Technology


Harry Goldstein
Senior Associate Editor, IEEE* Spectrum

IEEE Spectrum Radio

What does it take to build a computer lab in sub-Saharan Africa? IEEE Spectrum’s Harry Goldstein travelled to Nigeria to investigate the use of recently installed fiber-optic cables, but ended up spearheading the construction of a computing center for students at the Federal University of Technology Owerri.

The computer lab was to replace the cumbersome system of taking hand written notes to internet cafes to send as e-mail, and provide internet access to the students of FUTO. Goldstein encountered several challenges in securing funding and support to build the lab. Together with a grant from the IEEE foundation, Hewlett Packard donated the computers and equipment to fill the lab.

Despite the multi-million dollar fiber optic cable connection, internet access was hugely expensive and only available through satellite connections. Besides having to find reliable sources of electricity, there also remained the problem of providing adequate network support. Listen to how a dedicated group found solutions to most of the lingering problems, providing an invaluable educational resource for Nigeria’s future scientists and engineers.

*The IEEE, a non-profit organization, is the world’s leading professional association for the advancement of technology.

The full name of the IEEE is the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., although the organization is referred to by the letters I-E-E-E and pronounced Eye-triple-E.

Africa Calling
By Victor W.A. Mbarika and Irene Mbarika

This is a great article for anyone interested in the African wireless revolution or digital divide issues. One of my most time consuming hobbies is reading about technology; especially technological development in Africa. So here’s one of my favourite articles, (also posted on my blog: http://www.afrorise.wordpress.com).

Mobile in Africa

Mobile Subscriptions Skyrocket: Africa far outpaces the rest of the world in average annual growth of mobile phone subscriptions. According to the International Telecommunication Union, from 1999 through 2004 Africans signed up for cellphones at a far greater rate than Asians and nearly three times as fast as Americans. Most of that growth was in the sub-Saharan region [left]. Illustration: Bryan Christie Design (2)

Mobile vs. Fixed

Mobile vs. Fixed Lines in Africa: The most recent figures from the International Telecommunication Union show that between 1994 and 2004 the number of telephone subscribers per 100 inhabitants in Africa increased dramatically, thanks to a huge upsurge in cellphone usage starting in the late 1990s.
Source: International Telecommunication Union

Technology is a word that separates people, there are those who love it and those who hate it – rarely is a person in between these two feelings. Well I guess people have a love/hate relationship with Technology but that would require me to think more deeply about the big generalizations I’m about to make and I’m not prepared to do that.

<Begin “My Opinion” aka Gross Generalizations>

Lately I’ve been contemplating the real need for a strategic demystification of technology in underserviced communities, particularly, among black youth who are either disengaged or labelled “at-risk” in schools. I use the word “at-risk” cautiously because of course it connotes a certain risk threshold, and it labels students, chunking people into weird categories. The label is subjective of course because teachers perceive who and who is not “at-risk” and most problematically it disregards social, economic and other life circumstances that contribute to low capacity and school success/performance.

So today I had a discussion about blogging with some youth very dear to my heart. They are all extremely intelligent and critical thinkers yet they didn’t really know about/care for the idea of blogging. Blogging, or reading blogs, is an experience, it can’t really be described. The availability of different types of information in varied styles of writing is astounding in sheer magnitude but also in its effect – one cannot help become a better – more efficient, more engaged – reader. The internet should be used as a supplement to education, as it is in many context, but this critical path needs guidance and direction.

For example, I often wonder why some young people I talk to are interested in the internet insofar as it allows them to communicate with the friends they have just seen at school (MSN, Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail, and other e-mail/chat servers) or read about people they don’t know or don’t like (Hi5, MySpace.com, Friendster, and other social networking sites). I am not against these types of communication and am a part of most of them but it seems to me that students focusing exclusively on these are missing out big time. The internet is more than online games and checking out when the next movie is playing. IT is more than music websites or You Tube. It is all of these things but so much more.

<IT as the Multi-versity>

Yes IT is its own MULTIversity. Unlike a UNIversity with a distinct objective of socializing students into certain subject matters, the multiversity allows students to adopt their own positions on subject matter according to their own research/project interests. Thus, smart surfing is a key asset in life.

Technology and the internet allow students to master their own way of thinking. They allow them to gather and sort information in a way that is comprehensive and makes sense to them. Your own PC is a manifestation of the way your mind works. Now if only this was taught more in school – the importance of mastering technology and internet communications technology specifically.

Kids of the information age are growing up with computers all around them, but I’m wondering if people are feeling comfortable with this environment? Do people feel in control of this experience or do they feel like passive observers of Microsoft software applications – Open, Click, Type, Save? The average person needs more accessibility and practical advice about how the internet can make our life so much easier.

This is especially true for those of us coming from communities where the digital divide is large and growing…

I know this discussion is not yet over for me…will add more to it later.