On the 27th February 2016, the faculty of Computing and Informatics at Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) in collaboration with Google, University of Namibia (UNAM) and Telecom Namibia hosted the first ever Namibian ‘Women in Computing’ conference which took place on NUST grounds. The event also commemorates Anita Borg’s birthday which is celebrated around the world. Anita Borg was a Computer Scientist and an advocate for women in computing who relentlessly fought to ensure that technology has a positive impact on people’s lives. She founded the Anita Borg Institute. Click here for more info on her.
Dr Anicia Peters, Dean of the faculty of Computing and Informatics at NUST, masterminded the event. She is a recipient of the Google Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship for Women in Computer Science through which she has studied in the US. She has made a vow to encourage girls in Namibia to pursue studies in the Computing field and being a key organizer of this event, is already applying that very vision.
The event attracted some 200 women and girls interested in Computing and related fields ranging from high school learners to professional women and university students/staff from NUST, UNAM and IUM. The Vice-Chancellor of NUST, Prof. Tjama Tjivikua, welcomed the participants and gave his appreciation to the organizers and participants. Topics presented at the conference focused on providing a platform to introduce, attract and encourage women and girls to the Computing field and provide role models and mentors for them.
“I think it’s very important to get more women into computing. My slogan is: Computing is too important to be left to men.”— By Karen Spärck Jones, Professor of Computers and Information at Cambridge Computer Laboratory.
Amongst the key speakers, was Ebru Celik, a Technical Programme Manager at Google. She connected via video conferencing for her talk and shared her successes as well as challenges she faced as a woman in computing. She stressed that a person’s gender should not have any bearing on their profession. In addition to the talks, panel discussions provided an opportunity for participants to ask questions to a group of six panelists who are professionally active in the technology field. A student panel also shared survival guidelines for women that find themselves in a “Male dominated world”.
The participants were served breakfast, a delicious lunch and what is a birthday celebration without cake? Three cakes were prepared for the celebration with some yummy ice-cream to cool-off the participants from the scorching weather outside.
Participants were also asked to sketch a design that they would like as the official logo for the ‘Women in Computing’ conference. In addition, there was a human bingo competition which encouraged the participants to meet new people and engage with each other. Across the hall from these engagements were exhibitors including a group of three 13 year old girls who demonstrated 3D programming and Tangeni Kamati, a 3rd year Computer Science student, who showcased his great invention of a car robot. Participants each received Google goodie bags and had access to free and fast 4G LTE Wi-Fi thanks to Telecom Namibia.
Women in Computing Society
The event concluded with the formation of the Women in Computing (WIC) Society which is aimed at creating a platform where women can host get-together’s, plan activities and share ideas that will assist in the growth of the technological industry in Namibia and Africa at large. Talks are underway on hosting the event every year in February.
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MOOCs are a course of study made available over the Internet without charge to a very large number of people.
Massive Online Open Courses or MOOCs are essentially the digital extension (or transformation) of distance learning. The term was coined in response to the George Siemens of Athabasca University led course called ‘Connectivism and Connective Knowledge’ which experimented with mixing face to face students with digital participants from the general public in 2008. In 2011, Stanford University developed 3 MOOC courses which quickly gained more than 200,000 registrations combined in a matter of weeks.
By 2012 several well-financed providers such as Coursera, Udacity and edX emerged onto the scene touting content partnerships with several world elite and American ivy league universities alongside a multitude of lower tier university and independently developed courses. For this article’s purpose we’d like to focus on what these MOOC courses mean for students and young professionals in Africa at large.
What kind of MOOCs exist?
xMOOCs – follow a traditional classroom style format where the eXpert (origin of the preceding x) determines curriculum content, leads a class via instructional video’s and classroom assignments during a given time frame. A lot of the courses on Coursera, for example, follow this method.
cMOOCs – do not follow a traditional model instead allowing the learner to choose and pace themselves on the content. The c stands for Connectivist, a which model attempts to push boundaries by also allowing for the learner to create content on the very subject material they are learning. Usually a mentor figure of some kind is still present just to loosely guide the process along but it is up to the learner to choose their own path. Many of the courses available on Treehouse a good example of cMOOCs.
What do MOOCs mean for Africa?
Access to an ever growing amount of educational content at little to no cost
Content is, in most cases, accessible across a number of devices
The courses you can find available at some of the world’s most popular MOOCs range from ‘Introduction to Artificial Intelligence’ to ‘Learning Basic English’. MOOCs are already taring down the access barriers to education enabling Africans to access world class content at very little cost.
