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Sometu - the future of education in an Information Society

Sometu

It was very interesting to see this question on the Sometu Network and even more interesting to see the wide array of future looking answers from Finns, who are without doubt among the best educated people in the world - especially in Maths Science and Technology (Science, Engineering and Technology, if you prefer) subjects. The view of independent learning, based on free information flows is something that is so alien to the situation we are faced with at the Eastern Cape schools we work with (Nkwalini, Dwesa, etc.). Just picturing the poor learners at Mndwaka JSS or Zwelenqaba SSS - left alone with technology tools to make their own way through is quite sadenning - because the Finnish trust in their familial and social contexts to such an extent that they can challenge their children to be more independent in learning, developing and playing. Our learners are still struggling to learn to read and write.

Nevertheless, I do believe that we have to start thinking this way and that the the first place to bring these thoughts in are the teachers. Many are open to new ideas (as long as they don't mean more work). They need to be comfortable with the concepts and to facilitate. E.g. at our project, the teachers use computer club learners to help give technology based classes on subjects like Geography. This leaves the Teacher to talk about the subject and learners who have difficulties with mice etc. are shown by other learners. This passing on of responsibility is the first step toward self-motivated and driven learning with the assistance of technology.

We are very hopeful.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: June 9th 2009 09:42

From the SAFIPA Conference

Lucy Abrahams from the Wits University (LINK Centre) makes the following interesting point (about 5 minutes ago): We are all "Emerging Information Societies". She says this because there is no perfect Information Society in any country at the moment and her statement is supported by statistics and figures.

Inspecting her statement much more simply, globalisation implies that we are one society made up of many parts, and as long as there is a digital divide, there will only be an emerging information society - because on an information level, there is just one society.

[... looking forward to more interesting insights at this conference...]
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: June 8th 2009 09:33

Hackers, Common Software (Wordpress) and Niche Players (Kapenta)

There seems to be a weakness in older or current wordpress versions, which allows some nasty hackers to put their own advertising in. I noticed a while back that my pages looked wierd, and looking at the source I saw a whole lot of advertisements for viagara and other prescription medication! MY SITE HAD BEEN STEALTHILY HACKED. So I removed the offending texts, and also the entry in my footer HTML. But now the ads are back.

How terrible. I don't really know what to do (no time to fix it). I have found nothing on the Internet about the attack only other compromised sites.

The ads link to a server at yale.edu! So Yale has been hacked as well... http://som-talks.som.yale.edu/forums/images/icons/1/buy-now-online-viagra.html

This kind of thing really undermines confidence in computing and the Internet, and it is also a big plus for niche players like Kapenta. My Mac has no viruses, because it's a niche system and doesn't have the mass appeal to make virus writing for it worth while, it's also pretty well secured but there are always holes. So using Kapenta for blogging etc. could be the way forward, as a niche product, only people with a personal score will want to hack it.


By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: May 28th 2009 10:22

Food Matters...

On my last trip to the Siyakhula Living Lab (the extended part at Nkwalini, not Dwesa), a bunch of teachers asked me what the secret of 'you white people' is, and why they are all so rich. My first rather off the cuff answer was that we eat differently - and to illustrate the point I reached into the plastic packet next to me and produced a cucumber and a green pepper. I offered these to the teachers and suggested they try them and see how sweet and wholesome these vegetables are. They actually did "like" them, but refused to have some more - perhaps they didn't want to deprive me of my lunch!

I didn't want to leave it at that though, and also told them about my parents who arrived in South Africa with two suitcases, an education and the will to work. Everything they now have, they had to work for and they owe it to their up-bringing and the education in ex-Soviet block countries. [*]

Because food matters, we are still looking for ways to get solar powered boreholes operating at Nkwalini to water vegetable gardens that will feed the scholars. Fresh food during the day would change their lives.

[*] No-one mentioned apartheid, luckily, still an uncomfortable topic for me. I would probably have reasoned as follows: Did they gain through apartheid? In the short term, yes. Were they discriminated against by their immigrant status? Again, yes. Migrant living is difficult for people who appreciate family life, and my parents struggled. Ultimately apartheid has helped nobody, because material wealth can only do so much in a destabilised environment. And part of what we are doing at eKhaya ICT is an attempt to make good some of the wrongs that were perpetuated across hundreds of years of discrimination.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: May 21st 2009 07:42

Sorry Wayan Vota

In the previous post I wrote in an insensitive manner about Wayan Vota's idea of 4P Computing, without really getting to the root of the idea that bothered me so much. In that post, I made an untrue assumption about Wayan's actions and motivations (writing that he had pushed his idea onto wikipedia), which he had not done.

I'd like to apologise for that and will make sure to research my statements better in future, especially where they reflect on someone's character.

In my partial defense (of course, I concede guilty as charged), I was editing ICT4D on wikipedia and the amount of link spam and trash that lands in there (and often its impossible to get rid of) just got me thinking in a unilateral manner.

