Appendix 7: Epilogue
This section captures the sentiments of SchoolNet Namibia's Executive Director after its dissolution.
SchoolNet Namibia's mission has been to empower Youth with Information and Communication Technologies, by mobilising resources, building effective partnerships and knowledge in promoting education through sustainable use of ICTs in Namibian schools.
SchoolNet Namibia has supported and promoted:
- the right of every Namibian child to have free and democratic access to education, information and knowledge
- affordable and sustainable ICT access for Namibian schools using Free/Libre and Open Source Software solutions
- the creation of locally developed, digitised and Creative Commons licensed education content
- Freedom of expression through any language of choice with Internet as the key medium of communication
- multi-stakeholder partnerships within a progressive and democratic developmental framework
- gender equality and women's empowerment
- UN Millennium Development Goals
- the ICT Policy of the Ministry of Education, enshrined in the Tech!Na initiative launched in 2006
- several drafts of the Communications Bill
In November 1999, local and international stakeholders gathered at the Ministry of Education resource centre in Windhoek, to collaborate in the launching of SchoolNet Namibia, established to expand Namibia-wide school networking and to accelerate the process of ICT deployment and the use of Internet at schools nationwide.
SchoolNet Namibia was constituted as a voluntary Association not for gain in February 2000, and a business plan was developed with the financial support of IDRC (Canada). This business plan was presented at the 'School Networking in Africa' workshop held in Okahandja in July 2000. The workshop was hosted by IDRC and SchoolNet Namibia in partnership with the then Ministry of Basic Education, Sport and Culture and the National Institute for Educational Development in Namibia. We remain proud of the fact that participants in this workshop agreed to the establishment of SchoolNet Africa and developed programming priorities and management structures for SchoolNet Africa based on the ideas and concepts shared by the stakeholders at this meeting.
In February 2000 SchoolNet Namibia opened its first office at the National Museum of Namibia in Windhoek, with an appointed Board of Governors, a Director, one Office Manager, some committed (not M$FT!) industry experts and the first (of many!) batch of 23 "kids on the block" volunteers from the Polytechnic of Namibia. In 2003 SchoolNet Namibia moved to the Katutura Community Arts Centre where it has served a huge community of learners and teachers with technical support, training opportunities and internet access to date.
At the peak of its achievements in early 2006, SchoolNet Namibia had a staff complement of some 23 highly dedicated young Namibians, leading the field in ICT development in education, reaching an estimated 150,000 Namibian learners and teachers with its open source technology solution and internet service, country-wide. Our staff has been whittled down to eleven staff members today.
SchoolNet Namibia is proud of its African, gender-responsive, end-to-end ICT service capacity and advocacy role. Over the years SchoolNet has successfully catalyzed a paradigm shift in the global perception of Free/Libre and Open Source software solutions and Open Educational Resources by demonstrating solutions in the field of ICTs in Education from which the rest of the world has learned, and replicated several of its innovations in places as far away as Tanzania, Trinidad & Tobago and Samoa. Our experiences have helped brace the development community in the face of the enormity of the challenges we face with Africa’s education sector - some 500 million children of school-going age in more than 600,000 schools on the continent!
Managing an organization of SchoolNet Namibia's scale, scope and diversity has been a hugely stimulating experience in the face of numerous obstacles in our way, chief of which remains the continued resistance of Namibia's government to accept the total cost of ownership implications of Free/LIbre and Open Source Software, an apparent mistrust of goods and services offered for "free" (i.e., Open Educational Resources!), and an apparent misunderstanding of universal service obligations to the education sector by State-owned telecommunications companies and energy providers!It remains a grim reality that some 806 schools, 50% of Namibia's schools, try to function without electricity and telecommunications!
Aligning government ICT and renewable energy development initiatives with liberating policies derived from the accumulated and localised learning and experiences of civil society organizations such as SchoolNet Namibia, is the one objective I personally will continue to strive towards in my ongoing advocacy role.
Indeed, it is ironic that this report comes a day after our Communications Bill, so long in the making, was finally promulgated by Parliament.