Note that it’s not ‘for free’ as professed by many MOOC providers and mainstream media articles because this is not exactly the case in many instances for the average African user. While a course like ‘Financial Markets 101’ from Yale University may now be open to participants at no cost for enrolment, the supporting ‘hidden’ costs to access this material for the average African user is largely ignored.
Two core issues at the heart of the multi-tiered problem are:
access to quality computing devices/facilities on the one hand
access to quality internet on the other.
Access to quality desk/laptop/mobile computing is lacking in many homes and institutions around Africa, the problem intensifies when we look at rural sectors of Africa. While low cost mobile somewhat provides a viable alternative to access MOOCs, not all MOOCs have optimised their content delivery for low end mobile systems.
What do MOOCs mean for me as a young African student or professional?
MOOCs mean that even without instructions or assistance from your lecturer or employer that you can gain world class knowledge, skills and accreditation by participating in a MOOC of your choice. The access problems notwithstanding, you can take courses in various fields offered by top elite universities such as Harvard, MIT or UCT at little to no cost.
The information and course content might not always be accurate or appropriate for your locale but nevertheless being able to study ‘Computer Science 101’ from Stanford University (The creators of Google studied there) in the comfort of your home or local library beats having to raise local equivalent in USD currency to attend the course physically. Never-mind the normal entry requirements to get into some of these ‘elite’ universities.
Some platforms such as Coursera or NovoEd, usually for a fee, also provide certification and accreditation upon course completion which is recognised by companies and institutions around the world.
MOOCs can also assist young entrepreneurs, if you are able to beat the internet access hurdles, you can enhance your skills cheaply and thereby decrease the risk of your business venture failing.
What do I need to access a MOOC?
Somewhat stable Internet access
A desk/laptop or smartphone/tablet
A willingness to learn and discipline to hold yourself accountable for finishing a given course
P.S. Many post 2013 Samsung smartphone/tablet devices ship with the ‘Samsung Learning Hub’ applications which provides access to a select number of MOOCs. If you are lucky to own an Apple device, they also ship with the iTunesU application which provides an extensive selection of MOOCs.
How do I find a MOOC that interests me?
A Google or search engine query is usually an easy enough method to find a suitable MOOC. For example the search: ‘Computer Science MOOC’ will return a good number of actual MOOC websites that offer such a course. Another search query method is ‘University name – class name MOOC’ e.g. ‘University of Cape Town Medical Science MOOC’.
Some prefer to research their most suitable MOOC by referring to ‘best of’ lists, which list MOOC platforms based on some or other criteria. We have included some of those lists below and more can be found via a search engine query (such as searching for ‘Best MOOCs’)
On the 26th of February 2016, UNESCO held a stakeholder meeting to discuss the findings of the YouthMobile coding workshop held in November 2015 which also served as a feasibility study to include a coding and computational thinking element into the Namibian public school curriculum.
The YouthMobile Initiative attempts to introduce young people to computer science programming (learning-to-code) and problem solving (coding-to-learn).
What is coding and computational thinking?
Coding refers to the creation of software for various platforms such as desktop PCs, mobile phones and other automated systems. Computational thinking refers to an open ended cognitive process that encourages arriving at meaningful answers using decomposition, data representation, generalization, modelling, and algorithms.
It was the second meeting to be held to plan how the Namibian implementation of UNESCO’s YouthMobile program will move forward in 2016 and beyond. Stakeholders present included amongst others:
The coding workshop outcomes and findings, presented by Teaching and Learning unit of NUST Director Maurice Nkusi, highlighted the need to update the computer studies component of Namibian public school curriculum and how YouthMobile could serve as a platform to be leveraged towards that outcome. 2 functional application prototypes were demonstrated by workshop participants and the remaining certificates awarded to those not present at previous award ceremony in 2015.
“Coding refers to the writing of software for various platforms, be it desktop PCs, mobile phones and other automated systems.”
It was decided that 3 additional regions are to be targeted during 1st half of 2016 beginning with a ‘Training of Trainers’ phase with additional logistical support from The National Youth Service and NBII. Simultaneously UNAM and NUST are to assist in reviewing how open source derived course materials developed for YouthMobile by The Tech Guys can be implemented into the national curriculum.
Furthermore, it was discussed how Code.org, which has expressed interest in becoming a partner in the Tech Guys endeavour to positively disrupt the Namibian education system can become involved with an agreement has been formed with the education faculty at UNAM and subsequently other organizations to pursue the opportunity.
