FMFI technologies to establish Online Resources Centres for building ICT skills, Zambézia Province, Quelimane, Mozambique
|Researchers:||Alfred Mutanga (amutanga[@]apolitecnica.ac.mz)|
|Nicholas Blessing Mavengere (blessingmavengere[@]yahoo.com)|
ISPU Quelimane extension (now changed the name to ISHT - INSTITUTO SUPERIOR DE HUMANIDADES E TECNOLOGIAS no longer an extension) opened its doors in 1998. The institution is situated in Quelimane the capital of the Northern Province Zambezia. The different range of services offered in ISHT as a whole varies significantly considering the location of the institution. There is a strong digital divide between the capital Maputo and Quelimane. The ICT infrastructures are very much limited and in some cases not developed at all, it is in the light of this project to collaborate with other project partners in the First Mile First Inch project within the Southern African region to bring innovative solutions in order to uplift the lives of individuals in member countries. The project seeks to contribute to the secondary school educational sector touching areas such as science and mathematics education including HIV and sex education. Gender is also of primary concern since uplifting the girl child will have a significant impact on development globally. Using the full capacities of Information and communication Technology will open up borders and break through the isolation for students, staff, and the people from Zambezia Province of Mozambique to the world community.
Policy and Legal Framework (current status)
The regulator in Mozambique is the Instituto Nacional de Telecomunicações de Moçambique (INCM). In Mozambique regulation of the wireless Internet now focuses primarily on technology standards. If manufacturers, practitioners, and entrepreneurs adhere to technical standards designed to deal with interference, no approvals are required to operate equipment. You can buy it, take it out of the box, turn it on, and use it. At the same time, because operators have no vested rights to continue operation, this constitutes a nonexclusive use of the radio spectrum. Because of the newer technologies, you can do a lot with unlicensed spectrum. Under these rules, you may not cause harmful interference. And you must accept interference from somebody. Before 2004, the unlicensed wireless spectrum was set around the 2.4-Ghz band. In June 2003, t h e International Telecommunications Union made available the 5-Ghz band for license - exempt technology deployment, and Mozambique put in force this prerogative. However there is need to emphasize that unlicensed does not mean unregulated, and all manner of operator providing wireless services still needs to maintain a no-interference working plan and a “good neighbour” attitude. Unlicensed wireless technology can help Mozambique as a developing country implement Internet networks very quickly, and that has significant implications for accelerating the growth of information systems in the country. We are also seeing rural and suburban applications in Mozambique taking advantage of Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi has proven to be a technology with broad potential around the world.
ELearning and the use of ICTs in education depend heavily on telecommunications infrastructures established by telecom companies. These telecommunications companies use mostly the Last Mile Last Inch philosophy. In ISHT we would like to explore how First Mile First Inch Technologies can be used to develop Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Skills in Secondary School Students in Quelimane, and Providing Online Education Resource Tools for Instituto Superior de Humanidades e Tecnologias (ISHT) Students.
In collaboration with the teachers at ISHT and Patrice Lumumba Secondary School materials are put On-line to students. Initially a memorandum of understanding is signed and each part agreeing on what it would do. Since this includes software applications, this will be the starting phase in its development. In this phase we will justify the needs and decide on the system requirements. The deliverable item from this phase is a requirements specification for the learning management system (Content management system to be implemented). The online resource requirements specifications are elaborated in this phase and the decision is to proceed or not with the applications development.
The main feasibility studies carried out were economic, schedule, social, and technical feasibility studies. The ROI was the main technique used in economic feasibility studies, while we developed a range of parameters for schedule feasibility studies and the implications were that the long distance cycles between Quelimane and major suppliers of the networking equipment affected the schedule. It was also evident that on the technical part the ICT personnel at ISHT needed to be capacity build in developing, implementing and maintaining wireless technologies.
Equipment Specification and technical specifications
In principle we started by following up the main focus on the FMFI project, that is building our network based on home brewed solutions. We faced technical deficiencies on this and opted for cheaper sustainable wifi equipment from Mikrotik.
