In the wee hours of Sunday morning I chatted to CapeTalk’s Mpho Moletlegi about how Facebook is using AI to prevent suicide.
The Whale Trail and I had some unfinished business. Three years ago I set off to do the trail in the middle of the massive storm that hit the Western Cape in November 2013. Of course we were sent straight home, but first enjoyed a lovely braai, and drank up all our wine and ate all our snacks at the Potberg hut before returning to Cape Town the next day. It was a fun overnight in nature with great people, but not really the 5-day trail extravaganza we’d been anticipating!
So this year I leapt at the chance to tackle the trail again, and it was well worth the wait.
In amongst all the frothing at the mouth about the latest Apple iPhone-this and Samsung Galaxy-that, I do love a good “feature phones change lives” story. So I eagerly joined today’s Cape Town launch of Help@hand, a mobile information service that provides people who are refugees, asylum seekers or migrants with a way to stay informed about their legal rights in South Africa. The USSD-based feature phone service is also a platform to report xenophobic attacks, corruption or unlawful arrests.
Once upon a time it was an international trendsetter, leading the field in its thinking about the use of free and open source software. Now, the South African government’s Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) Policy 2007 is an also ran, and appears to be being widely disregarded by those tasked with implementing it.
This came to a head with a memorandum sent out by the Department of Basic Education (DoBE) stating that it has decided to “standardise the software tools for implementing and assessing Computer Applications Technology (CAT) and Information Technology (IT) for schools that write the National Senior Certificate (NSC) examinations.”
Starting in 2014 schools must standardise on Microsoft Office and the Delphi programming language for grades 11 and 12. Microsoft Office use kicks in immediately, with the Delphi roll-out to be completed by the November 2016 exams.
The decision sparked an outcry from education experts, business and civil society following a blog post by former professor of botany and FOSS advocate, Derek Keats, which drew wider attention to the decision. Concerns raised by detractors include the wider implications of the government disregarding the principles in its FOSS policy, and that by choosing proprietary software and “an ancient, moribund language” South Africa will be raising a generation of technology consumers, rather than producers.
Keats points to Mark Shuttleworth, Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin and Larry Page as technology innovators who cut their teeth on free and open source software. Had they been denied access to it, none of those companies would have been built, Shuttleworth would not have gone to space, Facebook would not have been developed, search engines would not have advanced as fast as they did in the time they did, and the giant that is Google would not have been built, Keats maintains.
The fact that the user has access to the underlying code when software is open source underpins this assertion. “Forcing children to work on proprietary software is like locking them in a dark closet,” says Keats. “By focusing technology in education on non-modifiable software that kids can’t play with and have fun with, means they can only use it as consumers.”
Likewise Keats has a problem with the Delphi programming language. He says: “Learning programming in isolation or with technology that provides you with a GUI that hides the output is the worst way to learn.
“We’re creating better consumers of technology, rather than the next generation of producers,” says Keats. “We’re at serious risk of being a bystander in the knowledge economy.”
Muggie van Staden, MD of Obsidian, a company that implements and supports open source software (OSS) for business users, is also concerned about what this decision means for the future of OSS in any government department. The FOSS policy clearly states that open source principles, open standards and open content be used by government where possible, he says.
Speaking in September at GovTech 2013, the State Information Technology Agency’s (SITA) conference for organisations delivering ICT solutions to the Public Service, Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel reiterated government’s policy, which the DoBE memorandum ignores, stating that: “I am a big believer in open source and we haven’t even begun to tap this source yet. We need to write the code, protect the code and use it for government services.”
The risks of not using OSS are manifold, Van Staden argues, especially when it comes to data privacy: with proprietary software users can’t interrogate the code to see if personal information is being shared and users are also locked into a specific format and can’t transfer data easily. With electronic identification being launched in South Africa, Van Staden urges citizens to ask whether the government has full control over the personal information it has stored.
Cost is another concern of Van Staden’s, both from the point of view of the government avoiding vendor lock-in, having more choice and so more buying power; and also from the point of view of bridging the digital divide. OSS suites such as LibreOffice can be freely downloaded and shared with all learners, giving them equal access to technology at school and at home.
“This is simply a bad decision,” he says. “It’s taking capabilities away and not doing what basic education should be doing.”
Unfortunately the Department of Basic Education did not respond to my questions, but it did release a general statement in response to the initial outcry at the decision. Amongst other things, it pointed out that: “The announcement only affects two curriculum subjects in Grades 10 to 12 where these tools are used to implement a national curriculum and asses a national examination. It does not affect other activities the DBE is involved with, such as e-learning/ICT integration in other subjects and grades.”
Alarmingly it then goes on to say that only 0.9 percent of Grade 12 learners take IT and nine percent of Grade 12 learners take CAT.
This response Keats dismisses as proof that South Africa is locked into “administrator-driven education” and that administrative efficiency is being confused with good pedagogy.
“We need to rejuvenate a maker culture and getting excited about technology. We need to let learners run ahead of the teachers, there is nothing wrong with that,” concludes Keats.
Note: This is a piece I wrote at the end of last year (December 2013) about the decision to move away from Open Source Software in South African schools. For various reasons it didn’t get published, but here it is for reading now.
When I was setting up this site, I wondered what the best thing to do was in terms of licensing my work as a freelancer. I’d been hearing about Creative Commons licenses, and liked its open approach to things. So, to get the lowdown, I sat down with the new Creative Commons co-lead in South Africa, Kelsey Wiens.
