition on an African initiative which has been at the forefront of developing real world, localised total cost of ownership models for ICT development in education in Africa! But then, Dapo hasn’t lived in Africa for decades.
Such ‘Dapoesque’ is not representative of continent-wide opinion concerning the integration of affordable and sustainable ICTs in education – a sector more likely to successfully embrace ICTs (and importantly, FLOSS and the Creative Commons!) than any other sector on the continent.
Importantly, I don’t think the issue of ‘landfill’ is only applicable to refurbs. It is applicable to any electronic waste resulting from ICTs in development! Especially given our need to look at 3-year obsolescence (and business) cycles when it comes to rolling out ICTs in education.
In this context, I should like to illuminate the fact that increasingly more first world consumers are paying somewhere between US$ 40 and US$ 60 toward end-of-life recycling when they buy a PC from their local dealership – certainly in Europe – given improved EU legislation to this effect. The USA is a sorry state of affairs in this regard; 50% of its E-waste is shipped to the Far East – out of sight, out of mind.
It does beg the question as to why we should be paying anyone for used PCs. On the contrary, I believe we should be paid to take receipt of second-hand technologies; at very least covering the cost of shipping these PCs back to source, on completion of a three-year ‘life-in-African-school’ cycle. This is SchoolNet Namibia’s present position – we expect that more African SchoolNets will follow suit. It would also mean the demise of a bunch of very greedy ‘charitable’ channel partners, mentioned previously, playing silly buggers with our precious ICT development funds, our Universal Access Funds and our hard-earned local income.
We are obviously very excited by the formation of Nicholas Negroponte’s ‘One Laptop Per Child’ Association, and the development, by MIT’s Media Lab, of a FLOSS-driven US$ 100 Laptop9 to this end. However, will these US$ 100 laptops have the cost of environmentally appropriate end-of-life recycling factored in? This is an important consideration, given the fact that there are no ISO-14000+ compliant recycling plants anywhere in Africa. It currently costs SchoolNet Namibia US$ 6 per PC (excluding monitor) to ship these back to source in Europe or USA.
Conditional on these end-of-life recycling obligations being met, SchoolNet Namibia had placed an early order for 72,000 MIT US$ 100 Laptops @ US$ 83-87/unit, where US$ 3 – 6 is put aside for the eventual return to source for ISO-compliant E-waste disposal. The US$ 10 income margin would be used to assist (only very partially) SchoolNet to defray local costs associated with the technical support, maintenance, 3-year motherboard warranty, repair and training obligations SchoolNet has toward its education sector clients in terms of our existing total cost of ownership model.
I had also proposed that MIT uses SchoolNet Namibia and existing FLOSS schools as guinea pigs for alpha MIT Laptops to help MIT establish their robustness in the “real world” of African education – heat, dust, dreadful electricity, and hundreds of thousands of hugely enthusiastic, fearless, grubby-fingered FLOSS users, aged between 6 and 25 years old!
In a recent press release, Walter Bender, executive director of MIT’s Media Lab, said Brazilian officials were receptive to the idea of collaborating on a project to distribute inexpensive laptops to schoolchildren.
“We think that Brazil is potentially a very important partner in this project, in part because of a tradition of being creative in this space,” Bender said. “There’s a big community within Brazil that believes we need to transform how kids learn, where they learn, and they see this as a possible vehicle for transformation.”
Alas! Reading this publicity from Brazil, and the lack of response from MIT to my earlier correspondence, it looks like African SchoolNet initiatives are being left out in the cold by the MIT US$ 100 Laptop project. Nia Lewis, who works in the office of Nicholas Negroponte, wrote “The reason that large countries have been the focus (and Brazil approached us) is that we need to begin with a large order so that we can get manufacturing up and running. Once this is in process we will able to determine how to assist all countries of the world.”