The past nine years of the life of Schoolnet Namibia has been a profound learning experience, consolidating a huge national network of schoolnet practitioners, learners, teachers, donors and policymakers, reaching thousands of learners and teachers, collaborating in the development of courseware and training of SchoolNet practitioners to manage our Technical Service Centres established in Ondangwa, Rundu, Windhoek and Gobabis, and promoting access to the internet at SchoolNet supported schools, libraries, education colleges and teacher resource centres, countrywide. The years of SchoolNet Namibia are rich with well-documented lessons and have paved the way for further innovative work in Namibia and further afield; openly sharing our knowledge thus gained has been a justly rewarded experience for all of us!
Accordingly, I express deep disappointment for the undeserved criticism of SchoolNet's technical support services to schools in Namibia, based on spurious allegations of poor performance by Ministry of Education (MoE) staff and their consorts at Xnet and the NETSS advisory committee, which resulted in an instruction to terminate our technical services to schools of Namibia in April 2009. Having chosen to ignore our appeal for reason, the MoE is effectively preventing us from henceforth carrying out projects of any nature at government schools in Namibia.
The internet 'service' we have provided of late, at Telecom Namibia's mercy, is a vestige of what was once an excellent virtual private network (VPN) for schools. This VPN was created and generously maintained by our excellent ISP network administrators (Madryn Cosburn, Uwe Thiem (deceased July 2008), Tim Priebe, Laurent Evrard, Steven Delport and others), with the understanding that MoE, Telecom Namibia and other communications sector stakeholders could eventually take ownership, through Xnet, as planned in the strategic stakeholder agreements signed by SchoolNet and other stakeholders through Tech!Na in September 2006.
We have, in effect, largely served as a buffer between increasingly irritated school clients and our upstream service providers; sheltering Telecom, MoE and Xnet staff from day-to-day technical call-out issues – directly related to the usual spectrum of upstream service provider problems – ignorance of mainstream operating systems such as Ubuntu, wide-area network infrastructure failings, poor signal strength, signal-sector saturation, poor connectivity on archaic infrastructure, bandwidth saturation, over-subscription and oversell, endless routing problems, and a failed billing system. Internet 'connectivity' is provided to schools by Telecom Namibia, exclusively using their infrastructure, and is thus, and has always been, outside of SchoolNet's direct control. Accordingly, it is wrong to blame SchoolNet for upstream service providers' failure to “connect, upgrade existing internet technologies and services at schools”, quoting Mr Ankama, the (former) permanent secretary of the MoE.
It was never intended to be solely SchoolNet's responsibility to provide sustainable internet connectivity services to schools and other educational institutions. This was recorded in the strategic framework of Tech!Na, signed by SchoolNet and other key stakeholders in September 2006. This position was subsequently reiterated to Xnet, Telecom and MoE officials at an Xnet meeting on 28 May 2008, where Lodewyk van Graan and I shared SchoolNet's strategic plans for 2008/2009 with them, providing a very gloomy prognosis for continued internet services by SchoolNet to schools in Namibia. XNet, MoE and Telecom subsequently failed to react to our proposals for sustainable internet connectivity services offered at this meeting, until we received our service termination order from MoE in April 2009.
Given the circumstances, we do welcome the MoE motion to take direct ownership of the internet access services and all the related computer and peripheral equipment at the schools deployed and served by SchoolNet to date, with internet access at these schools provided directly by Telecom Namibia through Xnet. To this end, we have advised government schools, thus affected countrywide, to follow up these new internet services with staff of MoE and Xnet. It is my understanding that several schools have been given encouraging promises of internet access by them since April 2009. At N$ 300 / month, not including on-site technical service support.
We have informed schools of their options concerning our (continued) technical service support for the Free/Libre and Open Source Software computer systems which have been maintained by SchoolNet at these schools until now. We will attempt, at cost, to continue helping schools on request, until such time an alternative technical service solution is properly in place, making our existing services to these schools redundant. Judging from progress by MoE in this regard to date, I envisage schools will still require our technical service support for considerable time to come.
