[IAEP] [Edu-sig] Free Software in Africa

Edward Cherlin echerlin at gmail.com
Wed Jul 23 19:10:36 EDT 2008

On Wed, Jul 23, 2008 at 2:33 PM, kirby urner <kirby.urner at gmail.com> wrote:
> Here's another "as it happens" for the archive, taking in a talk on
> Creating and Supporting Free Software in Africa by Prof Derek Keats,
> University of the Western Cape (UWC), South Africa -- in some ways a
> continuation of the previous edu-sig session.  About 20 of us in the
> audience.
> He's a "CIO" and initiated African Virtual Open Initiatives and
> Resources (AVOIR).  He'll probably podcast the audio, as he's
> recording to his iPod.
> Most of the world is not like Stanford.  Let's start with "alarming
> perspectives".  Making areal displays with numbers, e.g. numbers per
> capita with tertiary education, results in many distorted maps
> (worldmapper.org).  Shanty towns around Cape Town is more his school's
> focus.  There's a lack of critical mass in many areas, such as
> computer science.  How to solve?  Through collaboration (the only
> way).  Building new universities and staffing them can't happen
> quickly enough.  Free and open source software, applying lessons
> learned to building community, infrastructure, is the vision of AVOIR
> (pan-African FOSS). AVOIR is "established as a network for capacity
> building in FOSS engineering".

Some more inter-related resources:

* Fantsuam Foundation runs a computer school in Nigeria that is
turning out certified professionals.


* The One Laptop Per Child community is doing Open Source education
software development, and also rethinking textbooks and curricula for
delivery by computer. OLPC partners are working on how to deliver
these capabilities to even the poorest and most remote villages,
including engineering appropriate technologies in electrical
generation and Internet, with microfinance support. Their varied
projects need IT people; mechanical, electrical, and wireless
engineers; teachers, textbook writers, and other educators;
subject-matter experts for every possible area of education;
development economists; and much more. Red Hat, Debian, and Ubuntu are
supporting these efforts. Richard Stallman has switched from an old
IBM Thinkpad to an OLPC XO as his principal computer.


*OneVillage Foundation Ghana is working with University of Education,
Winneba, on IT education, teacher training, and wireless field trials.
Kafui Prebbie, the head of OVF Ghana and Winneba Linux Users Group,
recently moderated a discussion on these issues:

Can Ghana Lead The World With Technology?

That was the question on the lips of everyone in the packed
auditorium of the Kofi Annan Center of Excellence in ICT on the 17th
of July, 2008 when the Center in partnership with the mPedigree
Network held a Technology Transformation Seminar under the theme:
World-Class Innovation Made in Ghana.

In a rousing opening address, the moderator of the occasion Kafui
Prebbie, an ICT Educator at the University of Winneba who has
consulted for several international organisations, described the
challenge that faced in Ghana in the following terms: "We Must
Innovate or We will Die".


See also Commonwealth of Learning (col.org/), NEPAD (nepad.org/, and
the recent growth in fiber optic cable projects for both the east (2
projects) and west (5 at last report) coasts of Africa. One cable on
the west side was previously laid and is in full operation. Fiber is
also coming to landlocked African countries such as Rwanda.

Race to build a West Coast fibre promises to push international
bandwidth prices to new lows

Four international fibre projects are racing to complete ahead of each
other on the west coast of Africa to give some much needed additional
capacity and price competition to SAT3. The drop in bandwidth prices
could be spectacular.

(If you want to subscribe to News Update, either in English or French,
go to http://www.balancingact-africa.com/mailing_list/subscribe.php.)

SES has announced new satellites to link Africa with Latin America,
Europe, and Asia. Plans, maps, and service descriptions at


SES is offering satellite bandwidth to countries in Africa deploying
OLPC XOs in their school systems.

> Key links:
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chisimba
> http://avoir.uwc.ac.za/
> http://ics.uwc.ac.za
> Twitter:  dkeats
> Facebook:  Derek Keats
> email:  dkeats at uwc.ac.za
> Phase 1 (2005-2008) has involved networking universities around
> Chisimba, a Web 2.0 AJAX application with attendant software (13 nodes
> so far).  Kabul Polytechnic is part of the alliance (eQuality
> Alliance).  Picture of training workshop in Kabul, re the portal,
> eLearning. Georgia Tech another partner... KEWL training in the
> Philippines.
> We haven't seen the interface yet (we're getting to it), am trying to
> visualize what Chisimba looks like (booth 818 here at OSCON).  Word
> for "framework" in Malawi.  Chisimba is highly modular, per Debian
> community (ala Synaptic), includes a package management system.
> Implements MVC.  Yes, there's Python involved, hooked to gstreamer.
> Also:  CURL, FFmpeg, Java... lots of toyz, went by pretty fast.
> Now Keats is demoing the remote package management component.
> You can start a new eLearning environment in just minutes, given
> enough bandwidth.  Everything else is component based, e.g. adding a
> blog or some other resource is a matter of mouse clicks.  Some
> components allow real time audio, shared white board annotation,
> filtering.  With cut and paste, you can embed the live component in a
> blog, in a moodle or whatever.  www.dkeats.com for more examples.
> USAID, Sun Microsystems, Geek Corps are part of the alliance somehow
> (USAID focused on animal health).  University of Nairobi, NOLNET in
> Namibia are working on implementing AVOIR, as is National University
> of Rwanda.  Electronic Thesis and Dissertation system is another of
> the components.  Sun is providing hardware in six of the thirteen
> partner institutions so far.
> Social Content and Networking for Schools connects like 50 schools in
> poor areas to create an intranet (not connected to Internet) with
> social networking and eLearning.  Social tools help curriculum content
> to grow.
> Chisimba reminds me of Plone, sort of, but it's built very
> specifically for customized eLearning environments.  Sometimes
> Chisimba users become potential interns, helping with Chisimba's
> development.  Those who've become interns have contributed usable code
> without exception.
> Realtime podcasting application is a 3-click process.  Start, Stop, Publish.
> Bandwidth is the biggest challenge.  Some institutions don't realize
> the value of networks.  Culturally, there's often a tendency to
> keeping quiet, to be deferential, whereas on the Internet you're
> encouraged to be more egalitarian (out of necessity in a lot of ways).
>  Salary structures and high turnover are other problems.  People move
> on before they have time to become Chisimba developers.
> Questions:  what about OLPC (one laptop per child).  Getting computing
> resources to students is a good thing, not limited to the XO
> initiative.  Providing labs on a massive scale is the only way to
> provide a lot of access in many cases, as the students have no access
> to laptops.  This is where Sun comes in, in some cases.
> Government funding has been problematic in that the South African
> department with jurisdiction has had some turnover, some friends have
> left.
> Why start a new framework?  In part to encourage local participation,
> hard to break in to ongoing open source projects in some cases.  A
> goal here was to be self-managing, running all aspects, including the
> version control, servers.  Sometimes it's just easier to start from
> scratch.  AVOIR is about developing competence and confidence among
> young African software developers.  It's an exercise in community
> building, as well as a project aimed at producing quality software
> (they go together).
> I asked about fonts, internationalization.  A lot of the languages
> just use Latin-1 characters, but in Afghanistan they're working on the
> Farsi translation (of Chisimba).  The Chisimba package itself is
> sophisticated about language issues, uses UTF-8.
> The animal health project has a mobile devices API although Dr. Keats
> isn't sure how far they've come along with that.
> Kirby
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Edward Cherlin
End Poverty at a Profit by teaching children business
"The best way to predict the future is to invent it."--Alan Kay

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