An invitation to think about what we know and what we believe
Peter Weber wrote in his book " The Success of Open Source ", that
"property in open source is configured fundamentally around the right to distribute, not the right to exclude. If that sentence feels awkward on first reading, that is a testimony to just how deeply embedded ... the exclusion view of property really is."
Last year I rationalised SchoolNet Namibia’s destiny on the basis of a significant localised collection of innovations in ICTs in education - ranging from exciting new free/libre and open source software called OpenLab to an internationally acclaimed and award-winning educational comic called Hai Ti! While SchoolNet Namibia can be very proud of its ICT development efforts to date, as rightly reported by our Chairperson, the processes and paradigm shifts required for democratisation through ICTs in Namibia remain challenging. More so than ever before.
When I began to think about free/libre and open source software (FLOSS) many years ago, I had to convince just about everyone I talked to, outside of a very small technology community, that this represented a very real opportunity to challenge vendor-locked drop -‘n - run ICT development models and something worth pursuing in the education sector.
In spite of the fact that our total cost of ownership model clearly leads the way as result of our use of FLOSS and appropriate technologies, I'm sorry to say that I still have to make this case to Government officials and Donor staff who remain obstinately reticent in their vendor-locked comfort zone, sitting on the fence with painfully noncommittal diplomacy, likely using expired copies of proprietary software to write policy papers, tender documents and clickety-click textbooks. This clearly means that SchoolNet’s advocacy role in the liberation of the education sector with FLOSS and universal access to the internet, is not over yet; not by a long shot!
In 2005, SchoolNet Namibia became pivotal in providing structured, experiential help to Namibia's Ministry of Education and other countries to locate their ICT initiatives and plans within a generic process template of good practice in relation to integrating Information and Communications Technologies into the education system. As a result of these engagements, Namibia is probably more advanced than any other African country in being able to determine its current progress with ICT integration and to plan and cost its next steps. SchoolNet Namibia has been intent on providing valuable tools that will help Namibia and other countries to determine future strategies in terms of ICT integration, how they will get there, and the critical decisions that will determine what ICT integration will involve in the education sector of each country.
While on a national per capita school basis (especially if calculated on the basis of electrified schools) SchoolNet Namibia probably has 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.
In general, many of the issues and challenges associated with ICTs in education initiatives are known by the policy makers, donors and educators. However, data on the nature and extent of these challenges remain limited because of the lack of monitoring and evaluation tools and methodologies dealing with the use of ICTs in schools and their impact on teaching and learning. We urgently need to develop the local expertise and tools to undertake such work, to avoid the risk of having even more costly foreign development expertise swamp the nature of our business.
SchoolNet Namibia has grown to what it has achieved today - a national end-to-end ICT service provider to the education sector of Namibia - on the back of a fiercely defended (and oft' frequently criticised) principle of free/libre and open source software and creative commons licensed educational content as an implicit universal service obligation to the education sector.
SchoolNet Namibia has spent five years building local capacity to deliver ICTs to Namibia's education sector, on a NATION-WIDE basis; this has seen SchoolNet Namibia reach an unprecedented number of schools, teacher colleges, resource centres and other instances in Namibia. This has largely come by its own volition, coupled with a volumes of local energy and expertise invested to make SchoolNet Namibia a hugely successful end-to-end ICT service provider, in Namibia, on a NATION-WIDE scale of operation. Yes, we did, indeed, convincingly secure very generous bilateral financial support to make this possible; based on faith in our free and open source software and content solution!
Which SchoolNets in Africa (and further afield!) can lay claim to being engaged with local (and international) stake holders in their respective countries to deliver and service ICTs to their education sectors on a NATION-WIDE scale of deployment?
Which SchoolNets in Africa (and further afield!) have developed a national toll-free help desk and technical service solution to provide end-to-end technical service to ALL schools, NATION-WIDE?
Which SchoolNets in Africa (and further afield!) have engaged their governments and monopolistic telecommunication providers to ensure that ALL schools, NATION-WIDE, have access to unlimited volume, 24/7 flat-rate internet services at N$ 165/month ?
Bottom-line: Which SchoolNets in Africa (and further afield!) have deployed FLOSS in a meaningful and affordable total cost of ownership model?
SchoolNet Namibia says it all!
Our future as a civil society organisation lies in ensuring equality and equitable access to Open Educational Resources, on the basis of our experiences and remaining dynamic in shaping contingent futures on the back of emerging technologies.
I should like to express my sincere gratitude to the board of Trustees for allowing such creative licence to flourish in hands of the young, bright, tech-savvy Namibians that make up the SchoolNet Namibia team! I am very proud to be part of this team as we look to new and diverse horizons in 2006 and beyond.
16th June 2006