I am flying to Boston this weekend to attend an American Friends of Maru a Pula meeting. Don’t expect much from this space until Monday.
Our primary agenda item is raising funds to provide scholarships to AIDS orphans in Botswana, but there will also be some discussion of the school’s technology needs. The technology landscape is considerably different in Botswana. High-speed internet access is nearly impossible to obtain, due to governmental regulation. Even telephone lines are difficult to obtain due to slow response time from the appropriate government ministry. (When I arrived for my two-year stay in 1994, I was told that I would not be staying long enough to order a phone. Of course, cell phones have changed that issue in more recent years.) The leading solution is satellite service, which would allow the school to provide itself internet access, but at great cost and slow speeds. Though the cost is difficult to swallow, slow internet access is the school’s greatest technology problem, especially for a school community that is so outward looking.
The cost of hardware replacement is still quite high in Botswana. Even though many clone manufacturers exist, the cost of importing components keeps overall system prices 50-100% higher than in the U.S. Interestingly, Apple maintains a solid presence in South Africa and Botswana, having made a strong bid to win customers back after pulling out of the country during the apartheid era. Maru a Pula needs to allocate funds to purchase new machines and service existing ones.
Once these conditions are met, it may be possible to move in a more progressive direction, such as installing one or two computer-enhanced classrooms. This would give Maru a Pula teachers the opportunity to use technology for more than just clerical and communication tasks. I am unsure how many MAP teachers are prepared to take this step, but perhaps I will find out this weekend.