Education

Solar-powered internet school on the move in SA

Thabo Mohlala

A mobile, solar-powered "internet school" designed for teachers and pupils in energy-scarce rural areas was launched in Boksburg this week.

Samsung Africa, part of the global electronics company, on Tuesday launched its “unique and world-first” Internet School - a mobile, solar-powered, independent classroom in a container—at its Electronics and Engineering Academy in Boksburg, east of Gauteng.

Deon Liebenberg, Samsung managing director of Electronics in Africa, said the education initiative is part of their objective to increase access and connectivity across Africa, targeting specifically remote rural areas.

“Electricity remains Africa’s largest economic challenge with the level of penetration lower than 25% in most rural areas,” he said.

“This lack of power isolates communities and limits their access to education and information, both of which are key to fast-tracking a nation’s development.”

The 12m-long shipping container can accommodate 21 learners and a teacher. Its ventilation system is designed to maintain a"temperate environment”. The server is loaded with school-based content for grades 0 to 12.

Easy to transport
Thierry Boulanger, who deals with IT solutions at Samsung, said the classroom is easy to transport to remote areas via truck. It has been customised for “energy-scarce environments” where weather conditions are often harsh. He added that it can also be transported over long distances.

Boulanger said fold-away solar panels provide sufficient energy to sustain the classroom equipment for up to nine hours a day and for one and half days without any sunlight. Care has also been taken in selecting the materials used to make the panels. For instance, rubber has been used instead of glass to make sure the panels are “hardy” and “durable” enough to withstand wear and tear as well as lengthy travel across the continent.

The classroom boasts a number of other technological gadgets that should make learning a stimulating and pleasurable experience. The classroom is fitted with a 50-inch electronic E-board and a variety of Samsung Notebooks and Netbooks, including solar-powered netbooks and Galaxy Tablets to facilitate interface between teachers and learners.

The classroom is also equipped with an energy-efficient refrigerator, a file server, router, uninterrupted power supply, video camera and wi-fi camera, all of which communicate via 3G.

The 3G facility allows for remote connectivity to monitor what goes on in the classroom from a distance. Power outages would not disrupt learning, as teachers could use a regular built-in whiteboard and chalkboard. There are also “solar power diagnostics” to enable technicians to troubleshoot any problem away from the site.

Packaged differently
Explaining how different the initiative is from similar projects, Samsung’s Ntutule Tshenye told The Teacher that “it is unique in that it is packaged and configured differently. The concept of the container is not new but most of these are not solar-powered and do not offer the connectivity and technology that we have.”

He said they are working with Teach SA to provide technical and pedagogical training to teachers on how best to tap into the power of technology. Other strategic partners include Microsoft, Learn Things and the Nelson Mandela Foundation, he added.

Katlehong Technical High School will be used to pilot the project, after which it will be taken to Qunu in the Eastern Cape and then to other areas. Katlehong is one of the four technical high schools in the Ekurhuleni municipal area benefitting from the Samsung Academy where grade 10, 11 and 12 learners attend electronics classes.

The principal of the school, Margaret Masiteng, welcomed the initiative. “My pupils and teachers benefit a lot through our collaboration with Samsung,” she said. “We teach them theory and they come here to do their practicals. Grade 12s who do well stand a good chance of getting full bursary to go and study electronics and electrical engineering in Korea.”


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