Looking at demographic statistics for African youth, by our estimates, approximately 500 million of the estimated 800 million Africans are under the age of 25, and of school-going age. When we launched the ”One Million computers for African Schools” campaign, we were told that we were “irresponsible” to campaign for such a “high” number of computers. Go figure.
I strongly believe that Namibia, one of very few countries in Africa, indeed world-wide, with a national ICT Policy for Education, would be an excellent testbed in this US$ 100 laptop project to roll out ICTs to schools, learners and teachers in Namibia, and further afield.
Policy and Administration Issues
Enter the Government of Namibia. Unlike most other countries in Africa, Namibia has a national ICT Policy for Education10 . And an implementation plan for nation-wide rollout of ICTs, in tandem with the UN ICT task force’s Global E-Schools and Communities Initiative (GeSCI), in the making. This is good news for the Namibian education sector, and, for Ministries of Education in other countries, struggling to come to terms with their Millennium Development Goals, a great source of inspiration.
Importantly, the national ICT Policy for Education states, “…acquiring the technologies themselves, (no matter how difficult and expensive the process) may be the easiest and cheapest element in a series of elements that eventually could make these technologies sustainable and beneficial… it is a matter of making it simple for the Ministry of Education, the main national agencies, stake holders, and partners in
the education service (including all the teacher education institutions, examination bodies, the National Institute for Educational Development [NIED], the Information Technology Society, Civil Society, teacher associations, governors’ organisations, and the local authorities) … to co-operate.”
Namibia’s ICT Policy for Education and its draft implementation plan come as timely relief, giving mandate to a cross-sectoral ICT Task Force, which includes active participation by SchoolNet, to transparently review and advise on ICT development initiatives such as the Microsoft Pathfinder project.
The Ministry of Education has recognised the value of SchoolNet Namibia, has accepted its vision, and have started taking ownership of the mechanisms of national ICT policy implementation. It is pleasing to know that a civil society initiative has been accepted into the hierarchy of educational service delivery and has become institutionalised as a viable technical service provider.
Despite being one of the leading countries in Africa in terms of telecommunications access and use, Namibia ranks comparatively low in terms of openness of the telecommunications market11 . Currently, the tele-communications industry is regulated by two ministries — Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Communications (although the draft Telecommunications Bill is set to change that within the next 6 – 12 months). Fixed line and mobile telephony are currently monopolised by Telecom Namibia and MTC respectively, with government being the major shareholder in both companies through the Namibia Post and Telecom Holdings company.
The Telecommunications Policy and Regulatory Framework (1999) describes a vision of universal access and liberalisation of the telecommunications sector. The draft Telecommunications Bill is currently being reviewed by Parliament and provides for the regulation of telecommunication activities including the use and allocation of radio spectrum, and the establishment of an independent Namibian Communications Authority. The Bill’s aim of Universal access is pivotal to Namibia’s vision and a Universal Service Fund (USF) will be established and administered by the Regulator.
The existing telecommunications regulatory framework makes provision for a Universal Service Obligation (USO) by the monopolies.
The liberalisation of the Telecommunication sector will introduce competition as a means for accelerated infrastructure development, increased efficiency and diversified services, thereby making government’s decentralisation efforts cheaper and increase Namibia’s attractiveness for foreign investment.
Namibia’s Vision 2030 – Policy Framework for Long-term National Development12 – focuses on capacity building investments to transform Namibia into knowledge-based economy, where ICT plays a central role. Targets for development include revised national ICT policy, ICT training as part of formative competency education, support for internet access in rural areas and installation of wide-area wireless infrastructure, countrywide.
Overcoming barriers to open education
SchoolNet has reached its sixth year of existence as a not-for-profit, civil society organisation, providing sustainable, affordable open source technology solutions and internet access, as well as technical support, training services and rich educational content to schools, community-based educational organisations, and educational practitioners throughout Namibia. To realise SchoolNet’s vision, our approach has involved a number of key steps to overcome barriers to open education:
• Gathering political and economic support;
• Establishing wide-reaching stake holder partnerships;
• Constructing appropriate ICT solutions;
• Expanding the reach of the programme to embrace all of Namibia’s education sector;
• Obtaining regulatory and policy endorsement of appropriate ICT solutions;
• Rationalising affordability and sustainability models for such ICT solutions
While SchoolNet Namibia can be very proud of its ICT development efforts to date, the processes and paradigm shifts required for democratisation through ICTs in Namibia remain challenging.