Inasmuch, I remain highly critical of the MoE IT department and XNet's failure to meet our reasonable expectations of ICT deployment, training, internet connectivity and, most critically, nationwide capacity to provide affordable and sustainable technical service support to schools equipped with ICTs. Especially those schools equipped with Free/Libre and Open Source Software solutions by SchoolNet.
Being banned from attending and participating in MoE-led ICT steering committee meetings will obviously not prevent me from being vocally critical of MoE staff incompetencies. However, while the boundaries between my persona and that of SchoolNet are often quite blurred, the organisation SchoolNet Namibia and its board of Trustees, staff, voluntary ICT trainers and technicians, per sé, should not be held accountable for my personal views and opinions.
As tatejoris I have written several very public opinion pieces about several ICT development issues, local and international, while others remained silent. This is one of my fundamental roles as a social activist and member of civil society.
Since we have effectively been banned from providing any services to government schools in Namibia, we are no longer able to complete the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID) funded solar energy and Virtual Private Network project in Okongo, as originally motivated and planned, in partnership with the Ministry of Education and other local and international stakeholders. Several additional complications make it unrealistic for us to continue with this project, given the proximity of the project closure date, and the strong likelihood that a “no-cost” extension, subject to approval by AECID, to the end of this year will not be sufficient time to help us complete our assignment. SchoolNet's international project consultants, Alberto Pascual and Louise Berthilson, are locked into contractual obligations to Wireless Africa projects elsewhere in Africa. Furthermore, we have been unable to obtain any realistic quotations and pricing for the engineering work required to erect 20m radio-masts at schools in the Okongo area. The Ministry of Information Communication and Technology (MICT) had also imposed a moratorium on all license applications for radio communication frequencies until after the Communications Bill was promulgated. This means that our proposed use of wireless equipment in the ISM 2.4 gHz radio communication frequency cannot legally be carried out until such license approval is granted; this process could still take many months!
We are trying to ensure that our FLOSS and renewable energy advocacy role is not entirely forgotten in Namibia, given the frank possibility of SchoolNet Namibia winding down its business in the next few months. Since SchoolNet has fallen out of favour with Ministry of Education and (mostly!) Microsoft-backed ICT industry in Namibia, it would be ill-advised to continue to use SchoolNet as the primary voice for FLOSS advocacy, training and technical support, going forward. While we have a Linux User Group and a LinuxChix chapter in Namibia; both appear to have lost some momentum in the past year or so, but I am hoping that they may yet serve as recipient like-minded organisations to take direct ownership of our FLOSS advocacy and marketing role in Namibia. Given a formal proposal, SchoolNet Namibia is open to providing skilled human resources, capital equipment, mechanisms, technology, infrastructure, office space, seed finance, marketing strategies and FLOSS projects to consider.
I have been at the helm of SchoolNet since 1999. I feel strongly that it is healthy for an organisation to have new leadership from time to time, to introduce new ideas and to bring in a younger, more energetic person to lead this organisation or a like-minded substitute to new heights. My work has involved a huge amount of management and administration, to the detriment of the advocacy and academic work which I would like to pursue in a wider sphere of influence. I do not wish to leave the ICT and renewable energy development sectors, but would like to continue working here on projects and programmes in a supportive, advisory capacity. In this respect we are not under any time pressure to hasten the process of inevitable change; aimed at further strengthening and building the capacity of these key development sectors. There will be plenty of time to ensure that there is a very careful and stable transition, and I expect to remain involved in a 'lurking' supportive role for considerable time to come.
I would like to convey my sincere thanks to all the board, staff, volunteers and supporters of SchoolNet, wherever they may be located today. The past nine years of SchoolNet Namibia are rich with well-documented lessons and creativity, and have paved the way for further innovative work in Namibia and further afield. It is unfortunately now time for closure on a great chapter in the history of ICT development in Namibia's education sector.
Joris Komen, 17 July 2009
- From: http://schoolnet.na/news/stories/snetclosure.html extracted from outgoing Director's Report 2009. See also: http://tatejoris.blogspot.com/2009/11/schoolnet-namibia-is-officially.html.