Remote and Poorly Resourced Schools. Communities in remote rural areas are at the lower end of income distribution and cannot easily afford to put in place pre-requisites for internet access in schools.
When SchoolNet Namibia started in February 2000, only 50% of the 1520 or so primary and secondary schools in the country had telephones, and a significant number also lacked electricity, library resource centres and appropriate ablution facilities. Of these 1000+ were regarded as “disadvantaged” schools, and only 292 offered secondary education (grade 8 and upward). With 583,000 learners and 17,000+ teachers, only about 200 (mostly privileged) schools had (basic) access to the internet. SchoolNet Namibia aspired to ICT-enable all the schools in Namibia. Supply and maintenance challenges were compounded by distances and accessibility of remote rural schools where there was also a lack of local ICT skills.
While SchoolNet Namibia was pushing the boundaries of innovation for ICT in education in Africa early this century, the Ministry of Education was very conservative, seeming to suggest that the software in the labs should include just an operating system with an office suite and some sort of browser. E-mail was deemed a security risk on account of viruses and, in a proprietary software context, without e-mail, the need for anti-spam, anti-virus and other (costly!) protective software would be reduced. On the other hand, the need for software to restrict what learners could do was expressed to keep them from breaking things.
The assumption seemed to be that exposing learners to computers with ICT literacy programmes (e.g. ICDL) would be sufficient to inspire them to do a three-year secondary level ICT literacy course, or become programmers, systems administrators or take an interest in other technology professions.
Seizing the educational opportunities emerging with the libre knowledge and open education movements seemed not to be on their agenda. For SchoolNet Namibia, it was. Bandwidth limitations necessitated the inclusion of learning resources for local access (i.e. from a server in the lab.).
The idea of providing only basic “clickety-click” resources for teachers to formally transfer knowledge about computer literacy to learners did not sit well with SchoolNet Namibia, and was a source of conflict with the formal education sector. SchoolNet's way of dealing with the impasse was to be somewhat “subversive” (in a positive way) and slip in educationally useful resources and then say “Oh, and by the way, you also have these excellent learning resources … (e.g. WikiLite, PhET, etc.)”.
Notwithstanding their differences, the Ministry of Education was delighted that technology was finding its way into the schools and could not ignore the recognition SchoolNet Namibia was gaining internationally.
The challenge of changing mindsets in this regard was required at all levels, from learners and teachers to national and international education organisations and donors. See Advocacy below.
There are less progressive but very powerful entities in the media and software industries who oppose this changing of mindsets for commercial reasons. One of their tactics is to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD). On account of their long standing dominance in the market and the associated mindsets, the tactic is very effective, as it is simply reinforcing entrenched practices and concepts.
One of these concepts is “intellectual property”, a term to avoid. The idea of “property” is core to our legal system and associated with common notions of human rights. It is also an easy concept to grasp and prone to analogies, which may be taken too far.
Free software, open education and libre knowledge are challenging the notion “property” being applied to digital resources which are non-rivalrous. Arguments at this conceptual level seldom elicit intent to change. They lead to deeper discussions which confirm the need for change; but that would mean rethinking our legal systems in the areas of copyright, patents, trade marks and other areas. The GNU General Public License, the Creative Commons licenses and others were developed as alternatives that could work within the existing legal system, enabling resources to be copied, adapted and shared freely without permission. With the legal framework in place, libre knowledge, open education and a free internet culture are possible, and the argument becomes more pragmatic.
The types of statements one often hears to spread FUD usually relate to the security, reliability, and usability of software, and the quality of peer produced knowledge resources. The statements seem plausible to the uninformed, but are easily refuted by facts and/or experience. SchoolNet Namibia counters FUD through experience-based policy-directed advocacy to educate citizens and safe-guard their freedom to innovate and participate equitably in the global knowledge society.
In Africa, and most of the developing world, bandwidth is either non-existent or limited (i.e. in terms of kilobits per person), and expensive in comparison with international rates. Taking into account per capita income levels, for most people in “developing” countries, accessing the internet on a regular basis is not affordable. Even for the few who can afford it, quality of service issues (which did in fact surface in Namibia) can detract from the experience. A plan was needed that would be viable for all schools in Namibia, including the most remote and least resourced.
In most countries, sending communications signals over government property requires permission from a national authority. Certain broadcasting activities need to be controlled or supervised and content monitored, etc.. Uses of ranges of frequency spectra need to be planned, managed and co-ordinated. In Namibia these functions are performed by the Namibian Communications Commission (NCC). SchoolNet would have to enable internet access within the parameters set by the NCC and negotiate terms with the national telecommunications operator (Telecom); or, effect changes in the regulations.
- See for example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gini_coefficient (Namibia > 0.60)
- http://schoolnet.na/about/history.html (20/9/10)
- See http://www.positivedeviance.org/
- Wikipedia's broader definition explains: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fear,_uncertainty_and_doubt
- See http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/not-ipr.html for an explanation.
- Though threats may be growing. See http://fcforum.net/ and http://wikieducator.org/Say_Libre.