The Shuttleworth Foundation

Helen King
International Relations Manager, The Shuttleworth Foundation (TSF), London, UK.

TSF is based in South Africa where it has its main ‘think tank’ on open source (OS) technology and relevant social issues. Some solutions can be internationalised, but TSF is highly aware of the importance of context. Projects worked on by TSF are mainly concerned with infrastructure, curriculum and access as the three major educational problems that TSF sees as facing South Africa at present. Emphasis is not on shiny computer labs that might never be used, but on knowledge sharing that often involves refurbished computers in environments that are meaningful to the people involved. TSF’s Ubuntu version of Linux is the world’s largest OS desktop. It is accompanied by EduBuntu, the educational platform based on Ubuntu. EduBuntu contains OS programs – not courseware - that allow children to undertake educational activities. The Freedom Toaster project addresses problems of access through OS download kiosks for CD burning, in contexts such as sub-Saharan Africa where less than 1% of people have Internet connections. Freedom Toasters are spreading to South America and North Africa, and the UN is interested in the application of Freedom Toasters in ‘local internets’, characterised by sporadic connection, which harness local expertise and knowledge sharing: content in context. Kusatha is a Zulu word meaning ‘tomorrow’. The Kusatha project addresses the insoluble shortage of mathematics teachers (current average age of maths teachers in South Africa is 58). Kusatha seeks alternative ways for students to acquire the analytical skills traditionally acquired through maths (and science) education. It is a controversial stance, but TSF believes that analytical skills can be developed in other ways such as software programming that is peer-to-peer taught, and peer assessed. It uses the teacher as a facilitator for this learning – and takes advantage of the fact that children are far more confident with computers than teachers. There is collaboration with Squeaklogo and Python, programming languages written especially for the educational context. Piloting will occur in South Africa and India from October 2006. A current problem is courseware aimed at schools that is created in rigid multimedia construction, requiring heavy-duty computing resources – and not aligned to national curriculum standards. Consequently TSF is engaged in collaboration with multiple international partners on the ‘open curriculum’ to see if there are some models that can really work. Their initial portal was a failure – now envisaged is something more like the IITB example in which communities sustainably share knowledge with each other.