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Since 2008, the Francophonie institutionnelle has led a pilot project called Maisons des Savoirs (MDS), a house of knowledge to fight against the digital divide. Implementation of Maisons des Savoirs is a joint venture between the International Organization of the Francophonie (IOF) and the International Association of French-speaking Mayors (IAFM) that is associated the University Agency of Francophonie (UAF) and TV5MONDE.
MDS helps promote the French language and expand educational technologies to teachers and young people in primary and secondary schools who are members of the Francophonie. MDS digital technical space facilities work with Ubuntu and Linux operating systems. Since its creation, 55,000 users have been introduced to free office software such as Open Office and recently Libre Office in Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, Hue in Vietnam, Chisinau in Moldova and Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In the last three years, local communities have deployed Maisons des Savoirs in the fight against the digital divide and helps promote education technologies in primary and secondary schools in Francophone member countries.
Implementation of the Maisons des Savoirs is a joint venture between the International Organization of the Francophonie (IOF) and the International Association of French-speaking Mayors (IAFM) that is associated the University Agency of Francophonie (UAF) and TV5MONDE.
MDS are the best places where multimedia animators provide training for users who use information communication and technology in school (ICT4Ed). MDS promotes innovative technologies to the publics in the education sector, particularly students and teachers and the public in general.
MDS participates in promoting the French language and educational technologies to teachers and students in primary and secondary schools in Francophones countries. MDS’ technical platforms and digital spaces use free software like Ubuntu (operating system) and Linux (network server). Since its creation in 2008, close to 55,000 users have been introduced to free software such as Open Office and recently Libre Office in Ouagadougou in Burkina-Faso, Hue in Vietnam, Chisinau in Moldova and Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
2. History of the Maisons des Savoirs project
The project’s most notable objective is to provide equal access to information and communication technologies to young people in underprivileged neighbourhoods. In Ouagadougou, six MDS are located at least 300 metres from schools and close to public transportation lanes thereby facilitating access for underprivileged youth.
The MDS’ objective is to improve mastery of computer tools in user groups to increase teachers’ skills so that they develop new digital practices in class. Ubuntu was the chosen operating system which is an office technology that works with Open Office, Gimp, etc. As well, security and administrative server systems are configured for Linux. Promoting free software is concretely at the heart of MDS’ mission.
All of the MDS’ digital spaces have connections linked to optical fibre that allows distance learning with video conferencing. Subscription costs are supported for the MDS since monthly invoiced rates are at an average of 10 MB in Hue (collective subscription of 60 euros/month), 20 MB in Chisinau (collective subscription of 60 euros/month), ADSL high speed access is really expensive (8000 euros per month). MDS
3. Raison d’être: Political will
At the suggestion of the 11th Summit on Francophonie, the heads of states who gathered in Bucarest in September 2006 decided to create an ambitious pilot project: Maisons des Savoirs. For its pilot phase, the project aimed to install four (4) Maisons des Savoirs that united digital public spaces. Its main feature was to help respond to digital divide challenges by proposing free access (or access at a reduced price) to information and communication technologies for underprivileged populations.
Each Maison des Savoir location has benefitted from a prior feasibility study to set boundaries of support guidelines available to the Francophonie states and city members. Before implementation in every city, the project has been part of a prior operational reflection.
Beyond the simple initiation of Internet and office technology, multimedia animators help teachers master educational technologies in order to support the planning projects by introducing ICT in class.
4. Municipal governments’ point of view
Mayors considered the MDS as one response to accessibility problems and a lag facing access to digital knowledge. The initiative went back to the local communities who initiated project implementation of their own Maison des Savoirs. The mayors confirmed that the MDS were a complement to schools and library and media activities that also help lessen the digital divide and contribute to digital solidarity.
5. Role of the Francophonie
Providing support means helping cities build their projects (including various elements like a library, digital space, video games, training rooms, etc.) and help them implement programming.
