Urgent Need To Transition The Economy Using ICTs

Need to integrate ICT in national policy formulation

The following was posted as a comment on another blog by Sid Boyce. Given the importance of ICT to the development of Barbados BU has chosen to give it prominence.

There is no overnight fix. First you need teachers who are qualified and experienced. Secondly you need students who are curious about acquiring knowledge through curiosity and self motivation. It’s not just a challenge for Barbados, we have the same here in the UK as noted in the following reports1,2, 3, 4.

You will see in one report with videos there is a guy from Microsoft, the problem is partly down to Microsoft who are only interested in maintaining a monopoly rather than in propagating “COMPUTING SKILLS”. And as all these reports show, ICT training is largely focused on using their “Office” tools and not on Computing skills per se. In a recent UN report dealing with progress in Namibia, Jordan and Singapore which I have stored somewhere on a computer here.

Namibia some years ago were offered free PC’s for their schools then they discovered they would have to buy expensive software from Microsoft in order to run on them. They declined the offer and a South African acquired used PC’s from other donors, installed Linux on them and assisted in getting the kids kick started in their use and into software development.

Singapore introduces computing at the primary education and it continues across the various phases of their education with skills being tested at all levels. As a result schools in Singapore develop software that they sell to schools across the English speaking world.

Similar efforts by Helios in the US where he gets old computers, have the kids build them, install the operating system, teach them and then they have a free PC with all the development tools they could wish for. http://linuxlock.blogspot.com/ and as he says “Linux is to computing what freedom is to mankind…and then there’s Microsoft”.

I and others have often been accused of hating Microsoft or Bill Gates, but I have experience on the largest computing systems ever built and way way longer than Microsoft existed. The problem we have with Microsoft is that it does not act as a vehicle for broadening anyone’s perspective or education in the art of computing and computing is vital to everything we do be it medical research, space exploration, product production and testing of all types, communication, drug research, robotics and just about every activity including when we sit down to watch TV.

Linux, FreeBSD, openBSD, PcBSD are all free for download off the internet. There are Linux live CD’s that can be downloaded as .iso files, burned to CD and booted up so that anyone can test drive Linux without having to install it on their PC with Windows until they are happy to do so.
Linux comes in different flavourscalled distributions from companies such as RedHat (Fedora), Canonical (Ubuntu) South African based, Linux Mint, Scientific Linux by CERN (runs the Large Hadron Collider – LHC) and too many others to mention here. It’s in use by some of the largest corporations, Boeing, America West, USPS, BBC, NASA, Disney, NYSE, Tokyo Stock Exchange, Russian government in all departments including education, the French parliament, London Stock Exchange, IBM, Google, the set top boxes you use in Barbados ,etc.

So from a humble PC and a willingness to learn any individual can acquire computing skills worth their effort. Copious help is always available via the internet and many people across the planet reading the Linux forums have for decades emailed me for help, advice and solutions. It’s one huge collaborative project with contributors across the globe so development never stops and there is no bar to contributors.
Even some of IBM’s contributions have been rejected until the lead developers were happy with them.

Not bad for a project started by a Finnish student called Linus Torvalds and taken up by thousands of individual and corporate developer across the globe, many have not met in person and email is largely the enabler. The larger proportion of the internet backbone is Linux based.

To see what can be done in Linux, a Mexican post graduate student started a project which morphed into a company called Ximian which he sold to Novell for US $300 million and a directorship and has since gone on to form another company. RedHat with sales of over $1Bn annually started out as a bedroom project by Matthew Sulzic. Google could not have got off the ground if it weren’t for Linux as the licensing of operating systems and software from Microsoft would have made it a non-starter

Guys and gals making the most of the free software out there get noticed by companies such as Google with a bright, well paid career in prospect or they can start their own software companies.

The original idea behind Linux was to empower anyone anywhere to be independent of any software licensing restrictions and especially in low income countries, the ability to produce home grown software that can at least lessen the outflow of foreign currency and to allow development of products that can earn foreign exchange.

When the kids go on the internet, have them look wider than Facebook and Twitter, incidentally both of them and Google run on huge Linux computing server farms. There is a lot more worthwhile to take in, see and use to great benefit.

I didn’t even mention wordpress.com which hosts this blog, just can’t get away from the free software ecosystem.

