The Case of SchoolNet Namibia/Introduction
SchoolNet Namibia is renowned for its achievements with free software and internet enablement in schools during the last decade (2000-2009). During its first few years SchoolNet Namibia won the prestigious Gecko Stone Award for its marketing campaign "Youth empowerment through Internet", the APC/UNECA Nancy Hafkin Communication Prize and the Global Junior Challenge Website Incubator competition with its "HIV-AIDS in Katutura" Website. SchoolNet launched an ISP, set up computer laboratories in close to 500 schools and connected them to the internet.
Some of the schools are situated in remote rural and disadvantaged areas, and at the time were without telephone lines and power. SchoolNet pioneered innovative approaches in such conditions using free software, refurbished computers, trained local volunteer support, solar power and various wireless technologies to produce a proven affordable and solution.
The innovative solutions and services were appropriate and viable at the time given the technologies at hand and resources that could be made available at the schools. Costs were reduced by sourcing used computers opportunistically from donors and others at low cost. These were refurbished if necessary and set up with free/libre operating systems and software applications. Subsidised internet access was arranged through service providers and funders. Local volunteers were trained to provide basic ICT support so schools would not have to pay the high rates of professional support from afar.
The approaches used by SchoolNet Namibia have relevance beyond computers and internet connectivity in schools. For example, local area networks for small businesses may be set up using the same technologies, and their community based capacity building is exemplary for ICT4D projects.
SchoolNet's impact on ICT in education has been significant on account of its network in the public sector, the ICT sector and in all levels of education. By being highly visible and showcasing their achievements, SchoolNet has inspired free software in schools initiatives beyond Namibia and has influenced policy for ICT in education.
SchoolNet has also played a role in addressing the ICT skills shortages in Namibia. Many individuals who have been involved as learners or trained SchoolNet technicians etc. have since found work in the ICT sector in Namibia. The generic computer skills transferred through SchoolNet laboratories are being used in everyday work (in the schools and elsewhere) and serve as useful additions to anyone's CV.
The case study outlines how SchoolNet Namibia came about and touches on how it came to an end. But most importantly, it outlines SchoolNet's activities and approaches during its life cycle (2000-2009), and shows how free software and freedom to innovate enabled its successes.