The Case of SchoolNet Namibia/SchoolNet/Community-based

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Local Community-based Approach

SchoolNet grew in leaps and bounds to fill a vital niche in Namibia's educational development sector by creating a richly diverse framework of operation to make the internet sustainably accessible to school children in disadvantaged communities in Namibia.

Prior to the establishment of the ICT in Education policy initiative (recall TECH!NA[1]) it was generally a free for all. Used computer equipment was being donated to schools almost whimsically in the form of once-off "gifts" from generally well-meaning donors, who did not understand the context of the recipients. For example, a local mining company gifted bulky 2nd-hand photocopy machines to primary schools without electricity[2].

Fortunately, SchoolNet was then a key mediator / broker / vehicle for redistribution of donated PCs and other ICT equipment to schools and helped pre-empt and alleviate many of the problems.

From early on SchoolNet encouraged prospective donors to cover the substantial overheads of maintaining a viable and rewarding ICT experience at the schools receiving such used "gifts", explaining that one or two used standalone personal computers would probably do more damage than good at such schools receiving these PCs "voetstoets" (“as is”).

After some costly experiences of receiving quantities of unusable computers[3], donors were advised to pay particular attention to Namibia's Ministry of Education's framework which encourages direct engagement by foreign philanthropists with local ICT deployment experts based in Namibia. The framework also includes fairly stringent long-term cost of ownership models of support and service over three to five years.

After September 2006 (the TECH!NA launch) it became mandatory to gain the consent of the ICT for Education Steering Committee tasked with reviewing all donations of computers offered to schools. This mostly never happened.

Accordingly, driving a paradigm shift away from conventional donor equipment dumping, Schoolnet continued to solicit used PCs from (local corporate and international) donors right to the end, bundling them in the usual roll-out solutions which included a new server, network equipment, cabling and furniture, installation overheads and a contractual undertaking to provide internet access, training and technical service over a period of 3- 5 years at an agreed additional cost to the donor in question.

SchoolNet's "Kids on the Block" programme provided peer-to-peer training by young (17-23 year old) volunteers to learners and teachers at schools, as well as computer servicing, installation, back-up support and help desk services. Coupled with incentive mechanisms, children, teachers and schools were provided with the means to responsible (and sustainable) ownership of internet technologies through involvement in environmental and community service projects.

SchoolNet removed the dilemmas often faced by donor organisations with respect to requests for old computers by schools[4]. Most organisations do not have the time, means or capacity to refurbish old equipment, and cannot provide back-up service or support, often resulting in disappointment at the schools which cannot afford to have such old equipment serviced or maintained commercially.

SchoolNet Namibia filled this niche and was a driving force in creating a broad communal commitment to provide internet access points for all schools in Namibia.

  2. Some examples may be found in the archives of Joris Komen's blog:
  3. These effectively become e-waste. See for example on responsible recycling.
  4. Many ICT projects in Africa have been criticised on account of weak community involvement and lack of support and training for the recipients to be able to sustain the initiative. Without these ingredients, such projects are likely to fail and be judged as “equipment dumping”.