Humble apologies, Wayan.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: May 15th 2009 07:25

ICT4D and Ridiculous Ideas like 4P Computing

Wayan Vota, dreamt up the idea of 4P computing and it got onto the ICT4D article on wikipedia. It seems that to him, ICT4D works best on equipment which is low on power, high on performance, very portable and has a low cost (price) associated with ownership. These are the 4 "p"s. But they are not derived objectively. Instead Vota in his blog looks at attributes on which the OLPC and similar solutions score well and then postulated these are the right criteria for ICT4D equipment.

This is however not necessarily the case. Portability is often seen as a negative point in development projects. Telecentres for instance would like their computers to stay where they are. Also performance is often only a factor if there is a comparison (i.e. a better machine in the lab tends to be used more heavily, but otherwise, as long as it works people don't care much). Further, the equation does not include networking and communications potential. The Internet is a very big component of ICT4D equipment which is ignored in this equation. BTW, the Internet also inculcates patience as bandwidth is often very very low in ICT4D situations.

Anyhow, 4P computing is an idea that fits well in a comparison matrix, but doesn't do the entire field merit for its complexity.

Another comparison is available from ComputerAid.org.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: May 10th 2009 10:36

SiLLMU - A Budding New Organisation

In Finnish, SiLLMU* means "bud" (as in flower bud). To us it is the Siyakhula Living Lab Management Unit. This is a newly formed organisation set up to provide leadership in matters pertaining to the Siyakhula Living Lab (SLL). The current infrastructure setup between Dwesa, Nqabara and Nkwalini in the Mbashe province of the Eastern Cape is a valuable rural entrepreneurial incubator based on commitment from the communities and the partners working in the living lab. It is a collection of some of the basic information services required to bring rural areas into the knowledge society and a worthy platform to try out new products and techniques. The communities are not apathetic and jaded through research efforts, because of a continuing and paced strategic intervention which works as much with the consciousness of the people as with technology.

The SiLLMU has received funding for one year from COFISA (Finnish South African Cooperation Framework on Innovation in South Africa), and will shortly open its doors to connect the SLL and open it to new possibilities.

Part of the SiLLMU funding will go directly to strengthening community involvement in the SLL. This is a welcome direct assistance for the community members that are spending their time and effort in the project and making things happen.

[* 09-05-25] I have in the meantime been using Google Translate Finnish >> English, and it is great. In Finnish "Silmu" is written with one "L", which I guess sounds the same. It also means "eye". Now I wonder if that is specifically the eye of a potato, for instance, or whether it is also the organ of vision. SiLLMU is definitely tasked as an organ of vision for the SLL!
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: May 6th 2009 10:17

Barack Obama: A New World Order

Anti-Luddite Blackberry wielding, information disseminating, marketing-savvy, open (as far as the military and dept of homeland security will allow), pro-people - did it take 8 years of the really rotten administration to make us appreciate what Barack Obama is doing? I don't think so. Barack Obama is not only the first African American president (a strong signal to Africa to awaken), he is also the first president who had to come to terms with an ever quickening wave of technology, that began in public (with the first PC) as he started his University career. His entire career as read in Wikipedia, seems to blossom out of working for social development and information (editor Harvard Law Review). Does it seem any wonder at all that the democrats website www.barackobama.com is entitled "Organizing for America"... an echo of Google's: "Organizing the world's information".

And indeed, in his first hundred days, Obama has shown that organising information channels and demanding transparency can speed processes tremendously. Finally the USA unites under a banner for social development. With the head-start and the capacity to single-handedly put mars rovers onto Mars, what else can the American people do when united under such a leader?

A great hope for all of us.

[PS. Of course, his career is also founded on Law. That is a tremendous change from his predecessor, who could not understand what it was good for. The law is so important because it removes power from instinct and subordinates it to common reason. Not one man's reason.]
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: April 29th 2009 07:08

Technology and Infrastructure for Emerging Regions (TIER)

Technology and Infrastructure for Emerging Regions (TIER) is a great project doing really very worthwhile research at the University of California Berkeley which has been investigating innovative technology specifically for developing areas. The rather unfortunate choice of name seems to come from the economic term "emerging markets", which suggests that new markets and buying power emerge in areas where previously little or no market activity was discernable (now that makes sense). "Emerging regions" on the other hand seem to be geographical regions that arise out of a previously amorphous landmass, perhaps owing to their newly formed markets -- a very odd concept indeed. Suddenly these regions emerge on our radar, out of the mists. Do the people living in these areas feel different before and after emergence?

// Here's that link http://tier.cs.berkeley.edu/wiki/Home
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: April 27th 2009 09:45

The Value of Putting People in Touch with Each Other

I just read something which shouted awareNet - quite surprising that the quote comes from 1848 when John Stuart Mill, postulated “it is hardly possible to overrate the value, in this present low state of human improvement, of placing human beings in contact with persons dissimilar to themselves, and with modes of thought and action unlike those with which they are familiar… Such communication has always been, and is peculiarly in the present age, one of the main sources of progress” (quoted in Hirschman, A. (1982) Rival Interpretations of Market Society: Civilizing, Destructive or Feeble? Journal of Economic Literature XX 1463-1484.)

eKhaya ICT is currently working on awareNet software - open source free social networking software for schools, which we are beta-testing between schools in Africa and Europe, together with the Village Scribe Association.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: April 16th 2009 01:10
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