The NSFAF announced some time ago that it plans to spend N$180 million to buy laptops needed by many students to access e-learning platforms. Student unions and youth political bodies claiming to speak for ‘the students’, object to this expenditure. These young leaders are fighting the wrong fight.
The Namibia National Students Organisation (Nanso), the Students Union of Namibia (SUN), the National Africa Students Association, the Landless People’s Movement Student Command and the Popular Democratic Movement Youth League have all condemned NSFAF’s laptop purchase plan as unreasonable.
We fail to see what is so unreasonable? E-learning is going to happen; in the future, it will be a permanent fixture in education and employment – that is a fact. Most students don’t have laptops, tablets and home PCs – that is a fact. They also have no money to buy this equipment – that is a fact. If making a plan to deal with these facts is unreasonable, then what is the protestors’ alternative plan?
Would the supposed student representatives rather have their constituents miss class? Is it ok for them to fail tests and not graduate for want of the right learning equipment?
The issue that should be the source of the protests are the modalities of the laptop handout and what comes with the laptop package.
Who gets a free laptop? What is the accountability plan for them? What stops a student from selling his/her laptop for cash and then asking for another one?
Some of those receiving these expensive products have never owned anything of such value in their lives. Let us be sensitive, but realistic about ourselves.
They may have no idea of how to maintain them. We have images of broken screens, sand in the USB drives, dropped laptops, and cool drinks spilled on the keyboard.
And of course, the thieves are already smiling. Most certainly, the laptops will be left in taxis or at a friend’s house. They stand a good chance of being poached by relatives/friends looking for quick cash. For sure, the machines will be stolen off their shoulders as they walk down the street with computer bags.
Critically, will the appropriate software come with the laptops? Will the mouse, charging cable, laptop case and adapters be included at no separate cost? Stores charge separately for everything needed to make the laptop work.
Microsoft Word’s latest version for students is over N$2,500. Malware protection can cost $1000-$3000. Will this be already installed on the laptop when it is given out?
Then there is the main problem. Having a laptop for e-classes and no internet connection is like having a nice, new car with no engine.
The very point of the laptop is to access e-learning. Data can only be purchased in bundles and downloaded on a smart phone. Then the smart phone is used as a hotspot for the laptop. Or, a hotspot device can be purchased (MTC has one for N$800). Without these necessary parts of the laptop e-learning package, it will not work.
Take note that buying and MTC bundles that last only 60 days carries costs ranging from N$13 for 40 MB to 15 GB for N$1,069. Students can stay up late to use the free data times in the wee-hours to do their homework, but that isn’t feasible. The different schools must quantify their e-learning sessions in terms of MB needed so that the students can know how much data to buy.
Then, there is data needed for the homework, reading assignments and research. Students studying Malcolm X, they might want to read an e-book about him, or view black and white YouTube films of his speeches and interviews. This takes even more data. Who pays for this?
If the intent of buying laptops is to help students without resources access e-learning, then do it right. This should be the focus of the demonstrations by the student leaders.
NSFAF must proceed to secure these laptops at a wholesale price for INCLUSIVE laptop packages. The ‘deal’ must include the items mentioned above and renewable vouchers for the necessary amounts of data.
Security and maintenance workshops must be mandatory for those accepting the laptops. Random check-ups to ensure the equipment is in order should be a part of the deal for all recipients. Most importantly, devices that can serve as hotspots (for those without smart phones) must come with the deal. These things must happen or else the entire laptop program is a failure before it ever starts.