My bags aren’t exactly packed yet, but I’ve booked my flights for an April trip to Botswana. The Principal of Maru a Pula, at which I taught ten years ago, has invited me to do some unpaid tech consulting as the school attempts to make another leap forward in that department.
I have laid out an ambitious set of goals for the ten-day trip. Air travel will consume three of the days, and the adjustment to the ten-hour time difference who knows how long! My specific tasks include:
- Assess feeder primary school technology instruction, in order to determine what skills entering Maru a Pula students possess.
- Evaluate vendor proposals for computer lab upgrades.
- Determine the most efficient and cost-effective means to improve the school’s Internet connection.
- Assess the teachers’ readiness to participate in a faculty laptop program.
- Install a CMS-based web site to replace the current site.
- Provide whatever tech support and training I can given the limited time.
The biggest obstacle up to this point is the school’s Internet connection. Slow development is a cliché in Africa, but Botswana has little excuse for the current state of affairs. It has had a modern telecommunications infrastructure, healthy economy, and peaceful democracy for years. I’m not exactly sure why high-speed access is still so hard to get. They only just made the leap from dial-up to ISDN last year. As a result, email is okay, web browsing is a challenge, and streaming media and VOIP are impossible.
The school’s computer labs are in dire need of upgrade, but the school needs a sustainable replacement plan even more than that. A new development levy assessed to families on top of tuition may provide the funds needed to set up a predictable replacement schedule for computer hardware and software licenses.
I hope to introduce the school to Linux-based lab computing while I am there. It is a lot more consistent with the principles of extending hardware usefulness and reducing software costs, but I will need to make sure that the current technology staff and local consultants have the necessary expertise. Unfortunately, the current lab replacement proposals on the table do not include a Linux option.
Ten years ago, I did not take such a close look at the city’s primary schools, so I will learn a lot in that aspect of this trip.
I’ll have plenty of time to describe other plans for this trip before April, especially as they become more firm! Suffice it for now to say that I’m really excited to make my first trip there since 2000 and soak in the beauty and love of Botswana. A week will be too short, I already know.