The Case of SchoolNet Namibia/Future
SchoolNet has closed but its legacy lives on as do its supporters. Some will be absorbed into the new dispensation with NETSS and partners, others will find opportunities elsewhere building on their experience. Lest they forget, this section reflects on some of the things that could have been done had SchoolNet continued, and directions for advancing the cause of free software in education elsewhere. Three areas of focus are presented: activities to continue, advocacy and learning resources.
Activities to Continue
If SchoolNet Namibia were to continue, the following objectives would have been high on the agenda:
- Continued involvement at ICT and education policy levels in Namibia and internationally
- Stressing the demonstrated value of free software and libre knowledge for digital inclusion.
- Pointing out the ethical, educational and social implications of the blunder of deploying non-free software and restricted learning resources in schools.
- Encouraging the Ministry of Education to sort out the inequalities in terms of telecommunications, power, basic infrastructure and other resources in schools across the country.
- With these in place, citizens will be able to participate in helping Namibia meet its Millennium Development Goals and be part of the global knowledge society.
- Promoting 4th generation human rights which concern freedom and equality for all internet users in terms of such things as being able to connect with any device, symmetrical connections or reasonable download/upload ratio, with respect for privacy and other rights.
- Peer production and localisation of existing and new locally appropriate learning resources. This is the greatest opportunity for education in Namibia and the developing world. The best of breed software for doing this is free software, mature, available and continually evolving.
- Technology independence: permit a variety of free operating systems, use and develop applications that are not tied to any distribution, and that will render on any device.
- Service independence to stimulate a degree of local co-opetition.
“Only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honour.” (Matthew 13:57)
Having one's voice heard is one of the first challenges faced by evangelists of any approach, especially if it involves ICT. The director of SchoolNet Namibia is an evangelist of note for the free software, free culture and libre knowledge, particularly as these pertain to education.
With the closure of SchoolNet Namibia, one wonders whether some of the key stakeholders really “got it”.
I still think that our play with the monopolies model, getting them to subsidise flat rates for internet access for schools in Namibia was completely understated. Completely misunderstood by even the monopoly in Namibia - to really say “look at what we have done in Namibia”. It is the most glaringly obvious thing to do when there are monopolies. Has anyone else embraced it? Has Telecom bothered to really show off this amazing story? … No.
Only through the networks I have been involved with (e.g. FOSSFA, CAN, ISPAN, Russell Southwood's wireless the broadband internet sub-committee, etc.) has my voice has been heard.
It is important to target one's advocacy efforts carefully and not waste time on deaf ears or preaching to the converted unnecessarily. Convince the right people in the right places and a real difference can be made. They become co-advocates and act for the cause.
Many visionaries notice that it can take years before their target audience do “get it”, often forgetting where it came from and claiming the idea as their own.
If I can change mind sets, well and good. If they embrace 90% and claim the ideas as their own, that is fine too. Let's take those ideas and see if they work in the Carribean [etc.].
I have spent a lot of time outside SchoolNet promoting free/libre software, and in the end, my voice will be heard, and there is a legacy: publications by the Commonwealth of Learning, IDRC, SchoolNet Africa, the Million PC Campaign, etc..
There is a legacy of experience-based learning about ICT in education in Namibia skattered around the internet.
SchoolNet has closed but it wont be struck off the map by anything that supersedes it.
I will always be concerned with the question of “what if we don't get the bandwidth NOW?” and determining what we still have to do to get those resources (software, content, …) and communicate with our clients: school children, learners and teachers.
I love the idea of 600,000 schools being internet-enable through NEPAD. But realistically, changing the mind sets of governments, funders and development agencies is not going to happen quickly. We need to come up with some other innovation.
Advocacy for free software in education will continue and the legacy of SchoolNet Namibia provides a workable (at least in Namibia) experience-based model for free software and ICT in schools. The principles and ethical rationale for free software in education (and in general) are readily available on the internet. This case study backs up the ethical approach with a pragmatic model for decentralised deployment of hardware, connectivity, free software and learning resources, training and local support for schools.
Readers are encouraged to spread the word and learn more using this case study and the resources provided in the appendix on further reading.
There is an intention to gather up SchoolNet-produced learning resources and release them under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license on WikiEducator and/or other similar repositories where possible. This will allow the resources to take on a life of their own in relative freedom. For example, it is hoped that the beginners' language courses will be enhanced and used as a basis for similar courses on other languages.
One resource with particular potential is Hai Ti! Director's take:
We see excellent opportunity in Hai Ti! as a 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 (One Africa Television, Multichoice and their global education partnerships), radio and the internet. There is also an exciting opportunity to partner with other regional newspapers in the distribution of such materials.
One of the suggestions is to formalise some of the learning activities and offer certification. For example, certification was to be established (by SchoolNet South Africa and the University of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa) for the teacher-oriented self-guided IT-literacy training modules (EDN).
Most important for knowledge resources in general, in the developing world, is to empower people to be able to peer-produce their own libre resources using free software. This will enable equality, freedom and digital inclusion at all levels, as pro-active contributors in the global knowledge society.
- See http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2006/09/04/fourth-generation-human-rights.html for preliminary ideas on this topic.
- See http://wikieducator.org/Barcelona_Charter_for_Innovation_Creativity_and_Access_to_Knowledge_-_Libre_Interpretation for background on some of the issues.
- See http://wikieducator.org/Oshikwanyama and http://wikieducator.org/Oshindonga.
- See http://wikieducator.org/Say_Libre for more on this perspective.