The Case of SchoolNet Namibia/Operations/Approach

From WikiEducator
Jump to: navigation, search


Although SchoolNet Namibia's vision/mission was simply stated as “Youth empowerment through Internet”, the organisation's operations were fairly complex as it opportunistically found ways to survive, expand and rise to the challenges of ICT-enabling schools ranging from remote and disadvantaged to well resourced schools closer to Windhoek. Over time, technologies change and local contexts change. SchoolNet Namibia needed to be fairly agile and adapt with the times.

The scale and diversity of the organisation's operations is also significant: planning and setting up computer laboratories, procurement, serving hundreds of schools (technical support, training, help desk, ...), managing technical service centres, providing power and various appropriate wireless solutions, fund-raising, facilitating community project execution, networking, collaboration on technology development, etc.

Rather than attempt to describe a consistent methodology which spans 10 years in changing times, this section focuses on some of the core activities of SchoolNet Namibia and reflects on the associated services (see Section 3.6 above) to give an idea of how the organisation went about its business.

Governance Structure

The Director was appointed by the Board of the SchoolNet Educational Trust (the primary legal entity, established in July 2001). Board members, drawn from a variety of organisations and sectors, served in their personal capacities[1].

SchoolNet Namibia Operational Organogram

Board of Governors/
Financial Committee
Executive Committee
Bursary Awards Committee
Technical Advisory Team
Executive Director
Financial Manager
Administrative Manager
Technical Manager (ISP, wireless
Technical Manager (Installations)
Technical Manager (Training & HelpDesk)

Website Project Coordinator
Human Resources Manager
Administration Assistants
Training assistants

Core Team

The SchoolNet Namibia team grew to 23 people whose roles are indicated in the table below. The team was supported by a succession of volunteers trained to service and deploy computers in the schools. The team was led by the Executive Director, Joris Komen, a charismatic, dynamic and outspoken activist, passionate about free software, libre learning resources and their implications for education and society in general. He led the team with vibrant enthusiasm which infected all the staff.

Core team roles and responsibilities include:
  • Executive Director
    • Fund raising, creating partnerships, liaising with stakeholders and overseeing the general operation of SchoolNet initiatives
  • Bookkeeper
    • Manage the revenues and assets of SchoolNet
  • Purchasing Manager
    • Offer quotations to schools, oversee equipment sales and delivery. Administer equipment purchasing requests and needs from SchoolNet administrative and technical staff.
  • Network administrator
    • Plan network infrastucture and systems upgrades to ensure that the organisation kept pace with the growth in clients population and was able to provide an efficient service at any given time.
  • Workshop manager
    • Maintain the workshop and the roll-outs of computers at schools.
  • Office Administration & Assistance & Help Desk
    • Answer phones, file documents, data entry and record keeping, assist SchoolNet volunteers in obtaining information and records, assist the Purchasing Manager and with troubleshooting at SchoolNet's helpdesk (solve problems with networking, OS and application software).
  • School Technicians (x9)
    • Install and upgrade school systems as required to ensure that the organisation was able to improve its service. Maintain the school local area network and ensure that the school system was up and running.
  • System Refurbishment/Trainer (x9)
    • Refurbish donated computers and install the necessary software with the help of the "Kids on the Block" trainees. Go out to schools to give classes in computer skills.
  • Web Developer
    • Maintenance of the SchoolNet website, the development of online activities, games and events. Co-ordinator of Namibian entries to the ThinkQuest Africa website competition.

Free Software

Free software, central to SchoolNet Namibia's model, was used primarily for the following reasons[2]:

  1. Long Term Cost of Ownership: donated machines do not always come with valid software licenses which may be transferred to learners or the school. The machines are usually at least three years old and free software operating systems, being less resource-intense, run more efficiently. The machines do not become obsolete as quickly on account of software upgrades. The need to pay for virus protection software on a regular basis disappears (not to mention the costs and inconvenience of successful attacks). Government resources for education are more likely to go towards infrastructure and books than software and other ICT requirements.
  2. Software requirements are met with free software, either immediately (e.g. for office/productivity applications, web browsers, e-mail clients, graphics manipulation, and a host of educational applications), or can be developed easily. For example, SchoolNet Namibia collaborated with DireqLearn on extending OpenLab[3] with relevant features for schools and thin client[4] PC laboratories.
  3. Centralised software updates to all servers of thin client systems may be performed by SchoolNet Namibia (or by any of the system administrators at the schools) whenever required - consistently across all servers and transparently to the users. Upgrades on each client PC in each lab are not required.
  4. Hardware Support: with GNU/Linux thin clients hardware support becomes almost negligible. There is only one hard drive (the only moving-parts component) in each PC laboratory, and hence a much lower risk of hardware failure.
  5. Desktop/client management (and user level access control) of thin clients and GNU/Linux systems is simpler. Customisations of the system and applications may be user-specific rather than affecting the next user (and all users) of the machine. Fewer checks of such issues are required and they can be dealt with as they arise with particular users. The risk of inadvertently affecting the experience of other users is low.
  6. Lower power consumption: with no moving parts on the client machines, their power consumption was very low. A single system uses about 30W (7W for the computer and the rest for the flat screen monitor). This translates to significant power savings during the course of a year. In Namibia power is pre-paid via coupons which people queue for!
  7. Generic computer training can be offered to staff and learners at the schools. A wide range of software is available as well as alternatives enabling learning and application of generic principles and versatility, rather than training on specific software packages associated with one vendor/company.

  1. Ballantyne, P. 2004. Evaluation of Swedish Support to SchoolNet Namibia. Report to Sida. Available via Sida publications:
  2. Based on experiences in SchoolNet labs described by: Kathy Anne Chaffe, PCV, Namibia, 2003-2004: (20/9/10) - one of the most erudite reflections on the SchoolNet vs proprietary commercial services.
  3. OpenLab is now called DireqOpenLab and is still featured on DireqLearn's web site:
  4. At the time, there were no suitable proprietary thin client options.