New internet connectivity plan for Gauteng schools

Cloudseed has been announced as one of two winning bidders to provide public schools with internet connectivity and tablets for individual students. (Clarissa Sosin, M&G)

Cloudseed has been announced as one of two winning bidders to provide public schools with internet connectivity and tablets for individual students. (Clarissa Sosin, M&G)

Gauteng finance minister Mandla Nkomfe dropped this bombshell at a media conference on Wednesday.

The contract, originally to install computer laboratories, has now been divided into two parts. Cloudseed has been awarded a R107-million deal to provide WiFi and 3G connectivity, while ICT solutions service provider Huawei Technologies was awarded a R289-million contract to provide 88 000 10-inch tablets.

The project has been renamed the e-Learning Solution.

Cloudseed’s previous incarnation, SMMT Online, failed to deliver fully on the R2.2-billion contract. SMMT installed computers in 1 552 schools of a total of 2 200 institutions, and in many schools the network installed was frequently offline.

Some teachers sarcastically nicknamed the project "Gauteng offline".

Other complaints centered around the lack of security at schools where equipment was often stolen, despite the hiring of security firms.

Nkomfe said that with the advent of significant advances in technology, "the physical computer laboratory was rendered obsolete".
In addition, tablets were now the preferred technology.

Cloudseed is owned by the politically connected Tebogo Magashoa, who came under fire from the Democratic Alliance and a number of school governing bodies, who called for the project to be scrapped.

Cloudseed and the department responded that the project had delivered on its mandate.

Nkomfe said seven services providers submitted bid proposals and Cloudseed was chosen, based on price.

He said that his department had put in place measures to ensure satisfactory service delivery.

"These contracts will be regulated through performance-based agreements," said Nkomfe. "All payments will only flow on receipt of satisfactory service delivery, which must comply with the service level standards."

The original five-year contract was awarded to SMMT online in 2007 and expired last December.

The contract provoked controversy again early this year when the tender was readvertised and prospective bidders complained it was structured in a way that would give Cloudseed a headstart.

Three days before the finalisation of the tender, Nkomfe cancelled it and announced the redesign of the project.

Under the current contract, Huawei will provide each public school with 40 tablets.

Nkomfe said Cloudseed's contract, which was extended until July after it expired, had now been extended to the end of November to allow for the rebranded e-Learning Solution to be implemented.

The Gauteng Online project was the brainchild of former premier Mbhazima Shilowa and implemented by various service providers. In April 2007, the programme was transferred to the finance department, and the contract awarded to SMMT.

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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.

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