Literature review and Internet search for wireless technologies and innovative wireless solutions are done to increase the technical know-how on the solution to be implemented. Research on the telecommunication regulatory aspects in Mozambique is carried out in order to have the appropriate choice of equipment and online services. Also the reports of the assessments that have previously taken in Telecentres, from other projects, which have been done in Mozambique, regarding services and technologies in use and the required services by the user, will be reviewed. During the desktop research different models and succeeded experiences of online resources for schools and universities will be reviewed in order to decide what to adapt for our project. As well as if there are any publications about designing application for non-computer/Web-experienced people.
Systems Analysis and Design (Learning Management System
A software project management plan (SPMP) is elaborated in this case in order to have a concrete methodological approach in developing the system. A combination of the study of system development models and web application development models is done and the appropriate model is chosen.
Since the project involve educational material , and content we thought it was important for us to infuse some pedagogical principles in the project. The basic pedagogical principles that guided us are blended learning, contructivism, Constructionism, Social Constructivism, Connected and Separate and we foound that MOODLE offer these sound pedagogical principles.
Introduction of the system and user training
On a modular basis the users were trained and basic computer skills were the intial courses to be offered to the users.
System Tests and Monitoring
Parrallel changeover was the main method used and statical information such as the system usage per day were taken. Also the stability of the network was constanly monitored and notably power surges are the major setbacks.
The overall goal of the project is build an affordable communication technology, in the local community by making best use of whatever sources are available. It is the belief of this project that using inexpensive off-the shelf equipment, a high speed data network can connect remote areas, to provide both broadband network access in areas that even dial up does not exist and to ultimately connect ISHT and its neighbouring schools to the global internet. We believe that by working with our local community we can build a telecommunications infrastructure that benefits everyone who participates in it. The institutions interconnected are: Instituto Superior de Humanidades e Tecnologias (ISHT) Instituto Médio Politécnico (IMEP) Patrice Lumumba Secondary School (ESPL) The main reason to interconnect ISHT and IMEP was to replace the existing aerial Ethernet connection and a switch acting as a repeater in the dormitory located half way through the buildings. This in principle is violating networking principles as UTP cables are not outdoor networking resources. In the long run a fibre optic backbone might be installed but the wireless infrastructure becomes a viable one. The ESPL is connected to the ISPU Quelimane network to make avail the e-learning application to the students. At this stage there is no intention to distribute internet or any World Wide Web service to ESPL, because of the low bandwidth that ISPU has.
The equipment installed at each node of the network is not only a wireless interface to the network but also a device capable of improving the organization and efficiency of each local area network, as well as the management of all platforms. In fact, each node of the network, on top of assuring a wireless connection to the global network is a reasonably powerful router capable of handling features such as DHCP server, firewall, NATing, bandwidth management, dynamic routing for redundancy etc. The equipment installed also assures that the full management of the global network can be done remotely from any place in the network which will be of great help especially due to lack of skilled ICT human resources at the schools.
At each point there is a full router installed supporting wireless interfaces which can be configured either as access points or remote stations. These routers are implemented based on the Router board hardware with the Mikrotik Router OS operating system (WinBox), both produced by Mikrotik in Latvia. Regarding the wireless component, we operate on 5GHz (UNI band – 801.11a standard), instead of the 2.4 GHZ (ISM band – 801.11b/g standard), as it is less sensitive to interference and more channels are available. In terms of costs one might argue that we opted for an expensive solution but this is no longer the fact as 5GHZ band equipment are becoming cheaper and they guarantee more stability on the network. Regarding the antennas, and due to the fact that we do not have the concept of a central point but all connections are point to point, we have used directional antennas for better performance.As distances between the involved buildings are quite small, and taking advantage that the ISHT building has line of sight to the other buildings, we installed an Omni directional antenna at ISH , and directional antennas at IMEP and ESPL pointing to the ISHT one. The ISPU installation is configured as an access point with SSID “ispunet “ and on the other two routers the wireless interface are configured as stations accessing the ispunet access point.