When SchoolNet Namibia was launched early in 2000, the drive came from civil society, with considerable industrial and political clout. In 1999 there was a significant amount of lobbying done with key stake holders. Partnerships were formed with government, private sector, parastatals, other CSOs and international development agencies, resulting in the launch of SchoolNet by the Permanent Secretaries for Education and Information, respectively.
SchoolNet provides opportunities for out-of-school, unemployed youth to be exposed to global information, new ways of thinking and an ICT resource base which far exceeds what the formal education system has been able to provide; especially in under-served rural schools. The socio-political implications of this civil society initiative were carefully considered to determine whether access to the internet could be seen as a threat to the political fabric of the country and the conservatism of its education system. High-level political support was needed to endorse the SchoolNet programme and to set the parameters within which it should operate.
In order to aid democratisation processes in Namibia, SchoolNet should ideally remain a critical link between civil society and democratic government through innovative ICT integration programmes. We must continue to demonstrate how SchoolNet innovations can be translated into practice, and how these can be adapted to different social, economic and cultural contexts. We must also continue to demonstrate that our institutional performance with FLOSS provides for coherence among the various ICT policy sectors at work in Namibia.
I expect that SchoolNet innovations will help reshape educational and societal precepts and produce refreshingly different structural features to help drive educational democratisation processes.
While there are numerous democratisation initiatives which embody social activism to challenge dominant ideologies in Namibia and elsewhere, social transformation and empowerment opportunities through ICTs generally take a secondary position to more pressing economic, education and health issues.
Many civil society organisations have been enlisted by governments as an alternative to conventional public-sector development programmes. We must be careful that such attentions do not exhaust SchoolNet’s organisational resources taking on industry or sectorial responsibilities or ditching our transformative agenda as we are increasingly co-opted by market forces in economically lean times. Importantly, SchoolNet must remain active in its role to sensitise the state and industry to take more direct responsibility of ICT development in the disadvantaged schools of Namibia, in the context of their considerable civic obligation.
The SchoolNet model is driven by champions from different sectors, locally and internationally. SchoolNet continues to expand its sphere of influence by participating in local initiatives such as the ICT Alliance of Namibia13 (a public/private/civil society partnership), the ICT for Education Task Force, and the XNet Development Alliance Trust, which has SchoolNet and Telecom Namibia as founding members. The XNet Trust is unique in allowing members from Namibia’s civil society, business and public sectors to join and actively contribute to the development of Namibia’s knowledge economy, in line with Namibia’s Vision 2030’s goal of Universal Access for all. The XNet Trust has the founding President of Namibia as its patron and life member. The significant achievement of SchoolNet Namibia has been the way it has negotiated a convincing USO commitment for subsidised internet to schools by the tele-communications monopolies through XNet. Telecom Namibia has committed US$ 2.05 million to XNet; a matching commitment from MTC is presently being negotiated.
The symbiotic relationship with Telecom did not happen overnight. It was the result of protracted negotiations to rationalise a trade-off between a significant USO and the market growth potential of educated users of ICTs in previously under-served, rural areas of Namibia. It was eventually agreed that Telecom would provide wide-area wireless (‘wifi’) infrastructure, and subsidise internet access to schools, nation-wide, through XNet, with SchoolNet as the internet service provider.
