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Laptops: students’ new handbook

Laptops: students’ new handbook

With more technology there is bound to be better privileges. At least that is what the popular sentiment seems to dictate these days. The way things are and the way things work change for the better with the advancement of technology and, of course, the passage of time. The century that we are in is no doubt about modernization; and modernization in the right sense of the ideology is a way of making life easier than it was before. Arguably, now in 2016, life is more leisurely than it was, say, in the 1970s.

Cell phones, things which were more or less unimaginable some two decade ago, are in everyone’s pockets today. Yeshihareg, a woman in her 50s, was born and raised in Addis Ababa. “I am always fascinated with the way mobile phones had made life so easy,’’ she says. Back in those days when Yeshiharg was a young girl, the telecommunication game was dependent on landlines and fixed desk phones. She remembers even landlines were not that widespread in Addis Ababa. Landlines and desk phones were used by limited households and those who didn’t have it used their neighbor’s, she recalls. “We didn’t have a phone in our house; so we used our neighbor’s. And for some reason, I remember that we were only allowed to accept calls on Tuesdays,’’ she says.

One Tuesday Yeshiharg got a phone call from a friend and the two friends made an appointment to see each other on the weekend. Come Saturday afternoon, she reminisces fondly, there was no sign of her friend on the rendezvous spot. “I waited for a long time and left feeling that I was stood up. And, as painful as it was there was no way of knowing what had happened until the next Tuesday. Those were simpler times,’’ she smiles as she recounts the event.

An incident like that is now history. Everyone can easily be connected to their loved ones instantaneously unless, of course, technical issues get in the way. Now, our mobile phones have become things that we can’t live without. With the coming of the new smart phones, the connection we have to our mobiles phones has grown twice as strong. These days, it’s common to see people glued to their smart phones on the streets or on public transportation, in their homes and almost everywhere. With the advent of software applications such as Facebook, Twitter and the whole social media, smartphones have become the new man’s best friends. The other things that are much bigger than our mobile phones but that are becoming our new necessity are our laptop. These days, we work, study, watch movies, read books and perform many other activities on our laptops.

Hands down, one of the sectors which has benefited greatly from this era of technological advancement is education. Now, with technology taking the experience of education to a higher level, it is very common to see students armed with various gadgets and electronic devices.

Nebiyou is a student attending a degree program in architecture at the Unity University Collage. Responding to a question ‘how much do you need your laptop?’ Nebiyou said “way too much.’’ The same is true for his friend Yosef who is a 3rd year civil engineering student. Yosef actually goes to the extent of claiming that there is no life without his Personal Computer (PC). When explaining his dependence on his PC, Nebiyou said: “it’s very hard to make it in this field without a personal laptop because we have designs and related assignments that can only be done on a PC since they need specific software like Photoshop”.

According to them, there is no one in their class who doesn’t own a laptop and it is actually an economically sound decision to own one. It is actually a means of cutting school-related expenses, they told The Reporter. ’’Because we have our laptops we don’t have to buy books or copy handouts; our teachers usually give us high volume handouts from 50-100 pages and since they send us the soft copy as well we don’t have to spend a cent for print and copy. We also download all the books we need from the internet that are on the read list of the course outline and that means we don’t have to go through the trouble of accessing or buying the books.’’ Yosef explained.

They say they also use their smart phone to communicate about class issues. They have Viber (a software that offers a Voiceover IP services) groups with friends and sometimes encompassing the whole class depending on how good the class representative is and how close the class mates are. On this student Viber groups, information about class starting from registration, class and exam schedules down to information about a teacher’s absence and whether a class is canceled or not on a particular day is available. “This is a very helpful mechanism, because we don’t always have to go to the registrar to get information or don’t have to waste our time chasing classes that are canceled. We get all the information we need right where we are,’’ Yosef elaborates. They said posting this information is not the duty of the class representative only, anyone who has any useful information about school can post for everyone else to see.

On the other hand, Mahder Geremew and Worknesh Abreha are both 1st year accounting students at the same school. Both do not seem to have much use for a laptop and don’t own one. “Maybe it’s because we are freshman students but we are not using laptops for class at the time,” Worknesh says. When assignments are given Mahder and Worknesh do not worry about having it typed; they say they have the liberty of submitting hand-written assignments. But, the two are more of an exception to general student population at the college level in Addis Ababa. Even at freshman level, many are now dependent on their PCs and laptop computers.