The researchers viewed that going beyond ICT, content and connectivity; the online resource centres can give a human touch to the whole programme of holistic development. Using outcomes mapping to measure the behavioural changes of the key boundary partners in the project, and the participatory approach enabled the ICT based project to bear a social component in its implementation. Though we must admit that the social component is complex due to the fact that it involves some psychological and educational metaphors, the researchers abide by Outcome mapping principles and implement participatory development communication techniques to implement the social solution to the research question.
Education must reflect the diversity of needs, expectations, interests and cultural contexts. This poses particular challenges under conditions of globalization given its strong tendency towards uniformity. The challenge is to define the best use of ICT for improving the quality of teaching and learning, sharing knowledge and information, introducing a higher degree of flexibility in response to societal needs, lowering the cost of education and improving internal and external efficiencies of the education system. Basically the main boundary partners (the students and teachers) were not worried about the networking technologies used in the project. They were worried about the access, (the application), i.e. the learning management system used in the project. First and foremost the boundary partners were subject to a computer literacy course before gradually being introduced to the Elearning platform. The integration of the social and technical solution involved in the adoption of blended learning methodology, and setting priority matrices in the journals used to evaluate and monitor the project. The sound pedagogical principles fused in the instructional design of the e-materials and a heterogeneous way of prospecting for ideas from the boundary partners helped us to integrate the Outcomes mapping and the technical solution to the research question.
We have had a lot of challenges and we can admit that we lacked the networking skills needed to appropriately select the most efficient and cost effective networking technologies to implement the project. This has been aggravated by the fact that the project was the last one to be approved and has to be on the same wavelength in terms of methodology and research progress with other project partners. However we believed that it was not out of place and to cite Alvin Toffler who coined the term future shock about forty years ago: “In dealing with the future, at least for the purpose at hand, it is more important to be imaginative and insightful than to be one hundred percent “right”. Theories do not have to be “right” to be enormously useful. Even error has its uses. The maps of the world drawn by medieval cartographers were so hopelessly inaccurate, so filled with factual error, that they elicit condescending smile today…Yet the great explorers could never have discovered the New World without them. (Toffler 1970)” Broadly speaking the challenges range from internal logistical and bureaucratic organizational principles in ISPU Quelimane, challenges to face the decision makers in education the (Department of Education), understanding the educational policy, connectivity and ICT infrastructure, challenges to change the educational philosophy and methodology for teachers and students at ESPL, IMEP and ISPU. The research process has been a challenge on its own as the researchers have been much more used to Computer Science research methodology and using quantitative and qualitative research methods. Using outcomes mapping as a research methodology has been a challenge but this poses exposure and making the project participatory, and more community centred. The challenges can then be summarised as follows:
Transforming the pedagogical philosophy at IMEP, ESPL and ISPU
Of course, it is an absolute requirement to begin in small steps experimentally and to have a program tested by broad practice before recommending it for others. Nor is it necessary for a school to have acquired all high-end ICT in order to feel the benefits and impact of ICT on practice. The improvement in technology as a result of the FMFI project almost immediately finds its application in the practical work of some teachers in the institutions herein mentioned and broadens educational horizons (not in just a technological sense, but in the sense of enrichment of human activities). Integrating all atoms of learning into an ICT enabled teaching and learning philosophy has been a challenge to the researchers.
Challenge to decision makers
The staff in the Department of Education in Quelimane, pointing out the Director in particular did not know about the potential and conditions of effective use of ICTs for education and learning in Mozambique. Neither did the staff articulate how the current educational policy promotes the use of ICTs in Education. One observation is that there is a top down management approach in the Ministry of Education and Culture, and a bottom up implementation of policy articles. We could not use the laboratory at Escola Secondary Patrice Lumumba (ESPL) for two weeks, because the human resource department at the Department of Education was using the laboratory, for statistical purposes. This implies how the department did not think about to what use the 26 computers recently donated were put for in the laboratory. The project scope was not about technological innovations, but to expand the educational opportunities to the young girls and boys at the school, improving policy planning and management and advancing community linkages. We understand that technology is only a tool, as no technology can fix bad educational philosophy or compensate for bad practice. Giving light to the Department of Education on its role has been a challenge.