Having earlier set up wifi internet for schools in north-central Namibia, using a spread-spectrum ISM frequency 2.4 gHz solution, we recognised that as more and more non-school users entered the 2.4 gHz arena, the spectrum could become difficult to manage. Accordingly, a dedicated wifi frequency, free from interference, was needed, and Telecom Namibia subsequently obtained a license from the regulator for the 2.6 gHz frequency band by XNet for nation-wide education sector use. The present 2.6gHz infrastructure provides wifi coverage of about 17,000 km2 in north-central Namibia, the capital city Windhoek, and a coastal town, Swakopmund. Wifi infrastructure will be deployed to other areas of Namibia on a demand-driven basis. SchoolNet continues to use 2.4gHz solutions for secure, localised school wifi hotspots.
The cost of internet connectivity is a serious barrier to open education in virtually every African country. For example, commercial dial-on-demand internet in Ghana costs US$ 55/month, not including underlying telecommunication costs; in Kenya such costs are US$ 30-40/month. In Namibia, the cheapest commercial dial-on-demand internet service costs US$ 15/month. Through XNet, SchoolNet formulated a strategy to minimise the costs of internet connectivity, making it affordable across the education sector in Namibia. This strategy has resulted in a standard flat-rate 24/7 internet access solution of US$ 25/month for schools, and free dial-on-demand internet access for educators, using SchoolNet’s national 0700 number with reduced telecom charges; an one-hour internet call, anywhere in Namibia, presently costs US$ 2.72.
Under the XNet agreement, Telecom Namibia (and other telecommunications providers) support SchoolNet’s connectivity service to all schools participating in the SchoolNet scheme, nation-wide. SchoolNet will manage the relations with schools, ensuring that schools which have access also have appropriate ICTs and skills to use them. SchoolNet’s own Internet Service capacity – a virtual private network – will eventually be transferred to the new XNet Trust. Provision is also made to subsidise those schools that cannot afford even the discounted rate, by a cross-subsidy scheme which encourages privileged schools and other educational centres to pay more if they can afford to do so.
SchoolNet remains a flexible entity, as it was developed along action-research lines, where emerging issues were dealt with as they arose, new ideas were tested and viable solutions found. Feedback mechanisms, including independent monitoring and evaluation, were put in place from the outset and have been maintained through ongoing discussions with the key informants from government, industry and international development agencies, who have a vested interest in securing the success of the programme. This strategy has been repeated in the formation of XNet.
Securing affordable open educational resources and freedoms
SchoolNet Namibia has a stellar position on the African continent with respect to FLOSS deployment in Education, and we have the capacity to localise (and decentralise) the assembly, maintenance, repair, training and support services for ICTs deployed to schools, nation-wide. SchoolNet Namibia has built a strategic implementation plan in line with Namibia’s ICT Policy for Education, and is a leader among SchoolNet initiatives across Africa.
Said candidly, we must continue to be highly agitated by the glaring realities in Namibia to drive effective and urgent implementation of the national ICT Policy for Education; 1640 schools, comprising 18,000 teachers and 600,000+ learners, of which 690 schools do not have electricity yet, and few schools have any library resources to speak of. HIV-AIDS is taking an alarming toll of educators, and teacher-absenteeism and male teenager dropout are on the increase.
We shall need some 72,000 computers to reach first world expectations of a 10:1 learner to computer ratio and a 1:1 teacher to computer ration in schools in Namibia. At this stage of ICT development in the Namibian education sector, fewer than 300 schools have any educational ICT integration capacities to speak of. Presently, most of these have FLOSS solutions and Internet access, provided by SchoolNet. Only some 50 (mostly privileged) schools use Microsoft applications; mostly without Internet access, and with growing concern about the extent to which many such schools have unauthorised copies of Microsoft and other third-party proprietary software.
While on a national per capita school basis (especially if calculated on the basis of electrified schools, n= 950) we probably have the best ICT development progress in education sectors in Africa to date, and more learners and teachers (again on a per capita basis) using the internet than anywhere else in Africa, it still boils down to fewer than 200,000 learners and 8,000 teachers empowered by ICTs in Namibia today. This reality shall clearly remain the substance of SchoolNet Namibia’s agitation today and in the future!
