I was up-country in a rural Liberian computer lab last week, assisting Nate while he trained a classroom of secondary students and their teachers on how to use the online platform for our program. These schools usually have donated desktop computers but no regular power, so it's not unusual to hear about students taking up a small collection to buy fuel so they can use their school's computer lab. To them, learning to use computers is worth the investment and it's way cheaper than an Internet cafe, assuming there's one in town.
We make a preliminary assessment of each participating school's computer lab before we arrive, taking time to ascertain how many of their Ministry of Education-donated computers are functional. Usually, it's just a fraction of the total.
At the beginning of our trainings, when the team is busy connecting the working computers to the Internet, I notice as the virus-riddled machines sit there in silence. They may as well be rocks, for all the use are to their students.
Last week, one school we trained had such a myriad of malicious code that it took us 45 minutes to do what normally takes five. The modems picked up viruses and their connections got flaky, the computers had to be restarted every few minutes, and even the digital camera managed to crash a few times.
Still, nothing could daunt the excited of students being connected to the Internet for a first time. One group stayed past 5:00, until their computer teacher sent them home, threatening that the generator was going to run out of fuel.
I wonder if the hackers who write computer viruses know that this is where their code ends up, in a simple African classroom, keeping children whose families live on a dollar a day off the World Wide Web.