August 15, 2008

Jos Schools' Computer Labs

Wednesday morning found Mike feeling under the weather perhaps due to something he had eaten in Kaduna or perhaps just getting used to the change in diet.

Yilwe and I spent the morning touring different schools run by the Catholic Archdiocese of Jos and looking at their computer labs. We met with Sister Mary Patrick, the Education Director for the Archdiocese, then started at St. Louis school for girls where Yilwe runs a general purpose computer lab and a Cisco lab teaching the CCNA curriculum. Yilwe says this is the only Cisco program at a secondary school in West Africa, all the others are at the university level. The school is very interested in addressing the issue of gender balance in IT and getting girls into the field early. Unfortunately they are limited by the quantity of computer equipment. These were the only two labs for the school of about 700 students -- a total of about 37 computers. And this was the best of the schools we were to visit.

Aside from the lack of equipment, the major concrete barriers to IT programs here are the poor electricity supply and the high cost of Internet access.

I don't think there has been a day yet since I've been in the country that the power has not gone out for several hours or more. Even when the power is on it often runs at very low voltages. Instead of the expected 220 volts, the lines may provide anywhere from 150 to 250 volts. Accordingly anyone interested in running a computer lab needs both a generator and a collection of voltage regulators.

All the Internet connections I've seen so far have been via satelite even though Nigeria is a member of the SAT-3 consortium which provides undersea cable access to Europe and the rest of the world. Apparently no one has run terrestrial lines to connect the rest of the country to the coastal areas. Satellite connectivity is slow and expensive. Yilwe said that for a 128Kb-up/64Kb-down subscription he paid about N50,000 ($427) per month. In addition, purchasing the satellite dish and modem can run N140,000 ($1200) and up.

On the power front, Yilwe would like to eventually see labs run by solar power and wants to switch to less power-intensive LCD screens as soon as possible. Most monitors are still CRTs here.

Despite these problems, Yilwe says the primary constraint on IT in Nigeria is awareness. He believes that once people realize the possibilities provided by IT access and its necessity for interacting with the rest of the world the demand for solutions will provide the incentive for improvements. He thinks the key is teaching children and young adults to use computers, thus the strong emphasis on computer labs in the archdiocese schools.

Yilwe also has a vision for setting up a Linux academy, teaching students to take the RHCE, Linux+, and other certificates. He's looking for curricula and equipment to get started as well as just getting the information out to raise awareness of the possibilities provided by Linux and other free and open source software projects.

Other things he's excited about are digital libraries like the eGranary from widernet.org and thin client labs running on the Linux Terminal Server Project. There's a great deal of potential and excitement here; it's painful to see the lack of resources for developing these ideas more fully.

After looking at St. Louis school we headed south out of town to visit some schools in more rural areas. We visited the Kuru Trade School and the Spiritual Year Center, also in Kuru. Between the two schools there was one computer. But both had large empty rooms they hoped to turn into computer labs.

Further out of town we went to St. John Vianney Minor Seminary in Barkin Ladi where there were a handful of computers then to St. Joseph's College in Vom with another dozen or so. Heading back into town we stopped at the College of Mary Immaculate which was in the process of building a new library with hopes of including a computer lab.

We swung by the Pastoral Center to pick up Mike who was feeling better by now and continued to a couple schools in town: St. Theresa College and Fatima College.

We ran out of time to reach all the schools so on Thursday morning we visited St. Murumba College and St. Patrick's School which had similar computer needs. It became clear that we could probably send the entire container of 800 computers to Jos if we wanted to fill the need here, without even considering the needs of the other cities of Kaduna, Kafanchan and Zaria.

Before leaving Jos, Mike and I were invited back to the Pastoral Center to meet with Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama then to have tea with Sister Mary Patrick. We were back on the road by noon and had a dry and uneventful drive back to Kaduna.

Posted by cayfo001 at August 15, 2008 10:26 AM