0 thoughts on “Urgent Need To Transition The Economy Using ICTs

  1. Many run away from postings of this content, why?

    Given how critical this topic is to the development of Barbados in an information era coupled with the education of Barbadians one would expect submissions of this typo would garner more feedback.

    It was interesting to listen to Mia Mottley in the reply to the Estimates speaking to the need for government to make free Internet services available to all households in 2012 to act as a fertile ground for discovery of talent i.e. another Bill Gates etc. If we can subsidize school meals and bus fare for school children the order of importance for Internet access is no less in 2012.

  2. The Free Wifi initiative by the Barbados Entrepreneurship Foundation is already on-track to ensuring that internet is accessible by all Barbadians. While only 60% was achieved in Nov 2011, the course has been charted towards 100%. That said, a Government subsidy would ensure that the Free Wifi is sustainable.

    However, access to the internet is not a means to the end desired. There must be productive use of that internet access which must go beyond simple entertainment and communications.

    I firmly believe we need to create our own software. There are some signs that this will happen ie the programming competitions currently happening and coming on-stream. I’m trying to contribute via the facebook group I started for local App Developers seen here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/appdevbarbados/

  3. @Shannon

    Government can’t be faulted if it provided the enabling environment. How do we trigger entrepreneurial thought is another challenge. It starts with clearing obstacles to Internet access.

  4. @ David
    I cannot resist saying that the one man credited with inventing the computer is Alan Turing, a former Intelligence Officer at Bletchley Park in the UK during the war. Sadly, like Wilde he found rent boys of interest after he ‘came out’, was hounded in the courts and committed suicide. There is an Alan Turing website.

    I have to say that having been in education in different countries all my life (God forbid my being called an ‘educator’), I have always been rather sceptical about IT. It is an age thing, I suppose. Research papers are so often simply culled from the internet and there is very little ‘curiosity’ now in the sense used by Mr Boyce. And if as teachers we say anything which is new or startling we are apt to get into all sorts of trouble not least from colleagues. There is a sense in which IT stifles that curiosity of which he speaks. Fact is children do not read any more, or not much despite the best efforts (whatever they are) in the schools. The result is declining literacy levels and not only here. At the tertiary level the semester system doesn’t help. But how wonderful to read of the entrepreneurial efforts in the places he mentions to get round the microsoft problem.

  5. @Shannon | March 13, 2012 at 6:50 AM |
    The Free Wifi initiative by the Barbados Entrepreneurship Foundation is already on-track to ensuring that internet is accessible by all Barbadians. While only 60% was achieved in Nov 2011, the course has been charted towards 100%. That said, a Government subsidy would ensure that the Free Wifi is sustainable.”

    Why a subsidy from government? Where does the money come from in the first place? Not consumers who have been very good to C&W over the years. Profits, commissions and management fees remitted to Head Office were nothing to scoff at.
    I agree that too many young Bajans see the internet as a tool to gossip, and a source of entertainment and as an electronic stimulant to titillate their imagination suppressed sexual desires. But its educational, business and economic values are woefully underutilized.
    Island wide free internet access as Mia regurgitated is the way forward. The same point was highlighted on BU way back when it was argued that modern-day access to IT is equivalent to the 1940’s & 50’s drive towards free basic education (culmination with access to free secondary education in the 1960’s) is not going to cost the government or the country any major foreign exchange commitment, except to ensure every child has access to a computer. Bim is small enough and flat with the basic infrastructure already in place for such a developmental project needed to meet the challenges of a new economic paradigm.
    Maybe if the DLP had gone ahead with its 2009 budgetary proposal to impose a tax on mobile phones this revenue could have been earmarked for funding such a wise proposal with island wide application. There is nothing wrong in principle with the tax since it is based on use and discretionary spending (not a tax on an absolute necessity or income). What is required is a rethink of the mechanism to ensure its effective imposition and collection. Instead of making the tax “specific”-say $4.00 per month per phone- make the tax “ad valorem”. In other words, impose a special consumption tax of 2.5% or increase the VAT on phone bills to 20%. This “special WiFi/Internet surcharge would apply to domestic phones only. Not businesses! It would also apply to both post paid and prepaid mobile phones. With regard to prepaid (pay as you talk) it would be imposed at the point of topping up as it is presently done with the VAT. It must be clearly legislated that this special tax must be ring-fenced and can only be used towards the expansion of a freely accessible WiFi/Internet Island-wide framework and the continuing development of the ICT sector in Bim.