The program also received tentative support from the Office of The President represented by it’s Youth Advisor, Daisry Mathias, who stressed the need for the various players in Namibian digital innovation to stop operating in silo’s and form cohesive partnerships that could interface with government in a more efficient manner.
On 11th-23rd November 2015, The Tech Guys in conjunction with P.A.Y. Namibia and UNESCO Namibia held a 10 day YouthMobile Computer Science Principles workshop which culminated in 6 teams presenting 6 Android app prototypes built using the MIT App Inventor IDE.
17 students took part for an average of 5 hours per day exploring themes from digital literacy to how technology impacts their communities and how programming can be used to solve problems within their own communities.
The course material has been adapted from various open source repositories such as csunplugged.org, code.org et al. The aim of the workshop was to build at least 4 Android application prototypes aimed at creating a social impact within their communities. The teams managed to present 6 promising prototypes ranging from an SMS crime alert app to a University of Namibia campus navigation system.
Results from the workshop will be tabulated and discussed in an upcoming stakeholder meeting to be held at the UNESCO house in Windhoek later this week.
The workshop is part of a drive to reform the state of computer programming education in Namibia at a national level and also works as a short feasibility study which is to be extended in 2016.
Before 1993, most women that visited ER rooms in America were misdiagnosed with various illnesses, many of them would later be revealed to have had heart disease . A harrowing number of these women were effectively sent to their deaths because of scientific tests that were essentially devoid of any insights on the accuracy of the tests on women. Until 1993 the pervading belief was that women exhibited the same symptoms as men for cardiovascular disease, it was later found out that this was not necessarily true. This new revelation in science caused standard testing methods for cardiovascular disease to be discontinued, by then of course thousands of women had suffered adverse effects to misprescribed drugs that were created on clinical trials focused on the average sized man. This kind of oversight was motivated by the simplistic idea that women are “emotional” or in slightly more scientific terms, that they have physiological imbalances that make their test results unreliable. Surprisingly, this procedural bias continued in the US drug industry from 1850 to 1992 before health regulatory bodies mandated the inclusion of women in clinical trials. It is now known that women exhibit different symptoms to heart disease and perhaps consequently, that more women die of heart attacks than men. Although macabre, the story reveals a cross cutting homogeneity within the scientific enterprise that provokes us into wondering about what else we continue to miss daily because of gender specific valuations. We can only hope that our ignorance is not nearly as fatal as a heart attack.
So far, the story of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) has been one of inclusion, and one that is often overdressed in romanticized gender parity rhetoric. Statements such as “women are equal” and “women as just as capable as men” are often meant to imply that women are just like men, or I imagine that is what most men hear. This could be because men are unfortunately the status quo and sometimes when you are the status quo, it is hard to realize that there is another “quo”. The argument of equality for women in STEM in the formative years was poorly articulated and not well understood. This is true for equality for women in general, perhaps this is why, when faced with some ideas of feminism men are quick to retort that women should do their own heavy lifting or hold their own in a bare knuckle fist fight with a man. Of course the argument is more correctly framed today as an issue of equal rights for women. In the hope of building a more just and equitable society, most of us wish for the equal inclusion of women in both the knowledge and monetary economy because we believe that we have to be fair but I’m afraid this sentiment alone is not enough and in fact undermines the real contribution of women in any economy.
I am sure by now you have guessed that the author of this article is a man, one that until recently often saw it as a duty to the see the equal representation of women as a way to promote just order in the world. What I didn’t know about is the genius of decentralized design and comparative advantage. The truth is men and women are fundamentally different but most of us are guilt-tripped into ignoring why this is a good thing. There is a thing, a keen perspective, call it “gender innovation”- that only women can offer because they are women. This perspective is the billions of female minds thinking and dreaming up inventions to world problems, inventions we will never get to see because they are actively being repressed and downplayed by the dominant male bias. The male bias is an anachronistic bastion that maintains that only male ideas or ideas that solve men’s problems are worth pursuing because civilizations were built predominantly on the achievements of men, this idea is counter-productive to the say the least.
