IAP-Africa Program: A New Direction for AITI

Kenya IAP 2011 Blog

Written by: Anshul Bhagi

Jan. 13, 2011


It is with great excitement and enthusiasm that I write this blog entry (my first for AITI). I am presently in Nairobi, Kenya (as of Jan. 8th) and I'll be here until Jan. 29th, leading, creating, and teaching a 3-week course called "AITI: Smart Phone Technologies in the Future East African Context".


This course marks a new direction for AITI and for MIT's engagement with Africa and is significant on multiple fronts: The 3-week pilot program aims to establish an IAP-Africa program at MIT, through which the university can send students every year (during the month of January) to Kenya and other African countries with high mobile penetration to teach mobile technologies. In addition, this innovative course introduces Android, a topic that has never before been taught by AITI (or by any institution, for that matter) in Africa, and it anticipates the rapid expansion of the smart-phone market on the African continent.


Android, the leading and fastest growing smart-phone platform in Africa, alleviates the constraints that are intrinsic to feature-phones/J2me/SMS by providing mobile app developers a java-based programming environment that allows for the creation of easy-to-use, interactive, and aesthetically pleasing applications. More importantly, it provides developers the ability to tap into a number of built-in features (magnetic/temperature/proximity sensors, GPS, accelerometer/gyroscope, maps, video camera, audio/video player, speech recognition, etc.) to build more sophisticated, more intelligent, and ultimately more useful applications. And finally, Android's international user-base and rapidly expanding app-store provide Android developers with numerous opportunities to monetize and start businesses around their applications.


It is for these reasons that I am in Nairobi at the moment, pioneering, with the help of Austin Brinson (MIT Class of 2013), a 3-week Android + entrepreneurship course and teaching a group of 20 Masters students at Strathmore University.


Between now and Jan. 29, Austin and I will be teaching Android through a series of hands-on labs and projects; organizing idea brainstorming sessions, elevator pitches, and business-plan writing exercises; inviting guest speakers from Google (one of the sponsors for AITI and for this course), iHub (a mobile innovation center in Nairobi), and other start-ups; and working with the students to develop and deploy (by the end of the three weeks) contextually relevant Android applications in the fields of Health, Education, Employment, Productivity, Search/Information, Banking/Finance, and Entertainment.


As the first week comes to an end, the course is well under way. Students are picking up Android quickly (since they have very strong Java backgrounds from AITI's courses in Summer 2010), and have already come up with very creative and impactful ideas for their final Android application projects.


Since this post has already gotten too long, and since there's still too much to say about our experiences with the course over the past few days, I will let Austin cover the details in a separate blog post. Over the coming days, he and I will continue to post our experiences on this blog, so feel free to follow us as we go through the vicissitudes of this first-time and full-of-learning IAP-Africa mobile technologies pilot program.


Thanks, and stay tuned!