Sunday, July 15, 2012


Computer Literacy Centre for Students in Bo

It has been a long road but our computer learning center in Bo now seems successful and sustainable with 8 machines up and running. Importantly there is a steady flow of eager students from local secondary schools and from the local Njala University. Cost for each student is about 20c per hour. The effort to get this going in the right way was enormous, a much greater challenge than I was expecting. There are many to thank and I’ll mention them later.

The context is that in the City of Bo and in the surrounding District of Bo there are few opportunities for students to learn how to use a computer. The population totals roughly 500,000 and the average age is reportedly about 17 so there are a significant number of students. All secondary school students learn in theory from a traditional chalkboard or blackboard where the teacher draws an image and tries to convey how the computer works. Obviously this is very frustrating for the students but there seems to be a complete lack of any computer hardware or software resources. Even the teachers lack practical training and seem to work solely from texts. The local Njala University has one computer room located on one it’s two campuses and with a number of ancient desktop machines. However opening times and poor availability of power means that university students lack access.

There are now two computer schools in the City where the student can learn basic skills plus the main Microsoft products. There are also a number of internet cafes that have recently been started. Even one operated by Kama Printing (see earlier Blog) where there is now a faster satellite connection. Clearly there are many students who perceive a need to become computer literate. Entrepreneurial business people have attempted to respond with some fledgling resources. However the schools have a limited number of instructors, the courses are very expensive, there are relatively few computers and there is a lack of consistent power. Internet cafes are very expensive where an hourly charge of about $2 is an average daily wage and out of reach of most students. Moreover the internet cafes lack learning programs and do not offer instructional service.

Recognising this significant gap for a student computer literacy center, the idea was mooted with Chris King and Maada Fobay who operate a resource center called One World Link close to the town. The building is one of the best in the City.They both appreciated the idea and were prepared to offer a secure room on the main floor and without any rental charges. A previous attempt at a learning center involving Kama Printing failed since Kama moved and lacked the space at the new location.

Altus Group in Toronto responded to the idea by generously donating 14 laptop computers. My friend Sandy Mandel donated 2 more. These were shipped to Freetown where the valuable cargo was the subject of some “shrinkage” and the remainder required some cash before they could be released. However the process would not have been possible without the efforts of Altus’s Bob Van der Linde and VSO “superman” Bernard N’Gaiwa. Overall we were left with a total of 8 working laptop computers.

The computers had to be completely set up with software and this tedious expert task was completed by VSO volunteer Sunil Varun, a very kind, enthusiastic and generous fellow from Delhi. Self teaching software was purchased online for the popular Microsoft products. An excellent basic computer skills course was obtained from a VSO medical advisor who previously worked for the National Health Service – highly recommended and the schools most popular course.

Someone to manage and run the center was a significant role to fill and both Sunil and I interviewed candidates requiring both marketing, business and some basic computer skill. Mohamed Bah was selected and is now assisted by Francis Lahai. They were both given basic training in bookkeeping, care of computers and marketing. Their compensation is linked directly to the amount collected less the costs of fuel and maintenance of the standby generator. Overall management responsibility is taken by the two local Municipal Councils operating in the area and they were incentivized by providing a service to their constituents at a limited cost. Both Councils were also attempting to persuade people to pay a new property tax and the computer school amenity provided a service to offer. Bo District Council Deputy Chairman Joseph Bindi, and Bo City Chief Administrator William Alpha are now strong supporters and have taken ownership of the Center. The key objectives and responsibilities are set out at the bottom of this article

There are many to thank and a few are as follows

• Jane Knight and Chris King and Maada Fobay of One World Link

• Joseph Bindi, Deputy Chairman of Bo District Council

• Mayor Wusu Sannoh of Bo City Council

• William Alpha, Chief Administrator of  Bo City Council

• Altus Group – Mitchell Smith who provided technical help and Bob Van der Linde who helped with the shipping process.

• Sandy Mandel who donated computers

• Sunil Varun who contributed his time, computing expertise and business skills

• Jorge Boos who donated peripheral equipment

• Bernard N’Gaiwa who was a key to the release of the computers in Freetown and a persistent friend

• Ruth Finlay a constant friend who helped out with the set up and with encouragement

• Andrea Robinson who donated the basic skills training software

Student Computer Learning Centre


• The centre is to be available for students in Bo District and Bo City so that they can learn common software and essential computer skills.

• The centre is to be stocked with computers loaded with appropriate self teaching software

• The centre is to have the use of a generator

• The centre is to operate on a non-profit basis

• A modest affordable charge is to be made for the use of the computers

Operating Committee

• The Operating Committee is to appoint, dismiss and direct the manager

• The Operating Committee is to comprise Alfred Maada Fobay from OWL, Joseph Bindi from Bo District Council, William Alpha from Bo City Council and Augustine Robinson at Rada

• The Operating Committee is to meet as needed or at the request of the Manager

Manager Responsibilities

• To maintain opening hours for students initially from 4pm to 9pm Monday to Friday and Saturday, 10am to 1pm

• To keep the room clean and to dust each computer, leaving the laptops closed while not in use.

• To keep all equipment secure including computers and generator

• To maintain a daily log book of each student visit with hours, charges paid and type of software used together with student name, address, school or institution and phone contact.

• To charge students the modest fee agreed by the Operating Committee initially at Le1,500 per student per hour

• To permit student use of memory sticks after scanning them of viruses

• To update virus protection on a regular basis

• To maintain and fuel the generator

• To maintain a daily cash journal showing income and expenses

• To earn a monthly incentive being all cash earned by the Centre during the previous month less the expenses.

• Report to the Operating Committee at least once per month on the operations, the bookkeeping and any recommendations.

• Report technical problems to Rada.

• Visit schools and Universities to promote the use of the Centre

• Provide marketing suggestions to the Operating Committee

• Agree charges with the Operating Committee

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