Linux Key to IT Education and Development in Africa
by Mark Rais
Why propose technology education in Africa? The outsider mentality is that much of Africa is an untamed realm of economic depression and social disintegration. Few venture capitalists identify Africa as a location for growth or gain.
But to those knowledgeable enough to identify the major shift that is occurring on the African continent, the opportunity to now make a productive impact for the future is immeasurable.
Political unrest and economic and social issues make the news headlines. However, the unique stabilization of many African nations, an emphasis on infrastructure, with many countries now investing heavily, and technology advances combine to form a core principle.
Key African nations are ready to break free from centuries of socio/political struggles to begin revitalization.
For those who have a heart to see revitalization progress, this is the time to seize the moment and participate in helping these nations. The effect will benefit generations to come.
There is no better platform to help revitalize Africa than through technological empowerment. Technology can empower Africans to take hold of their economic and social future. To do so requires giving them the tools and the autonomy to move ahead.
Africa is being readied for a major change. The fulcrum for change is technology.
Africa: A Unique Landscape
Something very unusual is occurring in Africa and it is vital that those committed to humanitarian assistance and revitalization participate.
Africa is a place where two distinct worlds meet; centuries of tradition meeting the ultra modern. Technological training can beneficially influence the work and effort of organizations and educational institutions in these nations.
Today, new technology is arriving at Africa's doorstep en mass. In many nations the often vulnerable world of wired is meeting the wireless. Africa is a continent where farmers can be seen tending their herds while using cell phones to communicate. Africa is a place where students learn server technology so they can find technology jobs in Europe and other regions, and Linux has become synonymous for opportunities in the server engineering roles. It is also a place where major computer hardware vendors have setup shop and availability of business infrastructure is now a comprehensive reality in most cities.
Benefits of Information Technology Education
There are many examples of how access to information technology training has strengthened a community, created new economic programs, and influenced future leaders. From my personal experiences, helping with YMCA and other organizations, OpenSource solutions including Linux are making a substantive impact.
In South Africa, the technology tycoon Mr. Shuttleworth (www.shuttleworthfoundation.org) established a foundation that has successfully brought computer training labs to over 80 schools. The positive impact this has on children and their future development and ability to influence is incalculable.
Consider this. In India, ten years ago, Information Technology was a unique word only for a select few. Today, India is the leading IT exporter on earth. The unique industry and growth has granted India's industry billions of new dollars. Imagine now the same powerful platform granted in the hands of the world's many needy in Africa. The paradigm shift and massive growth in India as well as in Dublin, Ireland began with one simple concept: train a handful of individuals who in turn will train others or begin their own technology ventures.
With such an example in mind, the numerous OpenSource experts should consider one question. What are the overt benefits of beginning a prototype Information Technology lab in an African nation?
Establishes a platform for gifted teachers and talented individuals from other nations to infuse that experience and knowledge to Africans.
Fosters the development of micro-businesses, empowering the local people with new tools to run existing organizations, and encouraging vital relationships.
The plan may include:
Establishing prototype training labs that teach computer skills for business application.
Creating a mechanism for new investments to be made for a specific community.
Fostering skill development in people to break the economic divide.
Influencing the next generation of African workers and leaders.
The first and most important aspect of developing information technology training in a nation is to establish a strong and mutually beneficial relationship with an existing organization or the regional government.
Many nations have already established a number of avenues for organizations to develop this relationship.
Relationship with leaders will enable rapid identification of the most opportune location for a prototype training lab, ease the working relationship with local leaders and help develop a clear structure for funding future projects.
The stages of such a prototype development would be:
Key persons travel to the region and interact with national leadership.
Funding groups are identified and included in the process.
Location for a prototype lab is identified and all necessary paperwork addressed.
A systematic approach is used to create the physical lab facility. This includes placing theft deterrent devices, constructing the tables.
Bringing the necessary computer technology to the location and installing it.
Developing an initial curriculum based on a prototype group from the region.
Promoting the success of the initial lab for funding the next lab.
Key Factor for Success
Almost everyone who agrees that technology training would benefit African society, also presumes that success is predicated upon significant funding.
However, in recent years the advent of a new technology ensures that the start up costs for such a training facility are far lower than ever before.
OpenSource technology, a term for the development of software that is free and open to the world, is the key factor. Where in the past for every computer you also needed to pay for software licensing and maintenance, the new model removes licensing costs and reduces maintenance.
The core ingredient is Linux. This is a free computer operating system, similar to Microsoft Windows but available in a unique way as OpenSource. That means that the code and its use are not dictated by anyone, and that it is a tool of maximum flexibility for African nations.
Most importantly, one
single reasonably new computer using Linux can serve as many as fifty
workstations. Details regarding establishing a Linux Lab are included
this article on Reallylinux.com.
The workstations themselves can be extremely antiquated personal computers, often donated, or purchased for very low price. Since the "brain" or power of the computer lab comes from the single server, costs for the workstations are minimal. More importantly, there are no fees for software.
You can add additional workstations without paying any additional costs in terms of initial software fees, maintenance and upgrade fees, or scaling (buying additional licenses for more systems).
For the first time in history of technology, the power of today's computers combined with the OpenSource software result in solutions that apply directly to Africa's situation and needs.
Most importantly, this new paradigm also frees organizations from focusing on the economics of a plan. Instead, they are freed to concentrate on using their resources for encouraging growth. It is also a plan that grants all authority and autonomy to the people.
Finally, the methods described have already been well implemented in other nations.
These methods can ensure that today's generation have far more opportunity and empowerment to impact Africa and the world for good.
Mark Rais serves as a Linux integration consultant and is Sr. Editor for reallylinux.com. He also authored the book Linux for the Rest of Us 2nd Edition and has written a number of articles including Linux in the Classroom, Moving to Linux, Killing the Five Myths Against Linux and others.
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