Zwelenqaba School Project
The Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) a U.S.-based NGO in conjunction with the South African company [http://eKhayaICT.com eKhaya ICT] is implementing a solar school computer lab at the Zwelenqaba Senior Secondary School in Tafelahash in the former Transkei (South Africa) and much more as you may read below! The main funding source is the US-American Kellogg Foundation, other donors at this point include the JPMorgen Chase Foundation and the Dell South Africa Development Fund (South Africa). The special focus of this project is on researching the usage of the internet for innovative methods of establishing rural connectivity and implementing distance learning that can be replicated throughout South Africa in marginalised rural areas (MRAs).
A further focus of the project, which is part of larger research being conducted together with the University of Fort Hare and Rhodes University at five schools with computer facilities near Dwesa 30km South of Tafalehashi, is the design and implementation of sustainable use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in MRAs. We are looking at ways to harness knowledge society tools available on the Internet, to make the installation of the lab itself sustainable. The community in Tafelahashi should be able to earn enough revenues through ICTs to sustain the installation. The project itself has budgeted maintenance costs for 5 years, to give the community time to take over.
The project is currently moving out of the planning and designing stage and into an implementation stage. Site visits by contractors (Telecom Techniques and an independent civil engineer, Mr. Sakie Norval, responsible for the solar and alarm system and the wiring) have already been conducted. The lab will be ready in May 2008. Peter Venter, the owner of the nearby Tafalehashi Trading Store has kindly offered free accomodation and the premises for meetings for the contractors, engineers and technicians.
Solar power: The system will have a peak power of 5400W. This will be plenty for 10 hours of operation with 25 computers running in the lab. Usage of standard parts will secure maintenance through the official regular departmental scheme. In addition, we developed our own maintenance plan with Alan Holder, the technician from the trading store across the road. Alan runs the Trading Store’s combined wind and solar systems and will be able to keep daily or weekly tabs on the running of the solar installation as well as taking care of minor glitches that the teachers cannot take care of. Mr. Zinto, the schools physics and science teacher, will supervise the daily monitoring of voltages. The batteries will be housed in a special battery room, which will keep temperatures constant and will ensure a lifetime of 12+ years on the batteries alone.
Computer lab: The Dell Foundation, who have partnered with SELF at Myeka High School in Kwazulu-Natal in very successful fashion (project report), very kindly donated all nessecary computer equipment to the project. These computers are laptops, which are very welcome, as they can be safely stowed after use. (Security of the laptops will be ensured in cooperation with the teachers at the school.) They can also be integrated into classroom teaching, as they are mobile and have a wireless network link, which obviates wiring of all classrooms with ethernet. Thanks to their own batteries they can even be used in parts of the school that do not have electricity. Further, we have been in contact with OLPC-ZA and are still hoping to get OLPC laptops at the school to supplement computing facilities for all learners.
Content: The fact that we will have an internet connection opens up a world of opportunity as far as content is concerned. We do also have a donation from LearnThings with multimedia content for children from ages 12-17, and we are sure these will be put to very good use by the learners. A specific and crucial focus of the project and assignment of eKhaya ICT is to engineer a web 2.0 platform together with the classes, so that a lot of content will in fact come from the learners themselves, especially in conjunction with the nearby networked schools.
Training: There are several training opportunities. LearnThings will hold workshops for their curriculum standard content. The Department of Education (Curriculum Section) is training all educators in the Eastern Cape to integrate computers into their teaching plan. The department will be able to fast-track some of our teachers for this programme. Rhodes University and the University of Fort Hare will also be getting involved in this aspect, especially as far as adult and after-hours education is concerned. Finally, we are negotiating with East London based ITEC to do several months’ basic training.
