Folks,

I just went to a conference last week discussing Internet in education in South Africa. I went with George Solomon, someone I met though a foundation in the States that sponsors computers in schools here, through the African American Foreign Relations Council.

They installed 30 486-class into Esangweni Secondary school, in Kyalitsha, one of Cape Towns black townships. They all have 16M RAM, and Windows95. There is also a Server computer, currently unused.

I went there to look at the school. They had the computers set up, (with a transformer to handle 240 -> 115V power conversion - Oops) a networking hub bought, a drum of cable, but not yet wired up.

The conference was excellent. http://www.wcape.school.za/conf99/

The skills sessions were impossibly over-subscribed - I did not get there early enough to book George in on Thursday, as he had asked.

Sessions I went to included :-

  • Opening address, Patti Weeg, a teacher from the East Coast of the USA, who runs [10]http://www.globalclassroom.org/ - lots of fun for kids.

  • Schoolnet - the umbrella organisation who organised the conference.

[11]http://www.school.za/ - very interesting.

  • Enhancing educational goals in developing countries through IT. This was an excellent presentation that was from someone at the Catholic University in Luanda, Angola.

[12]http://www.aeaf.org/

Messages - develop a relationship with a local ISP. They also imported a grey-market radio link gear to give them 1Mbit wireless to said ISP.

All their educational content is online. They concentrate on Internet exclusively for communication and promotion.

  • Proprietary Vs. Open Source software. Panel and debate with Microsoft Corel and a local Linux support company, [13]http://www.obsidian.co.za/

  • MWeb and ShoMa Education foundation. The future of Internet in South Africa and the delivery of educational content online.

[14]http://www.shoma.org.za/

They had developed educational programmes, and had 11 centres country-wide with satellite download facilities. Plenty of money to throw around. In conjunction with the Learning Channel, and the SA dept of education. They did satellite datacasting every week to send new content to the centres. Satellite is scrambled.

A much-used adjective was “Sustainable” - indeed, very relevant in Esangwenis case.

  • High-speed Internet access by satellite. InfoSat.

Installation costs, and per-megabyte costs. Interesting, and possibly the way to go if access is subsidised.

  • National approaches to ICT’s in education. Panel discussion.

Fascinating talk from a woman from Egypt - talking about how the government set up Internet access centres, not in schools, but close by. Unexpected takeup from local adults as well as students.

Comparing notes between countries, free vs. pay access, etc.

  • Donated computers - blessing or burden ?

A presentation that listed minimum capabilities for computers, as 48650,16M,500M hd,ethernet,installed Win95.

Some dispute from the delegates - including myself. I believe smaller computers can be configured for Email only.

I was pointed to [15]http://www.newdealinc.com/ as a source of an operating system that is Windows-like, and can run on machines as small as a 286. Amazing. Others also said that it has limited functionality. Predictable ..

  • Using Linux to solve connectivity problems in schools

A presentation from Obsidian about Linux.

[16]http://www.obsidian.co.za/

  • IT at Zingisa High School

A presentation from Zingisa school, Umtata, by Neil Lewes-Parker “Neil Parker” about using Linux as an Internet gateway, proxy server and cache, and mailserver. George came to that one too.

They had 386-class computers, on which they ran Windows 3.1 off a Novell Netware server. George and I talked to him afterwards. He said reliable networking was a must, and strongly favored a setup where a central server (for him, Novell) contained a reference Windows 3.1 setup, and client computers loaded everything from there. If someone trashed a computer setup, it was 5 minutes and a DOS disk to re-install.

I asked others at the session how they handled this problem. A comment was that Microsoft messed everything up with Win95, as many people had this setup before.

Zingisa taught on Microsoft Works, an office suite for Win 3.1.

I asked him what he would do with a setup like Esangweni, and he said he would also do Win 3.1. Scarey.

George said he had located someone at the conference who could help with the ethernet wiring. However, the first thing to do is to put a more permanent desk arrangement in the classroom.

We also discussed mounting the computers underneath the desk - Neils recommendation - and channelled wiring, separating power and Ethernet.

  • Infosat

http://www.infosat.co.za/

  • The dinner on Thursday had a presentation from the Minister of Education Kadar Asmal.

Cheers, Andy!