Thursday, October 27, 2011

Second Full Day in South Africa - Johannesburg/Pretoria

So today was our second official day here in Joburg and our last. We were up early and headed to the Meraka Institute to talk with them about ICT. We were all very pleased with the discussions that we held with the people there. They came from very varied backgrounds, (ie. marketing and music, Navy torpedo specialist, social sciences, etc.) but work well together as a team creating ingenious projects!

During the introductions we got off on a tangent about mobile devices. Adele had some great viewpoints on the two ends of the mobile device user spectrum. While we might have several devices that we use for several purposes (I am guilty of this) many in Africa and the less privileged may share one cell phone with several people. It was also interesting to hear how they might have one phone but several sim cards that they exchange throughout the day to get the best rates available. Many will also skip a meal to pay for air time. She also said that they use their phones for all purposes. While we may use our phone to talk, a camera to take pictures, a laptop to type papers, etc., they will use the one device for everything. There are even some situations where all the information for one village is held on one device. South Africa also has cell phone coverage across the entire country, though some areas may be spotty.

We also continued to discuss mobiles and how to get them into classrooms. We talked about the debate of whether students should bring their own devices to use in school or should schools provide a 1 to 1 situation. Very interesting since this might come up at North Schuylkill.

Another large chunk of the day was spent discussing the Digital Doorway project. This is one of the coolest things I have ever seen or heard of! The man behind it was pretty cool as well. He dressed up (in jeans and a tie dyed t-shirt) because we were coming today and he had a pair of those sneakers with the toes in on. He and his team created computers that are placed on the veranda of a building in a village where there are no computers. They bolt them down and they are created to be all-weather machines. Several new prototypes are being built based on issues that they've had at some of the locations as well as new prototypes for the countries were some of these machines are deployed that they would be able to afford and build in their countries. They are not connected to the internet and have an internal database with information and games. They wanted to make it as educational as possible.

So they place these machines in these villages and then monitor how they are used. From the first drops they learned a lot and are still working on new features to add, such as a bluetooth dongle that will allow the users to send themselves information and videos to their phones. The most important thing about this project is that it is making an impact on the communities and users. The users are learning skills that make them employable. There was one instance of an 80+ year old man who had his grandchild or child take him to the computer. They typed in his name and he was happy because he saw a computer and it knew him and he knew it. There were many more stories similar to this as well.

Due to the time here, I'm going to sign off tonight, but I will be sure to post more tomorrow, hopefully while we are at the airport waiting for our flight to Cape Town. Topics will be Dr. Math, Mathletes, Cornwall Hill High School, our tour of Pretoria, and Lesedi Cultural Center.

Links can still be found here and my pictures are being uploaded here.

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