Free education on a hard drive to boost Kenya in a tech-driven world

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At age 18, Kenyan students take a nationally-standardized test, the results of which determine not only their eligibility for university education, but also the school they will attend as well as their area of concentration. This transition is associated with a lot of stress and depression, since students believe that their entire future relies on filtering sequentially through the formal education system. This doesn't have to be the case.

Our non-profit organization, Tunapanda (Swahili for "we are planting"), believes that due to the high rates of growth projected in ICT, technologically savvy individuals will be in high demand regardless of whether or not they are in possession of an advanced degree. We want to provide a means of technology learning that is both useful and accessible. And, we believe that open source holds the key to making this a reality.

Open source programs as a platform

We partnered with a technology school in rural Kenya that wanted to expand their curriculum beyond the very basics, which they'd been teaching on computers from the last millennium for the last 10 years. The difficulty was that downloading data was cost-prohibitive; paying for the bandwidth for just one course (1-1.5GB) would cost most people around $12—more than the average Kenyan family makes in a week. So we couldn't just tell people about the courses and tools, we needed to find a way to make them accessible as well.

From there, the obvious solution became how to make "an education on a hard drive" a reality. Not only could we speed up transfer compared to the unreliable telecom networks, we could essentially lower transfer costs to zero. We started downloading all sorts of video content, from sources such as the Khan Academy, which we could then give to anyone for free. Of course, once we had a way to deliver the information we needed a platform where students could develop these skills in practice.

We immediately got to work loading the hard drive with open source programs that would be useful to the students—along with text and video tutorials that would speed up their familiarity with the software. We've also included all of Wikipedia in both English and Swahili on the hard drive, and are working on getting Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange offline as well.

While providing our pilot school with a much-needed hardware upgrade, we delivered some lessons—including explaining the difference between proprietary, free, and open source software.

We then demonstrated the installation of the Ubuntu operating system from a USB drive and had the students replicate the process. This project, "education on a hard drive", still has some kinks, and neither of us is an expert in software. However, since the open source community tends to be both helpful and collaborative, it is quite easy for us to find solutions.

For example, we couldn't figure out how to get certain application packages and updates onto machines without the Internet. One of our more Linux-literate volunteers quickly devised a solution. It's going to be tough, but we're confident that with enough time testing in the field we'll be able to have a system that can be deployed on any machine, anywhere, and be replicated for free by beginner students.

Tunapanda reflects open source values

The future for technology education in Kenya is uncertain. If you want to get involved, start posting in our forums—our site is only a couple weeks old and we need more minds to help move us forward. And, help us make this project a reality by backing our Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. Any kind of contribution, whether financial or otherwise, will have a huge impact for many Kenyans during this exciting time in thier history.

The rapid expansion of the ICT sector in Kenya could create a multitude of jobs in a country with high unemployment, but the educational system hasn't yet adapted to prepare current students for tech-related jobs. Education is only state-funded up to 8th grade resulting in only 75% of primary school graduates enrolling in secondary school (on top of a significant number who don't attend primary school), and a low supply of post-secondary education.

For the students and for us, open source isn't just useful because we don't have to pay the often unaffordable licensing fees for propriety software. The philosophy that drives OS is one based on sharing and creating value, rather than an unhealthy focus on using institutions or force to simply capture and control value. It is based on a mindset of continual improvement and learning, a concept that reflects Tunapanda's values as well.

The potential value of open source is huge in East Africa right now, and even though we can't claim to be "open source experts," we do feel honored to have so much help bringing education to these kids. Instilling them with the values of open source, and teaching them to innovate in ways that will make all our world a better place—and will add more creative and innovative minds to the open source community and the global economy.

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Mick graduated with a BS in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology in 2008. Since then, he has been traveling, teaching and learning all over the globe. He is the co-founder of Tunapanda, an organization that brings educational content and open source solutions to areas with low internet penetration. He currently lives in Nairobi, Kenya.


Great stuff going on in Kenya around open source.

We are in the same field albeit in Higher Ed, would be good to touchbase, compare notes...

Waithaka Ngigi

Great stuff going on in Kenya around open source.

We are in the same field albeit in Higher Ed, would be good to touchbase, compare notes...

Waithaka Ngigi

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