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Cutting costs with e-Rate

This column has championed the use of computers and the web for quite some time now. When used correctly, internet-connected computers offer teachers and learners an enormous store of knowledge – larger than any library – and a number of tools to manipulate and use the information.

Most educators appreciate the worth computers and the internet can bring, evidenced by the growing number of schools which have introduced these tools into their classrooms.

But that is not to say that computers are hassle-free. Far from it. In fact, they tend to usher in a whole new set of issues which school management has to confront.

Cost is a common concern, because the technology is expensive to buy, upgrade and repair. Then there are the day-to-day costs involved: toner for the printer, electricity and, of course, monthly internet connectivity costs. Every time we connect to the internet, we are effectively making a telephone call.

But there is some relief. Telkom and the department of education have finalised negotiations and set up an e-Rate – a discounted connectivity rate – for public schools.

It has been a long time coming because discussions were protracted and involved, but now schools can get up to 50% off their internet bills. The e-Rate went public during the second half of 2006 and currently about 1800 schools are using the discount.

Despite this number Sibusiso Magwaza, a project manager in the regulatory and public policy section of Telkom, which is responsible for administrating the e-Rate, considers the uptake of the e-Rate by schools “disappointing”, because South Africa has about 28 000 public schools.

He believes the reasons why so few public schools have signed up may be related to poor infrastructure. Many schools still do not have internet computers and, in many cases, lack reliable landline telephone access. But he is at loss as to why more urban schools have not applied.

Perhaps it is that many schools are unaware of the discount. If that is the case, read on to discover how your school might apply for the cost-saving rate.

  • The e-Rate is available to all public schools as defined in the South African Schools Act (1996) or FET institutions as defined in the Further Education and Training Act (1998).

  • A school must have access to a Telkom landline.

  • As the e-Rate offers a 50% discount on Telkom internet ser-vice costs, these costs cannot be discounted if Telkom is not your internet service provider (ISP). The modem or broadband link to the ISP over your landline and the line rental, however, can be discounted.

    Against the large costs incurred by schools for information technology, the e-Rate is only a small drop in the ocean. In these austere times we must watch every penny so do not ignore this saving. If your school qualifies for the discount, use it!

    Andrew Moore is a former teacher. He also has an M.Ed degree in computer-assisted education from the University of Pretoria. He works at Neil Butcher and Associates, an education technology consulting company

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