When we thought about the project and about using computers in the schools, the most obvious obstacle was the cost of hardware. The project only covered the networking hardware and not computers. At ESPL there were no computers available for the students, but luck enough 26 computers were donated. We thought that computers were a problem at first but actually, this was not the case! There were other real limitations existing in ESPL that were a barrier for ICT in the school. Considering the physical structure of school in space and time we discovered both the limitations and the opportunities inherent in this structure. The nub of the problem is that few of the school buildings would be able to contain enough desktop computers for every student in every lesson. The problem then becomes how, in the school, we can create conditions in which everybody in the school can use ICT when they need to. Talking to the school headmaster we understood that some funding was available for renovation and rebuilding, the short-term reality for the school was that existing spaces must be adapted to accommodate the new learning technologies. Re-designing the school’s library was the option taken; thinking on how to create more flexible space for ICT use was a subsequent challenge. Traditional technologies like pen, paper, and blackboard will continue along with the newer ICT, which means leaving enough space on each student’s desk for writing as well for a monitor. The challenge was for the project team to set-up the computer laboratory giving suggestions on furniture, air conditioners and, white board that is dust free and suggestions on floor material to be used.
Access to the internet remains an obstacle in Quelimane with Internet Service Providers reaping us off as clients. ISPU Quelimane is not an exception. We have a wireless connection to our ISP that the ISP claims that it gives a 64kbps download but measuring the bandwidth it is offering us only 44kbps. The other problem is that we don’t have an appropriate web server and we are using a desktop computer running windows XP to run MOODLE. Just imagine more than 20 clients accessing the system concurrently on a desktop machine. We would like to have this system web based and on the internet so that it can be accessed anywhere and anytime. For that an appropriate server is needed. The challenge here is mainly financial and influencing policy makers to gazette appropriate tariffs for educational institutions.
We had a variety of experiences from the start of the project but notably these have been achieved through the action research cycles implemented by the outcome journals as from 19 February 2007 to 20 April 2007. The research cycles were designed to evaluate changes weekly. The basic objectives of these outcome journals were to evaluate the achievement of the learning objectives of the seven modules which the students were being subjected to and to try to see how the Department of Education respond to the project. Our experiences are the following:
Online resource centre ESPL and IMEP- the need
We realized that it was quite difficult to shift our research methodology to suit the critical- emancipatory paradigm. It was difficult for us initially to achieve the participatory nature of our research. It is also important to address the need for demand driven and value added information, which is time and location specific. There has been high expectations that we were going to offer internet, we realised that though Quelimane is considered to be urban in Mozambican context there is need to bridge the digital gap that exist in Quelimane compared to other regions of Mozambique. There is need to promote functional computer literacy among the school population and making learning joyful for the young through interactive pedagogical methodologies. We think all this can be done through a network of schools across the Zambezia province and scaled up to national level, and these networks focus on skill building at local level and information empowerment with the help of contemporary Information and Communication Technology (ICT) tools , especially the First Mile First Inch technologies. We deduced that there is need to harness the power of ICT in knowledge, skill, economic and social empowerment of rural communities based on the principle of reaching the unreached and voicing the voiceless.
For a project to have a social impact and relevant to the target boundary partners we realised that we should have some guiding principles. Based on our experience we deduced that, to start an Online Resource Centre for Education, first it should be people centred (taking account, the major stakeholders in Education), based on community ownership. The community as a whole should endorse it. Secondly, the project must take into account the local context and the information needs of the local people, only then, can it provide demand-driven services. We realised that although we have used a variety of technologies in the project especially in gathering and reaching the information to our main boundary partner the students, the project was not meant to demonstrate the power of technology, we deduced that usefulness is more important than the use of latest technology. Thirdly, we realised that the centre should be inclusive and not to be associated with one group or caste; it should allow everyone to take part. Though the school is a convenient place to put an Online Centre, there should be an established mechanism to ensure social inclusion in access. To add to the points herein mentioned the principles of social inclusion, gender equity, reaching remote areas and remedying regional imbalances should built in the design of the Online resource centres.