Internet Connectivity: Initially, VSAT or a 3G technology (Edge – Vodacom or MTN) is the solution of choice. However as new networks go up - in this aspect we are in discussion with the Nelson Mandela Institute and the Universal Service and Access Agency of SA - we are considering the construction of a wireless bridge to either an ADSL enabled exchange or to a point at which we can joint a new network being constructed for Technical Universities (FET Colleges) in the Eastern Cape in a joint venture with Lower Saxony, Germany.
Network with other school networks: Perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of the project is the possibility of broadband connections to two other experimental schools networks in the area. Mr. Jeff Brown, a freelance system specialist in Hole-in-the-Wall, has secured some sponsorship and is building a WiFi network among schools that have electricity and computer labs between Zithulele and the coast, expected rollout is in November 2008. Tafalehashi has line of sight to Zithulele and so is a logical extension of that network. On the other side, toward Dwesa, we have a firm commitment to link using experimental WiMAX backhaul capabilities to the above mentioned five school network using WiFi and WiMAX. Radio planning for the terrain has already been carried out and a technical plan has been drawn up by eKhaya ICT.
The selection of schools has been finalised. The two satellite Junior Secondary Schools (JSS) involved in the program will be Bafazi JSS and Kwantshunqe JSS. The Bafazi JSS is also part of the school renovation programme being managed by the Nelson Mandela Institute in East London.The Kwantshunqe JSS is a proactive school, which is setting standards as far as teacher engagement is concerned. Teachers at the schools will be included in all training activities. Learners will have the opportunity of using the main lab at Zwelenqaba after hours. During school hours, educators will be encouraged to allow computer related activities in class to improve motivation and learning potential as well as broadening horizons.
Constructions: May and June are going to be busy months as we finalise:
- Painting, and installation of furniture in the Computer Lab
- Coordination of the safes for the equipment
- Installation of WiFi network
- Coordination of the solar installation
- Coordination of the LearnThings workshop
- Setup of a maintenance plan for the batteries with Alan Holder
- Planning of the opening and launch
Teaching: The teaching complement at Zwelenqaba has been increased from 12 to 16 plus 1 temporary position. This means Zwelenqaba will be hiring 5 additional teachers during the course of the year. Once the lab is installed, the school will apply to the Department of Education (DoE) for a curriculum change to allow the teaching of CAT (Computer Application Technology), as well as the hiring of a teacher for the subject.
In their enthusiasm, the school has already bought some text books for the subject, and the computer literate teachers are familiarizing themselves with the material. Several of the teachers are now renting rooms near the school, in order to save time on travel and to be able to offer afternoon classes.
(24/4/08) Ron Wertlen had a meeting with ITEC, who will offer a special 3-day workshop to help teachers apply their computer skills to the school situation. Training will focus on data capture of written records, and electronic school management. We originally planned a longer training, which is not needed anymore since additional teachers will be employed. This will keep us in budget, keep ITEC on the project, and improve things for the school.
eKhaya ICT software development plan: Some of the teachers expressed great interest in this plan. Mr. Yankey, one of the teachers, has taught himself HTML and is interested in learning more about Java (both programming languages).
Politics: (24/04/08) Ronald Wertlen had a meeting in Elliotdale with the District DoE Educational Officer for the Zwelenqaba School, Mr. Qendu. Mr. Qendu is very enthusiastic about the project and interested in hearing about all the developments and will support them as far as he can.
Networking: At Bafazi School, the GPRS/EDGE wireless technology, which is cheaper than VSAT by less than a third, is very good owing to the proximity of a cell phone tower. It appears that we will be able to provide internet to the network in this manner without waiting for installation of VSAT, which could introduce delays.
Grand Opening: The DoE will support the opening ceremony.
We received our first donation for the Zwelenqaba School Project. Sabine and Heinrich Wiekenberg from Berlin donated ten school chairs equivalent of 230 €. We are very happy about this donation. The Zwelenqaba School sends a big “Thank you!”