In terms of needs and socio-cultural particularities, the Francophonie’s methodological approach consists of providing elements for strategic analysis by the definition of measuring performance in terms of operation results, effects and long-term impact, the targeted public, digital framework, technical platform, proposed services and the administrative and financial management.
In addition, the support to create the infrastructure (renovating the building, acquiring and updating computer equipment, donating books, buying furniture), the OIF, AIMF and l’AUM, as well as operators share their expertise by providing:
a methodological approach (profile of animation positions, internal rules, cost analysis, defining budget structure, training content)
needs analysis through user opinion polls and surveys
strengthening open software skills of animators and the librarian
following up existing operations through video conferencing and encouraging exchanges between remote school groups with video conferencing
organizing francophone events (contests, exhibits, seminars)
sending volunteers to other MDS to help strengthen south-south ties
The desired common goal is introducing and creating awareness of ICT by guaranteeing equal access to everyone.
6. Human Resources
Human resources are essentially made up of three animators (in Hue and Chisinau) and 15 animators (ex. Ouagadougou). This ratio is required because of the need for a permanent presence of at least one animator per space (library, digital space, cultural or gaming space).
A small team is made up of three animators: a main animator, librarian, digital animator with a technical function (network updates, operating system, helpdesk).
Ideally, the technician will have IT training and relative office technology and asset management skills made up of about 30 PC’s and an operating system, local network administration and telecommunications (IP telephony), as well as skills in office automation software, multimedia applications and Internet use.
However, digital space animators face difficulties to perpetuate their roles by the:
rapid evolution of Internet technologies
users getting tired of a place if the proposed activities aren’t renewed
lack of tools, methods and training of animators
little free time since school makes up more than 40 hours of a student’s week
In Vietnam and Moldava, we have helped decrease the lack of interest for learning French among young people over the last two decades
Animators have a minimum education of a bac +3, technical skills in general knowledge of the main multimedia software (browsers, messaging, online discussion boards, video conferencing) and Open Office technology, and finally the ability to animate training sessions, to engage users and continually adapting skills to stay up-to-date.
The fact that animators dedicate part of their time to training and keeping up on what’s on the Internet allows them to use moments where there is little or no opportunity to keep their knowledge up-to-date.
Technological obsolescence means that material must be updated on average every three years. The public is looking for possibilities that don’t exist at home; therefore, high quality configurations must be proposed to them with specific devices (digital camera, videocam, video conferencing) and a vast array of educational, learning or gaming CD’s in order to maintain their interest. Contests, movie screenings and exhibits help attract a large public.
7. Taking into account access parameters in architectural development
Specifications are designed to maximize locations to make up for the fact that the MDS works out of existing buildings that must be renovated. The architecture of a Maison des Savoirs must meet two principles: accessibility and visibility.
The choice of location is crucial and determines the number of visitors of an MDS. In fact, all MDS must be located closed to areas that have public transportation that helps underprivileged youth living outside the city limits. Ideally, MDS libraries and TV5Monde spaces are located in the lobby thereby facilitating access for handicapped people.
In the cities, each MDS is preferably located in a strategic position, meaning close to city public transport networks that provide easy access for mopeds which is the preferred mode of transportation for the Vietnamese and Ouagalais. Being close to primary and secondary schools (or student housing) guarantees visits from teachers and their students. Other kinds of infrastructures can have a ripple effect and encourage various publics to visit, including: retirement homes, fast food restaurants, sports fields, shopping centres, public markets, hospitals, etc.
Through its outdoor signage and choice of colours, the MDS must be open, inviting and encourage friendliness and conviviality. These factors encourage everyone to come by. Clear signs help identify the Maison des Savoir from the outside so that people who walk by will naturally come in. By its own design and distinct signage and logos, it must reflect a youthful image. MDS signage is consistent and easily seen. When several MDS are located in the capital as is the case in Ouagadougou, signage becomes an element of belonging to the Network and therefore is recognizable to users.
8. The impact of the number of work stations and their position
Access conditions also depend on the number of work stations available, comfort and interior design of a space, activities and opening hours. The number of computers will be studied during the feasibility phase and will be established according to the flow of estimated users. Configuration for 5 to 10 does not allow for a sufficient critical mass to receive classrooms of students.