We also learnt that before embarking on the project the project participants should accept us first. Because ISPU Quelimane is a private institution and ESPL is a public school, initially there has been enthusiasm on the degree of voluntarism that the implementing team has. We realized that unless the boundary partners accept and are ready to work with us the project could not take off. We carried out a social mobilization and a demand assessment using the participatory communication methods especially the Participatory rural appraisal (PRA) techniques. We set up a bottom up approach in which our principal boundary partners (the students and the teachers assessed their ICT needs in order to make the project more useful and effective, we collected the profiles of the school, and prospecting the previous ICT backgrounds of the teachers , including the student sample participating in the project.
We realised that there is a lot of financial concerns with regard to networking infrastructure. The boundary partners agreed in principle that they have the will but lack funds to acquire the equipment. For these reasons we learnt that for a development related ICT project, that target the rural, and the poor, the most feasible and cost effective system should be used. We also learnt that connectivity and content should receive concurrent attention of the interconnected schools, but these are not enough, they should satisfy the populations of these schools, and their local communities. We learnt using Wifi and FMFI technologies is important as they are easy to deploy and cost less than the conventional technologies. Adequate technical skills for ensuring and maintaining a robust connectivity infrastructure should also be in place. We learnt that connectivity is the most expensive component of the project and considering economies of scale matters it can be cheaper if shared, VSAT and direct TV technologies can change these assumptions but rural communities are typically not attractive to profit oriented telecommunications (Last Mile solutions) and these must be self financed it is better to opt for the First Mile solutions. We also realized that we should always be alert to new technologies that are being developed all the time, and often these are less expensive and far more efficient than old technologies.
Creation and updating of relevant content to suit the needs of boundary partners involved in the project has been a major challenge in the project. We learnt to develop sound pedagogical principles in using ICTs for science education, and trying to provide information that is demand driven, that is relevant to the day-to-day life of the teachers and the students. We learnt that content should be delivered in both conventional and electronic means (not only use the portal, but also use the community newspaper, radio and announcements over public address systems).The convergence of these information dissemination help in creating local content, relevant to local needs, local culture and in the long term transforming the content into local languages. We also learnt that there is also the need for knowledge transfers between and across the rural community, scientists, educators, administrators, health care providers, technology enablers and the ICT platform should address to the needs of these. We realized that the setting of the centre should be at a convenient location where it can provide generic, dynamic and timely information to the wider section of the community.
Management, Monitoring and Evaluation
It might sound a challenge but for us as a team we have learnt a lot in managing, monitoring and evaluating an ICT for development project. We admit that it has been very difficult for us to meet deadlines set by our project leaders from CSIR due to circumstances beyond our control. Firstly we faced a major challenge in understanding the technology we used for the connectivity, and understanding the exact needs of our community. Generally speaking we had to carry out the demand assessment of the selected centres. The management process was flexible, collective and hierarchical on some occasions with individual accountability. We realised that involving the boundary partners in management should not be functional but they should assume an advisory role and an interactive two-way process of information sharing should always exist between the boundary partners and the researchers. Although outcomes mapping provided the tools for monitoring and evaluation in the form of outcome journals, strategy journals and performance journals periodic impact assessment of the project was not supposed to be limited to journaling, we also learnt that impact assessment based on surveys and using PRAs would be useful to measure the impact of the project. Questions like gender equity in schools could not be tackled by journaling alone, in these circumstances we used questionnaires a lot and free attitude interviews.