Solar panels: Telecom Techniques, the company that is going to build the solar panels, already started constructing the frames. The installation will start on the 9th of June. Steve Frayer from SELF (U.S.) will be on site to supervise the quality. Ron will make sure that Steve will apply his knowledge also to the building of fences and other constructions. We will very much appreciate this help and are looking forward to his arrival.
Equipment and Teaching: We ordered the safe, school chairs, tables and the 3G equipment. The goods will be delivered during June and July. The computer lab will be tested during school holidays beginning of July. Directly after school holidays, on the 14th of July, the first LearnThings workshop is planned. During this time, the eKhaya ICT Team will be on site to help and to test the infrastructure. The teachers at all the schools are very excited now about that!
The Grand Opening is scheduled for the 31st of Juli 2008.
How to make the computer lab sustainable and the use for the learners independent of teachers.
On Thursday the 29th of May, Ronald Wertlen had a meeting in Zwelenqaba with Di Hornby, chairperson of the Center for Social Development, to discuss the following proposal with the teachers and to get their agreement:
The teachers will, during extra mural classes as well as during the day, make use of the facilities to train a group of volunteer students in the CAT curriculum according to the course material that the school has purchased. These students will then be tested on their knowledge using an assessment programme that will be loaded on the computers. The bonus that will be paid out to the teachers will be the equivalent of 2000, 2500 or 3000 Rand depending on the number of students that attain high marks in the test. Either way the bonus will be a nice addition to their income and will reward them for spending extra time at the school. This is something that teachers at Zwelenqaba rarely do, as they are all young, do not own cars and live far away in Mthatha. Ron will spend at least 6 afternoons at the school with the volunteer group, more if we get the funding.
From within that group, the champions will be identified and will receive special training in the following phase. They will be taught by the teachers how to supervise and teach the CAT course and also how to use the awareNet software, an education software that is currently developed by eKhaya ICT. This group will also be most active in helping design awareNet software. During this second phase, regular groups will also receive training, so that the champions can see watch the teachers and learn how to train from them. We will encourage an approach of individual tutoring within mostly practical sessions, where learners are trained as they use the computers.
Phases will last 2 to 3 months, so the champions will have to be (in the majority) Grade 11 Learners and not Grade 12.
We believe that this training plan will be very effective as it motivates the learners to work with the computers independently of the teachers and to take training and organisation of computer usage into their own hands. This will help to increase the computer lab usage, as it will not require teachers to be present all the time. Further, it will also motivate the learners and increase their self-confidence – and they will have a nice addition for their CV, which will no doubt help them get jobs when they leave school.
Kwantshunqe`s new solar array.
Solar: All the solar panels and wiring are completely installed. The systems are being left to run for a week, in which time faults should emerge and be visible. The final system certification will occur in the week thereafter.
Security: Three additional security guards are working, two as of the 10th of June at Zwelenqaba to safeguard equipment kept at the school overnight. Thus far no incidents have occured. One additional security guard is being hired at Bafazi. In a meeting with the Bafazi school teachers and parents at their AGM on the 27/6/2008, the isolated location of the school was blamed for the prior theft of solar panels. For this reason, the school body decided to increase security by installing an electric fence. When asked about their children's safety, the parents agreed that the electric fence would not endanger the children's lives as they would quickly learn to keep their distance. Safes have been installed at all three schools.
Mr. Ziduli, Mr. Mamane and Ron Wertlen examining a laptop donated by the Dell Foundation.
Laptops: 35 laptops have arrived from the Dell South Africa Development Fund. The laptops are new and still need to go through the Windows XP setup process. The systems are very powerful and since all of the computing power will never be used on any of the machines, peer-to-peer or grid computing systems for instance for backup, or distributed caching of internet proxy files may be a good way to use the 2,8TB of storage available.
Chairs: The chairs have not yet arrived, although delivery was promised last week.
Management: Steve Frayer from SELF (USA), managed the finer details of the construction weeks on site. His able supervision and attention to detail have really done wonders for the project.