I often liken our predicament to the benefits brought about by extra-terrestrial inventions or technologies meant for space. Autonomous vehicles for instance where envisaged for space and deep-sea exploration because there is no place more foreign or hazardous to us. These technologies have found earthly/terrestrial applications. In order to solve a problem, woman centric or otherwise and because of the obvious motivation, a woman will invent something that can find far reaching applications, widening our inventory of inventions. This is the key to sustainable design and ostensibly the reason nature breeds diversity, because it makes the biosphere more adaptive to an ever changing environment. This is what we’re missing out on, a plethora of woman-built inventions that make us more adaptable to change in political, health, technological, economic and educational ecosystems. This is why the title of this article reads the why it does, “STEM needs more women”. Science and technology actually need the inventions of women, from a purely scientific, economical, functional and unadulterated point of view you cannot not have a sustainable and growing enterprise in science if you willfully crowd out the contributions of other scientist based on their nationality, ethnicity or gender. If you do this then science becomes esoteric and secretive like religious sects crippled by Aristotelian ideas of a universe with a “special” earth at its center. This should be the dominating argument, plain and bare, objectively presented with compelling numbers that show that less than half of a world’s population worth of intellectual raw material is being wasted. It is the thousands of jobs technology is projected to create with only half a work force to fill these jobs. Gender equality rhetoric in isolation is nothing but well-meant platitudes that mythologise the benefits of real equality.
In our experience teaching computer science thinking and programming to primary age girls, we found that the greatest challenge is convincing the girls that computer science is not a “boys thing”. There is a noticeable lack of a good interpretation of the STEM curriculum that makes it hard for girls to imagine themselves as thriving scientists and engineers. The curriculum is often presented in a skewed way, especially at primary ages it suggests that boys are more suitable for STEM jobs because they have an early experience playing games and toys related to STEM jobs. Scientific jobs are not easy but primary education should not scare girls from choosing STEM careers, same there should be no illusions about how much societal forces will try to discourage them, they should be made aware of the male bias. Women are early adopters of technology, to encourage our Computer Science girls class we often lead with explaining that the worlds first computer programmer was a woman, lady Ada Lovelace. To drive this point home we make references to the 1940s when most men worked hardware engineering jobs while women “manned” office desk jobs working with software and becoming the world’s first software engineering work force, in fact the term “software engineering” was coined by Margaret Hamilton, a woman. Obscure stories about women’s contributions to computer science are bountiful, read this report on the ENIAC six, or this one about the history of programming. . When teaching the girls, you have to situate them in a historical and present day reality all the while checking your own vantage point and bias.The best way to encourage participation of girls in STEM is to give them role models, increasing the prominence of women in STEM galvanises their enthusiasm to pursue STEM careers. Of course dispelling the myths of the male stereotype gets harder when there are daily reminders that there are those who think women have no place in computer science. The gamer gate controversy is an example of how misogynistic sentiment can sometimes scare women out of the tech industry.
Debunking the male bias doesn’t happen without debunking cultural and racial constructs.It is undoubtably harder for black women to pursue careers in STEM, even with inclusion programs the overall number of black women in STEM fields has remained alarmingly low. Cultural generalisations that commit women to other professions are a greater challenge to black women. The admission of black women in academia is often just part of meeting a diversity quota, this makes for a good splash of color on the university personnel page. Academic brilliance of women from minority groups is even less acknowledged in academia, so much so that there is an invention of the word “Minority Academia Ghetto”, a place where the non-functional, non-essential minority staff of universities are relegated to. It is evident that minority groups have been kept out of post doctoral and higher management positions, this further marginalizes black women and causes them to suffer from depression and impostor syndrome. Clearly we have a long way to go before women feel completely welcome in STEM but good progress is being made all around, the world is slowly realizing that women will offer an incalculable contribution to science if they are allowed to participate on an even playing field. A more productive world of science would have us see a shift from an emphasis on the gender meritocracy that relies on ideas of victimhood and pity praise, to a realization that excluding women is slowing down innovation that would otherwise make us a more advanced society.
Check out the following resources if you want to get into STEM
The AMPION Venture Bus competition touched down in Windhoek on the 10th of November with the participants accommodated at the Safari Hotels (who were generous enough to sponsor us a conference hall and free wi-fi on short notice). The actual event hosted by us which included a hackathon and startup pitch sessions took place the next day(11th November) at the NBII Mobile Lab located at the Polytechnic of Namibia Innovation Village.
36 participants came together to travel from Harare to Cape Town and build 9 startup teams of which E-Maji, a device to monitor biological water contamination at source, was chosen as winner at the final pitch held at AfricaCom 2014 in Cape Town. This year saw an awesome batch of participants with various backgrounds from MIT graduates, former Vodacom managers, investment bankers and of course developers from Africa and around the globe.
A total of six Namibian participants qualified to board the bus. Two of those, Anastacia Shipepe of team MEM(a platform to facilitate growth for SME’s in Africa) and Harry Moon of team DaMark.com (a platform to bridge the gap between formal and informal business sector in Africa) represented Namibia in 2014.