The portal developed should be multipurpose and the centres as well. We realized that before starting the project we should have a detailed discussion with the wider spectrum of the community, prospecting what their needs are and what issues can be addressed by the online portal. During the third month we created a question bank based on the interaction meetings with the school community and the Education department. We realised that the community, the families of the students, the school administrators, the teachers and the students had a lot to decide on their needs and they helped us to be able to classify what services can we offer as free and what services can help the project to be sustainable. We also learnt that information that interest the community such as agricultural information, tools (procurement, marketing, hiring etc.), animal husbandry, fisheries, citizen services, health, education, , women, land/property, employment, social welfare, utility services, business, community matters ( births, deaths, water connection, electricity, property transfer, tax rules , licence and concessions, permits etc. ) , entertainment, consumer welfare, tourism, transport and establishing a virtual network of policy makers , researchers, educators, service providers and fishing communities was very important.
We realised that in the project harnessing the power of partnerships was critical as partnerships help to bridge the gap between “Scientific know-how” and “Field level do-how”. Having learnt from the overall objectives of the FMFI project in which networking and transfer of knowledge contribute to its focus, in the project we felt that bringing in more partners regarding agriculture, animal husbandry, education, weather, health, business, law, etc. would be more fruitful. Apart from community ownership, we learnt that the second most important ingredient for of ICT-enabled development project is building a multi-stakeholder partnership. We continually asked ourselves how we would sustain the project after the donor fund. We also viewed that the Online Resource Centres must provide authentic and reliable information, and most of the information was coming from the academics from ISPU Quelimane and in case of development to be holistic and integrated ISPU Quelimane academics must not work in isolation. We realised that we have to bring expertise and take advantage of the knowledge and skills of a wide range of people and organizations as well as pay heed to the indigenous knowledge and traditional skills of the community we are working with. Moreover we have been dealing with a community with little or no financial resources to sustain the ICT enabled project.
We have learnt that for the project to be successful there should be skilled manpower in place. From a technical point of view, this might be a challenge but we have learnt that the schools should have ICT skilled manpower in place. We have actually adopted the eRiding concept whereby our technician has been involved in capacity building a laboratory manager at ESPL. We also involved the students doing BSc in Information Technology Management degree programme in the project to carry out their attachment to at the ESPL. We thought that involving local students including female students in managing the technology will bring positive impacts in the project. We did not establish the effectiveness of this approach as this needs time, and for sure skill development needs time to be measured. Apart from the management of the infrastructure the implementing team lack skills in wireless technologies and especially the Mikrotik equipment suggested in the project.
We have learnt that the project is still on the road to “true sustainability”. The project leaders champion business models for each individual project, but we have learnt that the bottom line that our project makes money, does not imply that it is sustainable, there are other priorities such as social sustainability and the impact on social change as implied in the outcomes mapping methodology. We have learnt that sustainability deals with a range of issues such as ownership, legalities, managerial responsibility, and control over content. We have learnt that it is important to create short term, medium range and long term goals which reflect local needs and require local initiative and entrepreneurship, to fuel the creation of local businesses and community enterprises when we talk about sustainability. We have learnt that the business model should be based on the belief that local entrepreneurs and communities will find appropriate technologies to improve both their life chances and their domestic economic situations, and that by putting more relevant local content within the reach of more people, business at local public access points will be demonstrably increased.
Application of the Outcomes Mapping process
A participatory approach is undertaken in this project as the evaluation methodology. It is the intention of this project to measure outcomes as behavioural changes in the target groups (boundary partners identified). (Bessette, 2004) wrote, “Promoting community self organization is the only approach when the state does not have the necessary resources to assume all its responsibilities regarding human basic needs and socio-economic development.”
Intentional design component of the project
This project uses outcomes mapping at project level and comply with the IDRC’s philosophy in the First Mile First Inch project. With this regard ISPU Quelimane intends to look at the intentional design of the project to establish the macro level changes which this project will bring about and plan the strategies to be used.
ISPU Quelimane Students Secondary school students ISPU Quelimane Lecturers Teachers at Patricio Lumumba Department of Education Regulating Authority