Here’s what you need to know about Creative Commons and its licenses.
Kelsey: Creative Commons is a legal license that provides a standard way for creators to grant someone else permission to use their work. Attribution is automatic under the CC licenses, meaning that anything you create using Creative Commons you retain your copyright and allow users to reuse your work.
Kelsey: Everyone. Creative Commons is ultimately about innovation. Science, art, culture are all about remixing others work and building on top of it. Thomas Edison didn’t invent the lightbulb; his first patent was for “improvement in electric lamps” but he did create the first commercially viable one. Academics build their work on the grounding of others. Photographers, artists, videographers, writer all find inspiration somewhere.
Kelsey: Because of the hard work of the leads that came before me we have a strong base and we just want to capture everyone and build. My co-lead Mark Horner is with Siyavula and he’s been killing it with OER (Open Educational Resources) for a few years now. I’m very lucky to have such a strong pilot.
Kelsey: South Africa is very lucky that the Shuttleworth Foundation is based here in Cape Town. The Shuttleworth Foundation actively gives to ideas and companies with open business models. Which means that projects like Mark’s Siyavula, P2P University, and LiveSA Magazine all license their content under a CC license. WikiAfrica is also based here in Cape Town: Wikipedia is based on a CC-BY-SA licence and WikiAfrica’s mandate is to allow Africa to tell its story to the world through Wikipedia.
In Africa projects like OER Africa provide Open Education tools to learners & educators. JamLab in Kenya is a school for learners in their gap year where they can upskill themselves by using open creative collaboration. Open licenses are essential in Africa in open access publishing: oftentimes research conducted in Africa is written up in expensive European academic journals which makes them unaffordable to most African institutions and libraries. Our research, our needs and we’re being locked out of it?
Collaboration remains the key to unlocking open resources. We work closely alongside other open movements including WikiAfrica. Last year we threw our weight behind a campaign, started by high school learners, with the WikiMedia Foundation & WikiAfrica to get cellphone companies to zero-rate or provide access to Wikipedia for free. MTN showed us their love. While not a perfect step, it’s a big one for SA cellphone providers and access to information.
Kelsey: Because of the work of previous leads Heather Ford & Andrew Reins — who started iCommons — South Africa is in may ways ahead of the curve. Our challenge isn’t to explain what CC licenses are, our challenge is to further grow the community of open and to work alongside other excellent movements including Open Data, Open Journalism, Open Science. We need to go far, so we have to work together.
Kelsey: I’m working with the Western Cape Province & City of Cape Town on their Open Data Policy. It was a need brought from Silicon Cape whose membership was seeing the access and solutions that other governments worldwide were offering and wanted to provide similar solutions.
We’re working with CodeforSA to run a weekend session to workshop the policy with members of parliament. Open Knowledge Foundation is running a five-day session on Open Journalism at the end of February in Cape Town in the run up to the election.
They say history is written by those who won, well tools like Wikipedia let the whole picture be told by anyone who wants to tell it.
Kelsey: Creative Commons isn’t about giving away everything for free. It’s about Open Business Models which allow for further amplification of your work. You like TED talks? The reason you can see TED talks is because they are licensed under a CC-BY licence. Prior to opening up their videos TED conferences struggled to get bums into seats (if you can imagine). Now the talks are viral, the speakers demand the videos ASAP and those of us too poor (or lacking in awesome innovation) can’t wait for the videos.
It’s about coming up some aspect of your work that you can give away for the gain of amplification. Budding photographer? Give away low-res images for free under CC-BY-NC (see details below on licenses), then sell your high res images side by side. The British National Portrait Gallery saw a 35% increase in profits from people gaining access to the images and then deciding to purchase for use.
As a writer you probably blog to increase you web presence. Licensing your work under a CC-BY-SA license would mean that your work could be used by anyone with attribution, and require them to also do the same. Adding to your web presence, increasing your viewership and adding to the Commons. Who loses in this?
Best example I can give is Cory Doctorow. He regularly licenses his works under cc, even his books. Download a kinda ugly pdf for free? Or buy the pretty hardback or kindle edition for a small fee? What’s good enough for a New York Times bestselling author should be good enough for you too!
Kelsey: The Creative Commons copyright licenses work alongside “all rights reserved” copyright law. It gives everyone a simple and legal way to grant copyright permissions to works. This is creating a vast and growing digital commons, a pool of content that can be copied, distributed, edited, remixed, and built upon, all within the boundaries of copyright law.
There are six CC licenses:
CC-BY (Attribution) The most open of all licenses. Simply requires the creator of the work to be credited.
CC-BY-SA (Attribution-Share Alike) This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.
CC-BY-ND (Attribution NoDerivs) This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you.
CC BY-NC-SA (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike) This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.
CC BY-NC (Attribution-NonCommercial) This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.
CC BY-NC (Attribution-NonCommercial) This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.
My favourite licence is a CC-BY-SA. I feel like it’s a sneaky way of forcing anyone who may take from you for commercial use to also have to share their work. I feel like it evens the playing field and helps expand the commons. This is the license used by Wikipedia, and is recommended for materials that would benefit from incorporating content from Wikipedia and similarly licensed projects.
There is a nifty Creative Commons license chooser which can help you make a decision and then give you the html code needed.
Pro Tip: you can also C licence your Instagram stream: i-am-cc.org
How can people get in touch, find out more and license their work?
Kelsey: Visit za.creativecommons.org, which we’re just in the process of reworking.