HAI TI!: SCHOOLNET SAYS IT'S TIME TO LISTEN UP AND GO FOSS!
SchoolNet Namibia <http://www.schoolnet.na> is taking a bold new step to entice teachers and students into the world of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). SchoolNet has teamed up with Direq International <http://www.direq.org>, Strika Entertainment <http://strika.com> and The Namibian Youth Paper <http://www.namibian.com.na> to produce and distribute Hai Ti!, a comic strip that spreads the word about the ways that computers, FOSS and the internet can transform learners' and teachers' lives.
It's a new and highly innovative approach to a universal problem. "Our numerous letters, manuals and trainers have not been very effective in bringing teachers into the computer lab. So we decided to build a character-based drama around the SchoolNet team and teachers and learners at a remote rural school in Namibia," says executive director Joris Komen. "There has also been a lot of controversy <http://www.schoolnet.na/news/stories/msft20021111.html> about the compatibility of Free and Open Source office applications and programmes with similar (and usually very expensive!) proprietary software more commonly used in the private sector. We expect Hai Ti! to finally put such controversy to rest. The skills acquired by teachers and learners to cut, copy and paste, and use office tools such as word processors and spreadsheets, as well as the Internet, must be completely platform neutral, without affecting their career and learning opportunities."
In order to demystify the computers that have proven so alluring to learners but not so much to teachers, SchoolNet collaborated closely with Strika and Direq to conceptualize, illustrate and produce a full-colour comic. Desiged to address educators' fears, SchoolNet staff - young, technically savvy Namibians - drew from their own experiences to craft the narrative.
The first 20-page comic interweaves the stories of a learner who uses the internet to prepare for a debate; of a football fan who learns that the Internet can be a better source for sports than the "cuca shop" (Shebeen); and of a young teacher learning computer basics with the help of SchoolNet trainers. The comic, liberally sprinkled with helpful definitions and basic tips, doubles as an easy reference manual afterwards. Each edition will also be published online at Schoolnet's website, http://www.schoolnet.na/haiti. The insert will be distributed in The Namibian Youth Paper on a regular basis for the next few years, with bumper Christmas annuals, and loads of local competitions as added bonuses.
NIGERIA ON THE BRINK OF OF USD200 BILLION SOFTWARE MARKET
Software development is lucrative with some USD200-billion (about N27trillion) opportunities and huge businesses. Nigeria is however at the outskirt of this new honey pot.
It is right to say that the richest companies in the world are in the computer industry. Software is the centrepiece of the trillion-dollar information technology industry, an indispensable component of commerce and government worldwide.
Software is the programs that run on a computer and it is made up of instructions that tell the computer what to do. It is stored on disks in bits and bytes.
It is believed that some $200-billion opportunities abound in the industry with still a huge amount of business to be won.
Software development industry has since become a major income earner to many countries in Europe and United States.
In the US, for instance, the Software development industry is the third-largest manufacturing business, after automobile and electronics.
The US software market is driven by strong Research and Development efforts from government.
This singular effort propelled the industry in the United States in the 60s bringing in industrial revolution.
The reverse is however the case in Nigeria, which has remained a major consumer of finished products including software.
Nigeria's annual software imports is estimated at some $1billion (N1.3 trillion) annually and concerned citizens insist that the amount is good enough to grow the local sector.
Instead of importation, Executive Director, First Bank of Nigeria Plc, Dr. Evans Woherem, said that Nigeria can be a major foreign exchange earner from software development.
Dr. Woherem, a leading crusader for the acceptance of locally made software insisted that "One of the most compelling areas of ICT that Nigeria can easily become a significant regional player is the Software Industry"
Chief Executive officer of Enterprise Information Technology (EIT) limited, Mr. Nap Ogilo, agreed with Dr. Woherem, expressing however, dismay at the shabby treatment of locally developed software.
Nigeria is the most populous black country in the world and is diverse in people and culture, an advantage which if harnessed can help the mass development of locally made software.