Focusing on schools with secondary grades, SchoolNet has deployed ICT solutions scaled to specifications and priorities set by the national ICT Policy for Education. Such ICT systems typically include a new Pentium IV (Intel-inside) server, between 5 and 20 refurbished thin-client diskless workstations (with new monitors, mice and keyboards) and an Uninterrupted Power Supply. These PCs are installed on SchoolNet’s innovative round tabletops, with network cabling, switch and internet service equipment ensuring that all computers have secure access to server-based software, applications and locally relevant educational content, as well as the Internet. Developed specially for the Namibian education sector by Direq International in collaboration with local and international pedagogues, SchoolNet Namibia’s tailor-made OpenLab solution provides Namibian schools with access to a wide range of educational resources.
The latest release of Direq OpenLab is awesome! Especially with a localised Wikipedia (meeting the demand for a FLOSS reference encyclopaedia), and some fantastic learner/learning management and examination tools to complement the existing educational resources. Literacy and numeracy applications, as well as an educational playground, provide an interactive resource base for teachers and learners from Grade 1-12. A typing tutor, Open Office suite and the latest Edsnet resources (produced by Namibia’s Institute for Educational Development) has been integrated to provide teachers with local curricular guidelines and syllabus resources. The Gutenberg Project provides access to several thousand popular copyleft textbook and classic literature resources in both text-printable and html formats. The teacher-oriented self-guided IT-literacy training modules (EDN) work without the need to go on the internet (Certification will shortly be available through SchoolNet South Africa and the University of KwaZulu Natal, SA).
Best practices guidelines, activity worksheets and lesson plans, developed by local Peace Corps volunteers and others, are available on our web site inclusive of materials for HIV/AIDS awareness. We also have our very first online local language Oshindonga and Oshikwanyama translation resource materials to add to our growing list of localised online materials.
SchoolNet has established a nation-wide programme to deploy affordable desktop computers running FLOSS to the education sector for home use, at entry level pricing of US$ 380, inclusive of free dial-on-demand internet access for educators. Launched earlier this year, demand for such home computers has increased, putatively linked to exposure to Hai Ti!, SchoolNet’s new paper- and web-based comic series.
While empowering youth with ICTs is relatively easy, we have to contend with the reality that state-paid educators (75% women!) remain prevalently resistant to ICTs, limited by an effective 30-hour workweek and 203 working-day year with very few locally relevant educational ICT resources at hand. At this stage of shifting ICT-ownership paradigms, operational strategies and methods of ICT empowerment of (mostly women!) educators in Namibia, we should like to encourage educators, learners and communities to embrace these ICTs in their lives – education, work and play. We would like them to appreciate the value of ICTs and the rich educational resources provided by this platform.
There are presently 350,000 effectively tech-savvy mobile phone users in Namibia; is it realistic to see as many home computer users in Namibia in the next five years? I believe so — conditional on the capital cost of such ICTs dropping to that of entry-level (US$ 100) mobile phones, and internet access becoming significantly more affordable, through deregulation of our monopolistic international broadband providers! How we tackle this challenge, starting with educators in Namibia, is the substance of SchoolNet innovations yet to come :-)!
SchoolNet Namibia has produced Hai Ti!, a launch comic-book and weekly one-page newspaper and web-based inserts with the help of Strikas Entertainment and Direq International. Hai Ti! (which means “listen up” in the Oshiwambo language of Namibia), was published under Creative Commons licensing, with the purpose of educating Namibian teachers and learners on ICTs.
Hai Ti! has had very positive feedback in Namibia since its launch in April 2005. Our present thinking around story boards for ICT integration in education identify simple and visually stimulating training messages providing ICT foundation and integration skills, civic and democratising lessons, overcoming existing language, cultural and economic barriers, using a central female cult-hero teaching Mathematics in an entertaining, educationally relevant and hopefully addictive way. The lessons are aimed at encouraging personal control over the ICT environment, comfort in the use of ICT services, trust in a professional SchoolNet service, and above all, build respect for the intelligence and ability of educators to use ICTs creatively!
