I guess “the light” has finally come to Ekiti state in form of LCD powered panels called laptops purchased by our state governor in his wisdom for our 100,000 secondary school students at the cost of forty million dollars! No, I know that this is another worthless “free” gesture by a misdirected socialist, experimenting with 19th century economics in the 21st century!
Why would Dr. Fayemi direct N=6 billion (six billion naira) of Ekiti’s paltry annual budget, that ranks it as one of the poorest states in Nigeria, to buying laptops for students that may never get to use them optimally? Electricity is temperamental in the state as a whole and out for 3-5 days straight! I was just in Ikole and Ado Ekiti this past month: and “enjoyed” three full “rural” days of no electricity! Ikole by the way is one of the larger domains in Ekiti, a state the size of a large county in Texas. Yet, not a single blink!
The situation has even gotten so bad to the extent that the monarch in Odo-Oro Ekiti proclaimed that no one in his domain will pay PHCN its residual bill of =N=1500 (one thousand five hundred naira) for the month of December. And students in Egbeoba High School in Odo-Oro will still get these laptops too? It is to this mess that Dr. Fayemi is committing 100,000 power hungry machines that are about as useful as the amount of juice they suck from the grid! Pray Tell! Why Samsung and South Korea is being enriched at the expense of a local manufacturer.
What else could the government of Ekiti have done, given its resolute (and commendable) drive to spur computer literacy in this otherwise economically moribund state? Well, here are few pointers.
First, laptops by nature are the wrong machines to spur computer literacy. Bill Gates, the giant of the computer industry, used his first computer by sneaking into a computer Library on the campus of Washington University in Seattle where his mother presided. As a young teenager, it was his love of computers coupled with a passion for mischief that goaded the genius in him that helped birth the consumer computer business now worth billions of dollars around the globe. Lesson 1: Computer Library in Nigeria is more likely to capture the soul and mind of Ekiti’s own Bill Gates, than laptops distributed to far corners of an unlighted state!
Okay, may be that is a stretch. Let us assume here that the laptops do actually work, but is it really smart to give them to a ten year old that cannot possibly explore 10% of its use for checking email, social networking, accessing the internet (in a state where access is spotty), programming, word processing, database building, software development etc. For computer use to translate to true economic development, it has to be guided, hence the preference for a computer laboratory/library mode.
Go to a university in any developed country, aside from an open WIFI system across campus, a well stocked computer library allowing students to utilize them freely engenders a strong computer based development especially for the student that want to learn and utilize them. Stripping aside the strong correlation between leaving your own home, and wanting to do hardcore computer use under guidance, there is also a strong reason behind computer labs as a preferred route for pioneering access in rural areas and virgin economies; it simply opens up their use to more folks.
Indeed, the computer laboratory is not just a computer center or cyber caf├ę, but also a community center, a literacy center and above all a library. These days, everything is on the Internet i.e. Encyclopedia, journals, and textbooks. At the click of a button, you can access whole libraries that would have cost the Rockefellers billions in years past. This can be licensed (for free from developmental institutions and international universities) to new modular Computer Libraries/Laboratories that can be deployed in Ekiti state’s 141 secondary schools in 6 months! If you go on YouTube, there is the Khan Academy. You’ll learn everything from gravity to advanced computational sciences, at the click of a button. Modular Computer Libraries will bring them to you!
When coupled with the fact that electricity is simply a luxury in Ekiti state, and given the deadly state of our federal governance there is no hope anywhere near, a smart government will have opted for the modular computer library solution coupled with renewable energy sources.
A better solution is putting renewable energy powered computer mobile labs in every one of the 141 secondary schools in Ekiti. This can also serve as local libraries and can be accessed by students, teachers and community members at large. And I doubt it will cost $400 million to do! That is nearly $250,000 for each computer Lab; it is more than enough, include inverter, solar panels and the rest.
And just before you think this requires some huge engineering and developmental feat, consider the fact that a team led by a Nigerian (Mr. Idris Bello, now of Wennovation Hub & Oxford University) already designed this solution while in the United States, they – Libraries Across Africa (LAA)- even won in the Dell Social Innovation Competition, and this can be entirely manufactured locally. Is it containerized shipping cabins that rot in our ports and fall into disuse that we don’t have? Or are we lacking in a local manufacturer of servers and computers? With technicians of inverters, solar panels and batteries abounding across the land, there is no reason why Ekiti state is spurring Korea’s economy!
This alternative is a no-brainer, especially when the current cost of the program computes out at approximately $250,000.00 (two hundred and fifty thousand dollars) per Ekiti state secondary school. I am sure the folks at LAA can do with a fraction of that or less. Think about the possibilities, one and fifty functioning mobile libraries that will bring electricity to the remotest parts of Ekiti, serving 2 million people versus laptops in the hands of 100,000 students that will fall to disuse?
It is true, that a modular library solution also have its obvious downside if not properly managed. The cost of maintenance and operation need be factored in, so also must be the challenges of access control. Simple technology interventions, that can actually double as State ID cards can fix the access issues and can be implemented from these centers. While transferring security and operations to local communities that apply and compete for these libraries will fix the first issue. No royal father in Ekiti (where education is still valued) will want to own the reputation of allowing his own library to go down the drain.
Twice before, I have warned our Governor about the danger of “free”, and thrice he has ignored this clarion call. Computers don’t power themselves, batteries and electricity does! With some assistance from good teachers and dutiful students! In fact, if nothing: these 100,000 laptops have tales of misadventure written all over them. I am advising any solid entrepreneur with enough panache, seeking to start a recycling (junk computers) business, to head to Ekiti state. For in 6 months, your volume will predictably increase as Fayemi’s Computers fall prey to power surges, experimental use and ultimate disuse!
This latest adventure of Governor Fayemi bears every resemblance to what a “rural governor” should never do. But rather than a place of malice and corruption, this is bad policy coming from an academic mind! Dr. Fayemi has proven that good intentions do not necessarily translate to good policies! Or maybe I am wrong; perhaps it can translate to a change of course, and tapping into brains that abound across our land.