And as Dr. Woherem found out "the major requirement for the software industry is human capital and with the country's size and abundant supply of relatively low cost software engineers or graduates in related fields, the country can provide highly skilled professionals and an absolute wage advantage to investing international companies in the Software Industry"
"This means that with proper attention this industry can be one that the country can enjoy a comparative advantage over most other countries in Africa" he added.
But before Nigeria can turn software to comparative advantage, it appears it must cross many hurdles.
These include poor development practices and project management, problems of software with dependability, safety, reliability, security, and lack of software quality assurance, poor investment in software development as well as concentration in hardware and software sales
Dr Woherem went on to say that there is also the problem of poor software quality and do not usually meet the level of ISO compliance (certification) and poor packaging
Contributing Chief promoter of Zinox Technologies Limited, Dr. Leo- Stan Ekeh, said that it is possible for Nigeria to rise to a level that it can export locally made software products.
Dr. Ekeh, who had earlier single handedly delivered Zinox, the first internationally certified Nigerian branded personal computer systems, UPS, laptops and server is very passionate about locally made software.
He called on Nigeria to follow the foot steps of some developing nations like India, South Africa, and Ghana that have vigorously pursued the policy of backward integration in software development, realising the great potentials in the sector.
India as far back as 1986, formulated a computer software policy for itself and among other things to be one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy, provide, high quality employment for young people, and earn significant revenues from export of software.
Last year alone, India earned $18.5 billion in ICT export, up from $15 billion in 2003. In both cases, software accounted for about 55 per cent.
Elsewhere the South African information technology (IT) market is the largest in Africa. It ranks 20th in the world in overall market size, and 8th in IT spending as a proportion of GDP.
According to the International Data Corporation, their market is forecasted to exceed $10.7 billion by 2004, up from $5 billion in 1999.
Ghana's GDP is about 1/20th the size of South Africa's, and thus, its IT market is relatively small.
However, Ghana's business environment provides access to over 200 million consumers throughout West Africa.
The reverse has been the case in Nigeria. Last year, total software import to Nigeria stood at an estimated $1billion which multi-sectoral industry players maintain is a stupendous waste of foreign exchange.
Chief executive Officer, Computer WareHouse Group, Mr. Austin Okere, urged Nigeria to borrow a leaf from India which developed its software industry through reform of its educational system from the primary to university with science as the emphasis.
Government very eager to stem the trend has led the way with a strong political will and encouragement.
President Obasanjo recently set up a multi-sectoral committee to work out modalities for the cultivation of the nation's software industry currently valued at N15 billion.
This came after the formal launch of the Nigerian Software Development Initiative (NSDI) and the brand name "Software Nigeria" - two ambitious programmes aimed at leveraging software development in Nigeria from its subsistence level to a major foreign exchange earner.
Mr. Okere said that the iniitative could have come at a better time than now and commended the government for recoginising the important place of ICT in national development.
That initiative was mooted by India as far back as 1976 and has culminated in the building of the electronic city in Bengalore, housing software parks and allied shops.
Today, India has become a major player in the global Information Communications Technology market.
Chairman of the NSDI, Jim Ovia, said a study undertaken by his team showed that software has the potential for being the single largest contributor to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country in the next five years if properly harnessed.
Already, some made-in-Nigeria software are successfully being deployed not only in Nigeria but in other overseas countries namely South Africa, Mexico and Zimbabwe.
EIT's Mr. Ogilo also flaunted what he described as totally Nigerian software adding that "We have developed applications software for HR/Payroll Management, credit management and consumer finance, stock/inventory management, all are web based applications. In our own way, we are already following the President's initiatives. We have the manpower, may be we just need more encouragement"
The benefit of mass development of locally made software is enormous because aside from providing jobs for Nigerians, it would also enhance national security as certain sensitive software especially for the nation's security and intelligence units would no longer be outsourced to foreign firms.
It is the agreement of all that it would help arrest capital flight both in terms of software procurement and in training of personnel while also boosting computer sales and usage as well as create economies of scale by triggering the emergence of diverse software support services across the nation.