However, things were not the same for Adugna Butte, computer science graduate from the Addis Ababa University Arat Kilo campus some 6 years ago, and his generation. Currently attending his MBA courses, Adugan remembers that laptop computers were not as such widespread while he was an undergrad student. But, given his field of study he was among the few who used a PC or laptop computer. “Even back then I really needed my laptop maybe it’s because of the field of study I was in,’’ he says. Most of his classmates had laptops too because nobody wanted to use the computers at the school’s libraries because they were too slow. In fact, he says that those few students who didn’t have laptops at the beginning were also forced to procure in the latter years.

Students at the Amist Kilo campus of the same university as well say the same thing. Daniel Ayele and Eyoel Musse, both civil engineering students, emphasize how much they need their laptops.The only difference they have with the Adugna from six years ago is that they have now strict specifications for their machines. “We mainly focus on processor capacity and hard disk space when we buy laptops and a Core i7 6th generation laptop is the best one to have now. It’s also a plus if the screen is 14 inches but that’s just for the luxury of watching movies,’’ Eyoel explains.

The necessity of a PC seems to vary in different fields of study however. It seems that natural science students’ need it a little bit more than social science students.  Nevertheless, psychology students’ at the Addis Ababa University Sidit Kilo campus beg to differ. Fhedila Nur is one such student. She is now a second year student at the psychology department. “Out of the seven courses we are taking this semester only two gave us hard copy handouts; all the rest are issued in softcopy formats. So, we need our PC very much,” she argues. Sara is Fhedila’s classmate and she says although she doesn’t have her own laptop, there is a laptop at her home that she can use. “I can’t imagine how hard my life would be if I didn’t have an available laptop,” Sara says. When giving handouts the teachers gives the class representative first and the class representative distributes it to the rest of the class through email or via a flash drive. Their classmate who does not have laptops had to go to the Kennedy library or to an internet centers to read the soft copy.

There are also some who use their smart phones to access these materials and some who go for the hard copy options and print all the course materials. University areas are thriving business districts for those offering photocopy and other secretarial services. Eyerus is one of these students who rely on the hard copy option.”Not everyone has a laptop, there are seven of us in my dorm and only two own laptops,’’ she refutes the idea of widespread use of laptop computers.

Yes, some might need it more than others but there is no doubt that a laptop has become an essential part of a college student’s life in Addis. The internet that has now availed information at one’s fingertip could also be a great input, if used the right way.

Ironically, in addition to the ocean of information that students can access on the internet, they can also look for what kind of a laptop they should have depending on the kind of field they are studying and also could talk to professionals. Professionals say that 2GHz of processing power is a pretty good baseline to draw when shopping for a laptop for students.

The following are said to be the right things a collage students should ask before buying a laptop: operating system, which laptops have the longest battery life, how much memory I need for school, if I need a disc drive, how much memory I need for school.

The answers to the above questions are, of course, made depending on the field of study that a student is in. English or Philosophy major who uses Microsoft Word and Adobe Reader is going to put less stress on their computer than an engineer who uses MATLAB or a computer programmer who uses Java. If all a student needs out of a computer are relatively basic functions, processing power is of less of a concern.

A brand-new laptop computer is probably not affordable for the average college student in Addis Ababa. According to current market prices, laptop computers fitted with Intel Atom processor and with 10-inch screen are probably the cheapest laptop computers out there costing not more than 8,000 birr. This could come in different brands; but in Ethiopia nothing sells like Toshiba brand laptops. Also, in the range of affordable laptop computers is Intel Celeron processor with 10-inch screen which is sold for 10,000 birr in the local markets. At the other end of the market are expensive brands like MacBook, Lenovo, Hewlett Packard and Dell. Currently, MacBook Pro and MacBook Air could be one of the most expensive laptop computers in the Addis Ababa with their price going as high as 30,000 or 40,000 birr.        

Whether to write a computer a code, type an essay, research a topic, or just to check on one’s Facebook accounts laptop, computers will be there to do the trick. And for the most part, college students in Addis looks will be catching on with this trend while the overall tertiary level education is moving to the virtual realm.

Contributed by Heirete Yibaleh