About 30 computers seems to be a good number given adult after school, evening or weekend education classes on Wednesdays. The availability of two on-site animators or an animator with a volunteer is necessary. Some work stations can be permanently affected or be affected by specific hours for specific uses, such as: looking at CD’s, online document research, etc. in regards to the needs expressed by users.
Computer availability has an influence on use with three possible ways to face screens in a digital room.
In the first setup, computers are arranged on three sides of digital space and monitors facing the centre of the classroom. The animator who is in the middle of the room can see all the learners. This configuration is the best for a traditional training session, but is not user-friendly as it tends to isolate users during individual work time. Users must look above their screens to follow. This can meet the expectations of a public who is generally autonomous after they have learned how to use computer tools. It is inconvenient because the trainer can’t use the users’ screens.
In the second setup, work stations are open on three sides to the room, but monitors face inwards. Learners turn their backs to the animator. This configuration is user-friendly and allows people to move around the room. Individual uses can be seen by the group and the animator can easily go from one monitor to another in initiation sessions. This setup responds to some uses, for example group video games with occasional monitoring by the animator. This setup has been adopted in MDS in Hue, Chisinau, Ouagadougou and Kinshasa.
Finally, the third setup consists of arranging the work stations small clusters of four work stations. This is the preferred configuration for some resource centres and Internet cafés because they are intimate while user-friendly and allow people to walk around while being used for informal teaching. This configuration has not been adopted by the MDS.
8. Impact of hours
Opening hours are also modeled precisely to avoid dead periods when materials will be underutilized or that will negatively affect attendance. It is strongly recommended to open digital spaces and libraries in the evenings, on Saturdays and for holidays. Extended hours allow young users to use the MDS because that is when they are available.
Flexibility in MDS hours helps attract various user profiles. It is reassuring to see the various types of publics who use the MDS. There is enough variety in ages that creates inter-generational dialogue to diversify the public.
9. Performance Assessment Framework
The Maisons des Savoirs pilot project will be assessed in the second quarter of 2011. The evaluation will provide information to help determine the project’s long-term viability (or not) in the regular programming of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie and the Association internationale de la Francophonie.
Consistent with the OIF’s external assessment guide, the exercise will realized by one or several consultation firms from a call for tenders limited to country members of the Francophonie. The evaluation will essentially gather information from project stakeholders on the challenges linked to the relevance, implementation and results. It will, therefore, be a basic framework.
In order to obtain information in a timely manner for the Organization’s upcoming programming renewal, the consulting firm (or team of consultants) will be hired in the second quarter of 2011. Evaluation of the project will try to answer three evaluation issues: (1) issue of relevance (relevance criteria); (2) issue of implementation (efficiency criteria) and; (3) issue of results (effectiveness criteria).
9.1 Issue of relevance
The goal is to judge the relevance of maintenance and not the relevance of the objectives, the targeted clientele or the nature of the intervention. Questions will be around the following topics:
customizing of needs
9.2 Issue of implementation (efficiency)
The objective is to confirm if project implementation was executed as planned. The main assessment questions will be around the following topics:
planning of the project’s implementation
use of human and financial resources (input) and
The expected result in particular is to learn lessons on: Did we do things well?
9.3 Issue of the results (effectiveness)
The evaluation framework will use, among other things, data produced by followup/ monitoring with emphasis on operation and immediate results, but will seek to gather information on intermediary project input where the principles are founded on management based on results-based management (RBM). The pilot Maison des savoirs project’s logical framework is inspired by results-based management (RBM).
10. Ongoing assessment with users and evaluation of pilot phase
At this stage of the Maisons des Savoirs pilot phase, an operational results evaluation is expected to be completed soon. An independent external assessment was realized from September and December 2011.
For information, please consult the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie’s website http://www.francophonie.org/-Acces-aux-ressources-nouvelle-.html (in French only).