The workshop was organised by the Open Source Centre (part of the Meraka Institute - the African Advanced Institute for Information and Communications Technology). Perspectives from India, New Zealand, Finland, Malaysia, Germany and Kenya covered areas such as education, South-South collaboration, the status of FLOSS in Africa, challenges, new initiatives and available resources.
Workshop delegates reiterated the sentiments of Wayne Mackintosh, responsible for leading the e-learning strategy for the University of Auckland: “Although the concept of OSS is relatively new, it is envisaged that this initiative will help reduce the digital divide considering the reduced software costs, and the language barrier will be overcome due to the adaptability of the open source code, enabling program software to be written in a user’s mother tongue.” John Antwih Nkumah of the Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in Ghana echoed Mackintosh’s sentiments and added: “Models need to be established through which small businesses, higher education institutions and government institutions can benefit.” Dr M Sasikumar of CDAC in India Open Source was positive about the prospects for OSS: “It needs to have a slice of the market share, it needs to set standards and dictate terms - in a nutshell, OSS needs to be irresistible to users!”
The workshop split into two tracks, one dealing with regional and international collaboration, and the other focusing on free knowledge. The establishment of a FLOSS Task Force in South Africa, as requested by the State President, was regarded as a first step towards formulating a FLOSS policy. The participants discussed the establishment of a Regional Centre in South Africa (UNDP) and envisioned replicating this model 30 times over throughout the region within the next three years. Such centres would be responsible for accelerating the successful adoption of FLOSS in Africa.
Successful implementation of FLOSS in South Africa depends on the extent to which there is a policy-driven, well-managed environment, clearly regulated by government and stakeholder expectations. The Task Force will take on the job of transforming the national OSS strategy document into policy. In this way, an enabling environment will be created towards achieving the OSS dream for the country and beyond its borders.
Discussions on free knowledge communities focused on literacy levels in Africa and ways in which to explore e-learning platforms to address this challenge. One of the proposals pertained to the integration of Wikimedia projects with existing e-learning initiatives to make learning more accessible to wider communities throughout the region. It was agreed that projects undertaken to address this issue need to merge content creation, community building and technical development.
Kim Tucker of the Open Source Centre, and workshop convenor, commented, “The workshop was an ideal opportunity to define a way forward for the Free Knowledge Communities (FKC) concept with input from a diverse selection of participants who have a wide range of perspectives and experience. Proposals will be developed with collaborators through the use of existing networks so as to grow and consolidate the process in a bid to work toward the FKC vision: knowledge for all, education for all - empowering individuals and communities to empower themselves with knowledge.”
The CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) is one of the largest R&D, technology and innovation institutions in Africa, with a track record spanning 60 years. Structured around distinct operational research units and strategic technology centres, the CSIR strives for excellence in all its endeavours in order to improve the quality of life of South Africas people and to increase national and international competitiveness.
See www.CSIR.co.za or contact +27 12 841-2000.