I should like to see ICTs help uplift the social status of the teaching profession (a universal problem not limited to Namibia!). While we do have champion teachers out there, as well as inspired administrators, driving quality education in disadvantaged communities, we must find solutions that incentivise and reward such champions for their performance in improving educational outcomes. It is also high time that we pay closer attention to the fact that women are the purchasers of virtually everything; that women dominate education – in attendance, employment and graduation results – and the fact that more women than men are using the Internet today. Hence our emphasis on control, comfort, trust and respect, rather than male-oriented gimmickry!
We see excellent opportunity in Hai Ti! for branding opportunity for FLOSS, Creative Commons licensed content, as well as our corporate and international development sponsors, through embedded product placement, in different (possibly even serialised) multilingual media environments – we have access to national as well as satellite TV (TV One Africa, Multichoice and their global education partnerships), Radio and the Internet. There is also an exciting opportunity to partner with other regional newspapers in distribution of such materials.
SchoolNet’s Technical Service Centre, which opened at the Katutura Community Arts Centre in 2003 has refurbished thousands of computers with voluntary help of hundreds of out-of-school unemployed youth, and deployed these computers to schools and other educational clients countrywide. More than 1000 computers were refurbished and deployed in 2004 alone. These efforts were pivotal to the publication of the widely-acclaimed Bridges.Org Guide “How to set up and operate a successful computer refurbishment centre in Africa – planning and management guide”, the SchoolNet Africa online Technical Service Centre Managers’ Training programme and the African SchoolNet Toolkit.
SchoolNet’s toll-free telephonic help desk services, coupled with a locally developed copyleft help-desk tracking database have significantly improved SchoolNet’s operational capacity for troubleshooting, technical service and repair services in the past year. The database is proving to be a powerful monitoring and evaluation tool of the impact of ICTs on the education sector.
Training (with a large Namibian technical volunteer pool – some 63 young Namibians on our books this year, and many more being trained presently) providing support (help desk, toll-free telephonic support, and roving trainers and technicians). Training of trainers continues at a rapid pace, with volunteer trainers deployed to more than 40 schools in 2005, on a demand-driven basis. SchoolNet established a satellite workshop and training centre in Ondangwa, north-central Namibia, in 2004. By end-2005, we will have established technical service centres in Rundu and Gobabis, covering other regions with large numbers of remote, under-served schools. These decentralised service centres make local training and technical service support more cost effective and efficient. Since the majority of schools served by SchoolNet are in northern Namibia, centres such as in Ondangwa save teachers and learners the time and expense of travelling hundreds of kilometres to the capital city.
Given its track record to date, SchoolNet will continue to do ample justice to ICT development, using FLOSS and the Creative Commons, in education in Namibia in the years to come! Importantly, SchoolNet expects to effect achievement of a key development goal which is to “improve the preconditions for education and for the gathering of knowledge and participation in a democracy by the country’s youth through broadened horizons and a higher level of knowledge by using the possibilities of cheap and simple communication that ICTs offers.” Learners and teachers (mostly women!) in schools as well as young people (mostly women, as SchoolNet trainees and volunteers) are expected to broaden their horizons, learning new skills, and becoming better at information gathering as a result of SchoolNet Namibia’s efforts in the years to come.
In these contexts, I am hugely pleased that we have an ICT Policy for Education and an Implementation plan in the making. Positive marketing of FLOSS and its effectiveness, stability, content richness and affordability in education, is giving FLOSS a much higher public profile than ever before. I look forward to the day, sooner than later, that our government takes a firm stance, like increasingly more governments world wide, on the adoption of FLOSS in the public sector.
I should like to express my gratitude to the Hewlett Foundation for allowing me this opportunity to share some Namibian work face realities with you…..and paying homage to the young, bright, tech-savvy Namibians that make up the SchoolNet Namibia team!