Accommodation and Monitoring: The construction team was accommodated at the Tafalehashi Trading Store, which saved us many kilometres and hours of travel as there is no other suitable accommodation near the schools. Community accommodation was simply not suitable for the all-white construction crew (such are the hard realisations of an idealist). Alan Holder, the technician of the store has agreed to monitor the system for two years. As a respected member of the community, this will no doubt also keep the systems healthy and get the community inspired and involved.
Nomakholwa Tshume from the Nelson Mandela Institute on site at Zwelenqaba S.S.S. with the unfinished solar arrays.
Nomakholwa Tshume of the NMI in East London visited the site with Ron Wertlen on the 26/6/08. She was impressed by the Dell laptops and the large electrical systems. She also facilitated with the teachers at Bafazi. Problems with the community, in particular issues of jealousy between two of the clans that Bafazi serves, have been exacerbated by the construction of the computer labs. The problems were discussed and the way forward was decided, whereby Ron Wertlen should attend the AGM on the next morning to discuss the issue with the whole community. The meeting was very necessary and it was amazing to see how much effect the presence of Mrs Tshume had on the teachers. Also, the fact that the teachers were able to view one of the laptops donated for their school, made a vast difference to their attitude. Teacher training was discussed as well as the launch.
Ron Wertlen proposed that the Internet Society (ISOC) get involved in the training project with teachers and community in order to support and strenthen the case for Internet training and usage for development. We firmly believe that the project fits directly with ISOC policy and that we will be able to leverage a lot of results and benefits for all involved with ISOC's involvement. So here's hoping that the proposal is accepted, which would grant us US$10'000 in funding.
The drawing contests that are producing the emblems to go on stickers to mark all project equipment have seen some excellent results. The most entries were at Kwantshunqe, with about 15 scholars seeing fit to test their creativity on their school logo. At Zwelenqaba, two excellent entries have left the judges split as to which is better. Bafazi entries are expected on the 15th of July. Awards will be made at the launch ceremony on the 6th of August.
The following persons and institutions agreed to attend: Bob Freiling from SELF, Ronald Wertlen from eKhaya ICT, the Department of Education, the Dell Foundation, Dabba Telecom, Telecom Techniques and Mike Eckhart, President of the American Council of Renewable Energy.
The first Learnthings workshop was held from the 14th - 18th of July by Susanna Ackermann. The outcome of the workshop was positive. Partly, the initial phase is an alignment of the teachers’ interests, the available resources and the learners’ needs. Susanna did a great job in introducing the teachers to the resources at the computer lab and in making the programmes work for the teachers as they wanted them to. It was also important to awake new realisations about the possibilities of organising information through computing and to see mark sheets in a spread sheet instead of on paper. Susanna was very professional in her attitude - one could clearly see that she has long experience with the rural situation; she was always calm and focused on the outcomes.
Susanna also confirmed our realisation that there are teachers with good skills at the school and she is convinced that they will transfer knowledge and hand-help some of the others, who had their first experience with working with computers. Fortunately this is only the start. This week, we will be working out a further training schedule for teachers at the three schools and we will see to it that the resources steadily increase in value to the schools by virtue of their use.
On a beautiful warm and slightly windy day, the opening was a complete success and as one of the guests noted - enjoyed good attendance. The day started really with a meeting between Delano De Witt from the Dell South Africa Development Fund and Ron Wertlen from eKhaya ICT, as they drove from Mthatha airport to the school. In the meeting, Mr. De Witt described what the Dell SA Development Fund is looking for in terms of projects and noted that there was a positive future for the project.
At 10:00 a demonstration was held in the solar computer lab. Learners sat at the computers and read Wikipedia articles, watched educational videos and did interactive assignments using Learnthings material. All the guests were very impressed; some called it a model classroom. The security precautions were also of great interest to everyone.
