Over the years used computers have been shipped to Tanzania and other developing countries. They have been of great help in improving computer literacy, but due to lack of possibilities for maintenance too many of them now tend to pile up in the corners. There are also other challenges for useful computer use like affordable Internet connections.
So the computer boom has lasted for a few years in Tanzania. I remember when myself and some other students in 2006 brought (carried in sweat) a great number of donated used computers to our sister school in southern Tanzania. Some of the other schools we stayed at had bought second-hand computer by themselves. We started out teaching basic computer knowledge and Word to students in those rural areas. Some of us also used a good amount of time for converting computers from Swedish to English language, ultimately finding Swahili versions of programs. These examples are only a few in a million (of tons?) of old used computers being brought from the “developed countries” to the “developing countries”.
After a few years there where however greater possibilities of finding somehow cheap new computers also in Tanzania, but I believe a great number of used ones are still shipped here. And, well yes, it is great to have access to computers, even if a bit old (although preferably NOT in a foreign language), but computers have to be maintained and kept up to date. Even if one tried to make sure that enough of the staff/teachers where well educated to maintain computers and teach, they might have quit or been transferred by now. So at many institutes old useless computers nowadays pile up in the corners, no one can maintain them and it is too expensive to pay for an engineer from town. A few might be used for secretarial services, but will the students be able to use them?
Then there is that One Laptop per Child project, providing cheap laptops. Which in many ways is great! But the project faces a lot of challenges. One, among others, which I saw when I recently visited a school enrolled in that project, is that one feature of the project is to build on open source and use Linux (as opposed to for example Microsoft or Apple), so that the interface is their Linux OX. Which some of the students found difficult since it looks different from the Microsoft Windows interface they find at other computers, for example at Internet cafes. And yes, I understand that open source and free software can be an end in itself and is a great thing. But myself I look at it from a social kind of view where accessibility for everyone is most important. Let’s face it, almost no one else except from computer professionals and, well, geeks, use Linux, so why have African children to learn it as first option? Why not just make things a bit easy? Its cheaper? Might be possible to make different prioritizes…
And I also hear the story of the European teacher recently arriving in Tanzania to teach computer and Internet to students, but share examples from her own laptop which has the newest version of Windows, while the students use a much older version so the graphics don’t make sense. Or only her computer has access to Internet.
And speaking of internet. That is another challenge I have seen. Most of the different schools I have seen using computers, including that One Lap Top per Child project, set out with having an Internet connection. But now a few years later, the institutes have no money for Internet connections. So they can only teach/use Word and Excel. This at the same time as Internet and ICT are more important than ever to be able to use, and where good knowledge would really be an advantage for students in rural areas.
I just think it is really problematic when “developing countries” have to use things the “developed world“ have dumped. Pretty difficult to catch up then? Or are put up with projects which are not possible to continue to run, due to infrastructure problems and economics.
And then the other obvious question: Who will take care of all electronics waste in a sustainable way?