Monday, October 31, 2005

TECHKNOWLEDGY : Deserves A Close Look

When I first saw the name "Techknowledgy" I thought that someone had misspelled it. But before I considered correcting the person who had written it, I read a little further. (As I get older, I have learned to "look before I leap.") And when I looked, what I saw was a really inspiring non-profit organization operating out of the UK.

Techknowledgy is a charitable organization dedicated to working with people in the developing countries of Africa in order to help them bridge the technology divide. By teaching passing on the knowledge about how to use it effectively. They support sustainable education programmes through providing computer equipment along with instructions on their use and also access to the Internet.

Focusing on young people of Africa, Techknowledgy endeavors to empower them by establishing centres where they can "learn to use computers and thus acquire skills that will benefit them later in life". This organization teaches the basic skills of keyboard use and English language, information technology and global communications. Together these skills give these new "techno citizens" opportunities in life which they might otherwise have been denied due to a lack of facilities and resources.

Using previously owned computers Techknowledgy equips schools in a number of African countries. Once the computers are installed in the schools, the organization instructs them on how to maintain them and they also provide IT teaching programmes.

Techknowledgy has worked with more than twenty African schools and universities, technical training collages and women's training institutions in Ghana, and Tanzania. Additionally Techknowledgy pairs schools in the UK with African counterparts, giving students in both the UK and Africa the opportunity to communicate using email.

Over 1,000 computers have been sent to Africa in the past year by Techknowledgy. And by doing this, they have helped with "the education of over 20,000 African children and young people and have provided employment opportunities to over 60 young adults to teach IT and to provide in-country support for the programmes."

Techknowledgy, like many other organizations that donate computers and other technical items to developing nations was organized with the understanding that many people would dearly love to have items that are often discarded in the developed nations. The folks at Techknowledgy realized that developing countries often cannot afford what is taken for granted in nations like the UK and the US. So Techknowledgy set about rescuing items that were headed for the landfills in the UK but could be recycled and reused effectively elsewhere. Particularly, they point out that computers that can be used for educational purposes and run Windows 95 and Office 97 are ideal in certain developing nations but are often discarded in the UK because they can be replaced more effectively than they can be recycled.

Techknowledgy points out that this is not a "totally unique" idea. But in this particular instance this came to be joint effort between a UK based charity and an NGO in Ghana.

In Ghana, phase one of the Project there had equipping the schools directly with computers prior to the UK and Ghanaian organizations joining forces. Research had been done, and that offered a guideline to follow in regards to the important elements of the scheme.

One of the things learned was that maintenance is terribly important. Computers had come into Ghana with keyboards for use with French, German and even Japanese. It is obvious to see the difficulties that that would create. Additionally, because computers were coming into the country configured for a 110 volt power supply as is standard in America, in Ghana, the power supply is 220 volts. Step down transformers were used to accommodate the difference in the US computers and the Ghanaian power supply, but the transformers were very costly, often exceeding the real value of the computer, according to Techknowledgy. And as if that was not problem enough, some of the computers failed after only a short time, and repair costs were prohibitive.

Learning from their experience, the people at Techknowledgy realized that they had to come up with a complete solution. They had to address the issues of supply, upgrade and maintenance of the machines. In addition to this, they had to convert the classrooms so as to provide an acceptable environment with proper furnishing and air conditioning. Techknowledgy also made sure that there were adequately trained teaching staffs in the schools.

When Techknowledgy went to work in Tanzania, the two organisations had come together and developed a single plan of action. In Tanzania the basic formula used in Ghana was adopted and revised. As a result of meetings held with the Education service in Tanzania an NGO was formed to be a vehicle for the project. To date, 26 computer schools have been successfully opened; and Techknowledgy intends to double that number in two years.

After the two organizations came together, they went back into Ghana for phase two of the program there. In order to move things forward more efficiently, a new NGO was formed in Ghana and talks were entered into with prospective schools. The idea was well received and several schools accepted the proposal. To date, two schools have been opened.

Because of the success of its operations, the Department for Community Development in Ghana has asked Techknowledgy to help with the Women's Institutions. These Institutions are schools that cater for children who have either dropped out of the education system or can't afford the fees, or both. However, these are small schools and because the government aid is limited their budgets are not very large either.

Rising to the challenge, Techknowledgy agreed to help 24 Institutions with 20 computers each. Now they have been asked by the Minister for Women's Affairs to help with a additional 24 girls schools with 40 computers each.

Although Techknowledgy was the coming together of two organizations, it is a single organisation with a Director appointed for each country responsible for the respective operations. The Ghana branch of the organization is set up to equip 2-3 schools a term. Because of the demands of providing such a large supply of computers, Techknowledgy is now looking for 3000 sq ft of storage space and workshop facilities.

It is also anticipated that the operation in Tanzania is going to expand to approximately the same level.

Techknowledgy only charges the students £4.50 a year each for the use of the computers. The fee's generated in this way are used entirely within the recipient country for repair and maintenance of the equipment and other services such as teacher training.

In order to completely refurbish a classroom and provide 40-50 computers for the student to use the organization has to raise £10,000.

Techknowledgy has put out the appeal that "If you can let me know of anyone wishing to dispose of computers we would appreciate it. We can in return offer photographs for your own newsletter and discuss the possibility of free advertising through newspaper articles. Also if you can offer any storage space, or know of anyone who can assist in the short and long term we again would be very grateful."

I was going to post some of the FAQs that are found on Techknowledgy's web site, but I see by the old clock on the wall that it is time for me to go, so I am just going to point you to Techknowledgy's web site and ask you to look them over.

Techknowledgy is doing a lot of good and you can be a part of that if you know of a way that you can help them.

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