Jos Magic

Imagine a university computer laboratory with perhaps 30 workstations, fully networked via a fiber campus backbone with full Intranet access plus Internet mail, requiring only a pipe to the Internet for global Web access. Fill the room with undergraduate students (yes!) working on term papers, spreadsheet assignments, and multimedia experiments. A small cluster of students wait at the door for their appointed time of access. A lab monitor tells those at the workstations when their own time is up to make room for the newcomers. A generator chugs in the background to keep things going.

I'm sure such undergraduate labs exist in many places in Africa, but most of the ones I've seen are monopolized by faculty and perhaps a few very senior graduate students. Many computers I've seen in African universities spend most of their hours as what one American staff member at Jos calls "virtual fish tanks," with colorful aquatic screensavers occupying the CPUs in empty offices as their lecturers are away in class.

Jos is not like that. I found Jos to be truly amazing.

I'm told the Vice Chancellor deserves full credit for committing funds to purchase most of the equipment that I saw in the lab. Gateway donated one of the servers I saw, which given its power is now fully utilized as a multimedia production workstation. Cliff Missen, whom many of you know from this forum, has transferred to Jos from his home at the University of Iowa to help with some of the local networking installations, and had a bit of influence over the decision to park computers in an undergraduate lab rather than on professor desks. Cliff also brought along a significant container of accompanied baggage full of donated computers from Iowa. The US Information Service and the Fulbright program made the exchange possible.

There is a competition on the Jos campus that has attracted quite a bit of enthusiasm. The grand prize winner will have constructed the best Web site. I saw clusters of enthusiastic students excitedly discussing the latest twists in Shockwave animation and sound, and was shown quite a few creative HTML applications. I'm fairly handy these days with animated gifs, but I wouldn't dare venture to compete with these students.

Cliff tells me that young students arrive with no preconceptions about what the Internet can or cannot do. His philosophy has been to furnish students with the very best software and equipment, and then to permit them the "face time" (time physically in front of a computer) to learn and be creative. The foresight of the university's leadership in investing in the necessary equipment and infrastructure, and the foresight of the Nigerian government in making the funds available to
the university, has made it all possible.

A most impressive experiment.

Of course there is more to come. The Nigerian telecommunications regulatory commission has been a bit slow in granting a license for a VSAT, but funds are available for immediate installation once the government gives the word. Everyone is hopeful that this will happen soon. As was pointed out to me, if you search the Internet for information on Jos, everything you'll likely find will have been written by someone not in Nigeria. A VSAT would cure that problem in a hurry.

Cheers!

Jeff @ Abuja

SETA Corporation Senior Analyst
africalink@usaid.gov


This page is Cliff Missen and was last updated on July 19, 2002 by IOWA\nicknish.