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Laptop initiative presses the right buttons

The details of the teacher laptop initiative are out. The initiative, which was devised by the department of education’s innovation in teaching directorate, was published on May 8 in the Government Gazette.

Is it worth it? And how much is it going to cost you each month? In determining this you need to be aware of the type of computer on offer. The department has decided to outline only a minimum spec to which all initiative laptops must conform. If you want to raise the specification you can. The department has calculated that the cost of its minimum spec computer is R11 750. For that price you get the following:

160Gb hard drive
This is where you will store all your data and install your software. In today’s market 160Gb is a modest amount of storage space.

1024Mb RAM
Memory is necessary for the smooth running of the computer. A rule of thumb is that the more memory you have the quicker the machine works. But there are many other factors that determine the speed of a computer. Still it is a contributing factor. Today, with all the applications we will want to run simultaneously 1Gb of RAM (1024Mb) is the bare minimum you should have on your laptop.

DVD/RW drive
This is your optical drive where you will insert CDs and DVDs. Because the spec says it must be a RW (read and writable) you will also be able to burn data to a blank disk.

9″ LCD screen
This is a medium-size screen. It is your call whether you need a bigger size. The more screen space you have the more programs you can have open or if your eyes are poor you can set a resolution that allows the screen content to be large.

Wireless and Ethernet Local Area Network (LAN)
These devices help you connect to networks and the internet. The wireless connection is all the rage at the moment. The ethernet connection is if you use a cable to access a network and through it the internet. These specs are good.

Built-in speakers and microphone
These devices will be essential if you want to use your computer as a telephone, for example Skype. Voice-over internet is a cost-effective way of talking to friends. You will also need the speakers for any multimedia content you might want to demonstrate to the class.

2 USB ports
The Universal Serial Bus (USB) port is the preferred way to attach just about any peripheral device these days. Most printers, digital cameras, flash/pen drives and so on need this connection. Consequently, the spec here is a bit mean. While it is easy to add additional USB ports with a “daisy chain” connector, most laptops come with at least four USB ports.

Rechargeable battery with a life of two hours
All laptops come with a rechargeable battery. The issue here is that it should run off the mains for two hours. The power of the laptop is that you can work anywhere when Eskom is load shedding. The life of the battery, however, makes this all conditional. Go for as long a life as you can negotiate.

Three year carry-in warranty
It’s great to see the department has included this in the spec. Your computer will eventually crash. The three-year warranty spec is especially good. Most laptops come with only one year or two.

XP operating system (OS) or higher
The operating system is what makes the computer work. It is an essential piece of software. Microsoft is due to release Windows 7 before the end of the year to replace Windows Vista. Windows XP was a generation earlier. Windows 7 is unknown and there are always hiccups during a first release. Vista works fine on computers that have powerful processors and lots of RAM but many report that it tends to fail on modest machines. XP, however, had an excellent reputation. It does not, however, support all new devices and software applications. Not on offer is any non-Microsoft products. The open source community is not supported.

MS Office Enterprise
Access 2007, Excel 2007, Outlook 2007, PowerPoint 2007, Publisher 2007, Word 2007 among others.
This is an excellent set of applications. You have a database, spreadsheet (great for class marks), email application, presentation package (excellent for teaching and learning), desktop publishing package (good for class projects), as well as an essential word processor. Other programs include OneNote, Groove and InfoPath. However, there is no representation of the open source community applications.

[email protected]
This service will provide you with an email address. If you don’t already have one, this will be a useful facility.

Symantec anti-virus
It’s essential to protect your machine from malicious software so this is a good choice for the spec.

SA-SAMs
The department-endorsed school administration package will be loaded on to the laptop.

National curriculum materials
These documents, always useful and the most requested downloads on Thutong, will be loaded on to the laptops. Excellent idea.

Teacher development materials
The Microsoft Digital Literacy and the Partners in Learning programs will be loaded on to the laptops. The first is a basic “how to” guide on using the computer, while the second program looks at how to integrate computers into teaching and learning, school administration and also school management.

Subscription to internet service provider
The details of this component of the spec are not outlined in any detail. All we know at this point is that the department calculates that this item will cost about R6 000 over five years.

Insurance
It looks like the department has calculated a cost of R1 200 over five years, but nothing final.

So there you have the minimum specs. Not bad if all is considered. But let’s get back to the original question.
How much? The education department has calculated that this minimum spec package paid off over five years (60 months) would amount to R195 83 a month.

The subsidy it is offering you is R130. So go figure. Is the above package worth R66 a month? If you use it regularly and integrate it into your work then I’m willing to bet it is.

For more info go to http://www.education.gov.za/dynamic/imgshow.aspx?id=3297&fnme=Teacher_Laptop_Initiative.pdf

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