EDUBUNTU: The Free and Open Source Software Liberian Educators and Policy Makers Should Consider For Liberian Schools

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Ostensibly, Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have significantly permeated our society, yet their integration in our educational system has not been achieved. The glaring disparity among students who are ICT literate and those who are not, is evidence of this. Understandably though, there are several priorities and challenges that may be responsible for the slow progress in this area. Fortunately for us, we have a few Liberians in our educational system who possess the dynamism needed to bring significant changes. However, these changes must parallel those of the global community’s. In doing so, we will effectively be eliminating one of the barriers that young Liberians graduating from high school face when they submit applications for employment; the ubiquitous, “must be computer literate” listed as a job requirement. In today’s article, I will discuss how EDUBUNTU, a Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), can help us integrate ICTs in schools to achieve some level of equilibrium with regard to basic ICT literacy among Liberian students.

A few years ago, the lack of a proper infrastructure and capacity were the two major challenges that prevented the integration of ICTs in our schools. However, in recent years we have progressed in many ways: The Liberian Electricity Corporation has increased its reach; LIBTELCO has expanded its services, and we have several Internet Service Providers and mobile operators that are now installing modern technologies which hitherto this article, were unimaginable in Liberia. Furthermore, our foreign donors and the Government of Liberia have been contributing significantly in terms of funding. Granted that the strides achieved so far may not have extended to rural areas, at the very least we have something that gives us hope. So, why then are we dawdling to achieve a reasonable level of ICTs integration in our schools? Could it be that our education sector is still being strangulated by our “traditional and fundamental” problems?

Unfortunately, I would have to answer – to the latter – in the affirmative. We are incontrovertibly, still plagued by some of the traditional and fundamental problems: students can barely read and write well; their performance on STEM (Science, Technology, Environment Education or Engineering, and Math) subjects is poor, if not horrible; teachers are not properly trained with many of them oblivious to ICTs; the practice of accepting money and sex from students for grades (as has been reported in the local dailies) lingers; just to name a few. What are our solutions then?

I believe that a paradigm shift is particularly what we need; one that involves an assertive and ubiquitous use of ICTs to eradicate some of the problems in our educational system. This paradigm shift will involve the use of computer-based testing to prevent students from cheating on tests, and instructors from gaining leverage to extort money and sex from students for grades. This paradigm shift will provide instructors the means of determining whether their students did honest work, or simply copied their work off the Internet. Most importantly, this paradigm shift will allow instructors to garner skills from their contemporaries in the global spectrum through collaboration via distance learning, social networking, and other professional development initiatives. With such a paradigm shift, we will be preparing today’s student for a digital Liberia. To achieve this, we must be creative and innovative and therefore, explore all options. It is in this light that I am asking Liberian educators and policy makers to explore EDUBUNTU, the Open Source community’s contribution to education.

EDUBUNTU is the solution to the quintessential African educational problem; the lack of educational resources. It is an operating system designed with education in mind. It is based on UBUNTU- an operating system that uses the Linux Kernel- and is freely available to the public. It is designed for educators and school personnel to use in a networked environment and for home users to use on a standalone bases to educate the younger ones. The word UBUNTU mentioned above comes from the Zulu and Xhosa languages in South Africa. It refers to an ethical ideology that focuses on peoples’ allegiances and relations with each other. It is pronounced OO-Boon-Too. EDUBUNTU includes several educational applications including Kalzium for science, Tuxmath, Tux Typing, GCompris for kids between 2-10, Parley for vocabulary, Libre Office (a full office suite), and hundreds of other educational software that can be added. For example, SchoolTool, which is a Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) that can be used for administrative purposes. On their website, EDUBUNTU has a server (weblive-appserv01) that allows users to try the software without having to install it. You should consider trying it!

Globally, Free and Open Source Software solutions such as EDUBUNTU have been accepted; now is the time we integrate them into our society as well. UNESCO’s education portal has a section on Free Open Source Software (FOSS), which provides a categorized list of hundreds of such software. The portal is located at: http://www.unesco-ci.org/cgi-bin/portals/foss/page.cgi?g=index.html;d=1  and it contains a variety of resources related to the use of Free and Open Source Software in education.

To achieve the goal of ICT integration in education in Liberia we must first set up a national ICT integration initiative that subsumes several things including: improving the competence of teachers through the provision of ICT training; improving the learning process by enhancing the quality of teaching materials and strengthening the curriculum; and improving the efficiency in management and administration in order to focus more time on providing improved education services to students. We can certainly enliven the educational process by incorporating new ideas and methods.

Let us ensure the issue of ICTs in education is not simply a matter of words penned on policy papers instead of a full implementation that will yield tangible results; results that will enable us to meet the challenges and changes of the 21st century. To do this, we need an “all hands on deck” approach and the willingness of our leaders to “think outside of the box.” I am therefore calling on all ICT professionals in Liberia and yonder to work with the Government of Liberia and its partners to contribute in some way toward the formulation of policies and the implementation of strategies. The time has come for us to help provide strategies that offer empirical and practical experience of how ICTs can be applied in an educational context and to delineate the value of ICT in helping to achieve educational objectives.

Over the years, through my writings, I have trumpeted loudly the impact of Open Source Software in economic development. A few decades ago, Open Source Software was started with purely idealistic leanings, but it gradually evolved and embraced practicable business models that are now having a profound impact on all industries. Our need for solutions to challenges and problems can be met through new innovations in Open Source Software architectures, and this is why I am optimistic that incorporating EDUBUNTU in our educational system will bring results of gargantuan proportions.

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