We had the chance to meet some awesome people and facilitate the first Namibian participants and make some noise about startups to get interest in Namibia going. To follow up on the bus coming to Windhoek, we will be facilitating meetings between Namibian and SADC tech hubs to find points of synergy in the upcoming months. We will also be working with local players in innovation to expand the Venture Bus idea in a local context.
We are also happy to announce that SAIS, Leap Namibia, information.na and Microsoft are already onboard for next year’s bus. We’ll keep you updated on how the movement grows going forward and thank you for your support!
40 entrepreneurs on 1 bus for 5 days through 4 African countries! Designers, business experts and developers meet on the Venture Bus and team up (usually into 8 groups) to create innovative startups providing solutions to local challenges in Africa, specifically Namibia in our case. Yes, the Venture Bus is coming to Windhoek! Whoop!
You must expect that from time to time this blog will concern itself with research matters around information systems and issues about their appropriation or adoption in indigenous communities. This is because part of our social development agenda is to create tools that aid indigenous communities. That being said I would like to, albeit at a very high level, deconstruct the implications of participatory computing systems like Wikipedia and the role they play in empowering Namibian communities or the communities of other countries like it. This article is a preamble to a more comprehensive report that I’m working on during the course of the year.
With the recent advancements in ICT4D, Namibia has seen many of its indigenous communities receive huge investments
in telecommunication infrastructure. There are many reports that document the progress of this endeavor and I suspect they form part of a greater discourse about the proverbial “bridging the digital divide”. My concern however is not whether rural schools are getting educational necessities like internet but rather the socio-technical issues that come with introducing “foreign technologies” into indigenous communities.
I recently got dragged into the maelstrom of Wikipedia and what it means for indigenous knowledge systems. I’m going to ignore any academic citation red tape right now and tell you that indigenous knowledge is popularly defined as “knowledge acquired by people who have had a long rapport with their environment”. The Himba of Namibia for instance would typically qualify as possessors of indigenous knowledge since their livelihood over the years has relied greatly on knowledge they acquired from living in Southern African environments for a long time.
Jimmy Wales, one of the founders of Wikipedia has described Wikipedia’s grand vision as “creating a world where every person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge”. I’d like to point out that “sum of all human knowledge” is really where it gets tricky. Currently the regulations that control the commission and omission of information into Wikipedia are laden with what we call a systemic bias. This systemic bias is preventing us from aggregating the sum of human knowledge because generally the curators running the show stem from western origins bringing with them western paradigms. This is being promulgated by a few counter intuitive rules they essentially say everyone is allowed to say their say as long as they do it in erudite English. One rule (notability) for instance requires that any information contributed to Wikipedia is anchored by reliable sources. The problem is reliable sources is defined from an occidental point of view.
To put things in perspective, this essentially means that if you as a Himba wanted to submit an article to Wikipedia documenting a unique customary tradition this article would have to be substantiated by enough notable sources for it to survive Wikipedia’s unforgiving curators. Now, finding reliable source might not be a problem when writing about a particular butterfly in North America since Zoologist or historians have documented the landscape to near exhaustive limits but this is not the case for Namibia. A lot of Namibia’s history or indigenous knowledge is undocumented and what little has been written about it has been written from the view-point of Western settler intelligentsia that introduce a serious narrative bias.
The entire thing is a Penrose step of never-ending issues, not only socio-technical but sometimes behavioural and cultural as well. With strong cultural underpinnings, we see local value systems clashing violently with those embedded in imported technologies. Perhaps I’m being too idealistic but when we leave this planet for the stars one day I’d like to leave with the wealth of its knowledge on a memory stick and I’m not just talking about knowledge on my favorite composer Frederic Chopin, but also how my ancestors made my favorite traditional drink Oshikundu. Currently, many research groups are experimenting with meta tools that make it easy for potential would-be editors to become frequent contributors. The declining retention rate of editors on English Wikipedia doesn’t help the faint glimmer of hope to encourage contribution to the sum of human knowledge. One would think that to overcome local challenges to the meagre repositories of Indigenous Knowledge we have to wait for a top-down solution but if M-PESA is anything to go by maybe we ought to find local solutions by co-opting a Western technology.
(Note the irony in all the wiki links in this post 😉 )
TV White Spaces—the unused spectrum between TV channels—have the potential to bring wireless broadband access to underserved and rural areas. These low frequency signals can travel long distances and fill a need in places where telecommunications infrastructure is lacking.