At 11:00 on the dot, Mr. Qendu from the Department of Education (DoE) opened the ceremonial speeches, which were held in the Kwantshunqe church hall. During the programme the children from Bafazi and Kwantshunqe sang and danced. The vibrant singing of the Bafazi learners under the direction of Mr. Sandile even got some of the guests dancing on the stage. Speeches were kept short because the day was not about speeches, but about solar energy, computers, education and also about festivity. Caterers sponsored by SELF and all three schools fed all the guests and learners with a traditional nutritious and delicious chicken lunch. The schools further sponsored the hire of the hall and the sound system.
After the speeches there was a photo opportunity with the whole school in front of the solar panels. Dancing, prize giving for the winners of the school drawing contest (individually interpreted school logos) and more dancing celebrated the occasion. The winners of the competition were overawed to receive prizes (a certificate, stickers with their logo design and good quality drawing and writing sets) in front of the crowds of learners and it was quite a reward to be photographed and filmed as well. The logos were printed on stickers that mark and decorate now the computers.
A very successful launch, which informed, fed and entertained all those attending. The only criticism was that there were no earphones for the laptops, something we had not installed yet, because of hygienic considerations (but we are working on it).
- 10:00 - 11:00 Demonstrations with learners in the lab
- 11:00 Launch Ceremony
- Welcome: Mr. Qendu (Department of Education, Elliotdale)
- About the Project: Mr. Freling (SELF, USA)
- Handing Over Ceremony: Mr. Freling and Mr. De Witt (Dell South Africa Development Fund, Johannesburg)
- Response from the Schools: Mr. Ziduli (Principal, Zwelenqaba SSS)
- Wireless for Community and Schools: Mr. Lissoos (Dabba Telecom, Johannesburg)
- Future of the Project: Mr. Wertlen (eKhaya ICT, Grahamstown)
- Final Word: John Bartlett (Department of Education, Eastern Cape)
- 12:15 Choir
- 13:00 Lunch
- 13:15 Choir
- 13:45 Further Lab Demonstrations and Discussions
- 15:00 Close
- Mr. Robert Freling, SELF, Washington D.C.
- Mr. Delano De Witt, Dell South Africa Development Fund, Johannesburg.
- Mr. Rael Lissoos, Dabba Telecom, Johannesburg.
- Mrs. Sonqishe, Idutywa Department of Education (DoE), cluster coordinator for e-learning, and two colleagues.
- Mr. Safa, Idutywa DoE, labour relations CES.
- Mr. Qendu, Elliotdale DoE, district officer and master of ceremonies.
- Mr. Bartlett, Eastern Cape DoE, e-learning specialist.
- Ms. Tshume, Nelson Mandela Institute, East London, and two colleagues.
- Mr. Friend, Telecom Techniques, Port Elizabeth, and one colleague.
- Mr. Smit and Mr. van Rensburg, Roshcon, East London.
- Mr. Dalikwesi, tribal chief of the area.
- Mr. Ziduli, principal Zwelenqaba SSS.
- Mr. Mdunyelwa, principal Kwantshunqe JSS.
- Mrs. Nelson, principal Bafazi JSS.
- Several other teachers and principals of other schools attended the launch.
The ISOC Proposal was turned down as the reviewers felt it lacked detail and also cooperation with other ISOC chapters. We are encouraged to resubmit, so we will try to get in touch with other ISOC chapters besides the South African chapter, in order to strengthen the proposal for the next round. In the meantime, the ECSPIRT project is starting to take effect.
Christine Nesbitt-Hills from Mediapix shot a movie about the Solar School Computer Lab in Tafelahashi, setup by SELF and eKhaya ICT, comissioned by SELF. Now, it has been released online. You can watch the setup of the computer lab and see the schools and the scholars on the following websites: [http://www.mediapix.za.net/SELF.html Mediapix] or on [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOdx18OBcKU YouTube] under SELF (Solar Electric Light Fund). The video is called „Working with the Sun“.