    Whoever came up with such a“dull” idea and unworkable proposal of imposing a fixed monthly tax of $4.00 per pre-paid mobile phones does not know his elbow from his arse and deserves to be jettison from the cabinet and sent floating in the Pierhead marina basin to catch sh*te mullets.

  6. @ David

    Yes probably. If you read any of my stuff you will see how incompetent I am when it comes to the presentation of blogs. I guess I am learning. And of course the internet is a wonderful educator as, latish in life, I’ve discovered. Yesterday, following something Miller said I looked up the ‘dangers’ of soy and, indeed, I did find something, well a lot, on its effect on the male member. I drink soy milk – but I guess at my age I don’t need to worry too much – but then I mustn’t run myself down either. So I suppose it’s really about how we use the internet and how we are educated to use it (leaving aside questions relating to speed and efficient communication).

  7. @DAvid
    “How do we trigger entrepreneurial thought is another challenge”

    Herein lies the rub. Our education system has always been and still is catered towards a model and the production of a citizen who consumes rather than produces. Creativity, innovativeness, ingenuity, divergence of thought and thinking out the box are actually stifled rather than embraced and encouraged. Our companies use ICT as token tools for tasked needed now, our people use ICT for leisure, communication and enjoyment and our policy makers don’t even have a clue about the power and potential technology for a small developing state such as ours. Oh yea, the ISPs (LIME etc.) just want profits so they can’t be included in the discourse. real change will be needed in

    a) the education system (both academic and technical)
    b) in the public sector (where ICT use and leveraging becomes a
    c) the private sector (for financial,infrastructural and knowledge support)
    d) in homes and communities (where the computer isn’t bought to do a “couple school assignment” but becomes a tool of empowerment and education for the ENTIRE family).
    e) the minds of our policy makers, to see what’s possible, have the courage to go after it, and the balls to defend their decision and the investment needed.

    Properly planed ICT use can reap untold dividends and cost saving (money and time), but alas “properly planned” is not a feature of Barbadian decision making and implementation. .

  8. David “Many run away from postings of this content, why?”

    The majority are interested in the salacious political diatribe which is entertainment for Bajans.

    I will contribute later because I have to finish a project for a client who is “travelling” and as you can tell (David) I am working at another client’s location.

    If Barbados wants to fast track to ICT, give 50% of the scholarships to study IT,programming,Industrial design, animation etc at top level Universities.

  9. Thanks for the good comments so far. A benefit of homegrown programming which Hants alluded to is very important to save foreign exchange. Can anyone put a number on the foreign exchange outflow associated with software license fees and the like?

  10. I think government policy has been quite weak in this area. the current administration has hardly spoken to the issue of ICT.

  11. Trained Economist | March 13, 2012 at 11:37 AM |
    “I think government policy has been quite weak in this area. the current administration has hardly spoken to the issue of ICT.”

    Very good! Fair comment that reflects the actual state of affairs. Maybe they can co-opt MIA to speak on their behalf. But is our PM wired in that direction, ICT that is? He looks and sounds like a pen and paper man with loads of file heaped high on his desk. But one should not only judge a man by his looks and words but also by his actions.

  12. Sid

    You make very valid points in your submission.

    It is a fact that the Microsoft OS has more issues that people know, noting the hundreds of thousands jobs worldwide this flaws OS has created.

    It is also a fact that they is a range of good open source software out there can can be leverages by our youth and big ways.

    However it is also reality that in the near term we cannot do anything about the beast called Microsoft and all the great points you made.

    However what I believe we “can do” is just as you said quote: “First you need teachers who are qualified and experienced. Secondly you need students who are curious about acquiring knowledge through curiosity and self motivation”.

    What is preventing us from reaching #1 above is that we as a nation have a very shortsighted view of education ….. which has hindered our youth from being curious about acquiring knowledge through curiosity and self motivation.

    Just imagine the youth lives we as a society have shutdown just because they did not do well on the 11 plus exam.

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