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An invaluable resource

I have read that the national department of education has revised its priorities and has moved Thutong beyound being predominantly a supplier of teaching resources.

The revised Thutong is another example of how the internet is increasingly offering both resources and support mechanisms to the education community. If ever there is a time when connecting your school to the internet makes good sense then the time has come.

Thutong will also offer communication tools and wants to encourage the creation of online collaborative spaces that support teachers.

The new portal will incorporate online “learning spaces” that contain blog facilities and forums. It offers a subscription service to relevant subject-focused newsletters. Should the portal attract a vibrant community, then this tool could become an important place where teachers share, discuss and support one another.

It is therefore disheartening when one hears that many schools still have no access. Some are either so remote they have yet to be connected by a landline or in many cases thieves have removed the cables, leaving the nation’s next generation isolated.

So what are the connectivity options available?

Landline connections

If you have a computer and a Telkom telephone line then you can have access to the internet.

  • Dial-Up via a modem. The device that connects you to the internet is called a modem. Its task is simply to translate analogue telephone signals to digital ones and vice versa. The modem can only transmit/receive at 56 kilobits per second (KBps) however, so it is no speedy creature. Also, as your internet service provider (ISP) will charge you according to the time you spend on the internet a modem connection is not cost-efficient if you, or your school, want to do some serious internet surfing.

    The modest modem and dial-up connection is still the preferred way to access the internet for people or organisations that simply want to download their e-mail. ISP rates vary but are in the region of R150 per month plus the cost of your Telkom telephone calls.

  • ADSL. Asynchronous digital subscriber lines use your existing telephone line to piggyback data transfer with your normal telephone service. With this service you can both surf the web and use your telephone normally at the same time unlike a dial- up connection which allows you to do either one or the other.

    ADSL services also mean that you pay a set fee and your internet is always “on”. There are a number of ADSL packages differentiated by speed (384 KBps – 4MBps) and also the size of the cap. The cap is the limit to the amount of data you can download and varies between one – 12 GB. ADSL is considered a broadband connection and costs considerably more than dial-up.

    For an ADSL connection with a 3GB cap and a speed of 512kbps you are looking at R550 a month for the ISP subscription. Telkom will charge you R286 a month for its services making the total cost R836. As a school, you qualify for the Telkom e-rate, which halves Telkom component of these costs if you register with them.

    Alternative connections

    If you don’t have access to a landline then considers these options:

  • 3G/HSDPA. High-speed downlink packet access. No landline but you do have a 3G cellphone signal? This solution works both laptop and desktop computers for which you can buy a card/modem from your cellphone service provider to insert into the computer. Speed ranges from 384kbps to 1,8 MBps and so is also considered a broadband connection.

  • iBurst. This connection is basically a radio connection. It uses antennas and radio frequencies to bring you high-speed mobile connectivity. The provision is that your school needs to be in an area that gets coverage. There are numerous packages but one that offers you 3,5 GB of data is about R600 a month. Speeds are fast.

  • GPRS connections. General packet radio services. For schools in remote areas where 3G and iBurst are not available there are also some companies that use cellphone GPRS connections to allow schools access to a phone line, fax and internet where no landline is present.

    One company, Molopo Telecoms, working from Lichtenburg in Mpumalanga, offers such a service for schools. It claims that its devices utilise the slower, but ubiquitous GPRS network to provide connectivity. Speeds of up to 110 KBps have been recorded.

    Andrew Moore is a former teacher. He also has an MEd degree in computer-assisted education. He works for Neil Butcher and Associates, an education technology consulting company that offers services in database design and materials development

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