South Africa tests wireless e-learning

A local pilot project hopes to push the case for a nationwide e-learning network via wireless broadband in South Africa.

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By  Richard Agnew Published  July 4, 2004

|~|sa1.gif|~||~|The Ulwazi Partnership in South Africa has launched an e-learning initiative run on Canopy, Motorola’s broadband radio technology. The three-month pilot aims to create a connected learning community by linking five schools to promote shared learning, cultural experiences and knowledge. “This project was launched in response to the dire need to improve and accelerate education throughout South Africa, particularly among disadvantaged communities where a lack of teachers, resources and funding is hindering their path to progress,” explains Ron Beyers, Ulwazi project leader and director of technology at St. Alban’s College. The five schools — St. Alban’s College, a private school, and four schools in the former township of Mamelodi (Gatang High School, Tshwane Northern College, Mamelodi High School and Modiri Technical High) — fall within a 15km radius and have been connected via a high-speed broadband wireless network. “Lack of affordable broadband connectivity is crippling the cost of education and preventing us from delivering quality education where it’s needed most. In the past, we had to bus pupils to the college, which wasted time and cost money. With the high-speed network we’ve installed, we can reach far more students and create an extended connected learning community,” says Beyers. The project intends to explore the impact of knowledge distribution and e-learning via broadband on education in South Africa. The network allows teachers to share skills and resources, by using webcams, audio communications and electronic whiteboards. They also have instant access to material such as multimedia presentations and can interact in real time with other teachers for support. The intention is also for students to learn how to publish their own web pages so they can share their experiences. The initiative has been supported by a number of private companies and public organisations. Motorola supplied the wireless network and Omega Digital Technologies provided the electronic whiteboards. It also has the support of the Department of Communication, the Department of Education, the CSIR Innovation Hub, the University of Pretoria, Schoolnet SA, and the Universal Service Agency, which oversees development of communications in rural and remote areas. The project is using Motorola’s Canopy system, which operates in the 5GHz band and provides data rates of up to 7 Mbits/s. “The network is key to the execution of the project. It is highly flexible, transparent, quick to configure and easy to use — in just two days, we would be able to connect another ten schools, which is how we would like to expand the project in the future,” says Beyers. The partnership also hopes that the pilot will create a model for nationwide roll-out of similar networks, if current legal restrictions are lifted. “As the current Telecoms Act prevents the rollout of broadband networks such as this, we could only get a temporary licence for the pilot. We believe that the pilot will demonstrate the numerous benefits that affordable broadband connectivity brings to education throughout the country and are hopeful that we can get the licence period extended to allow us to explore further the many applications which have come to the fore since the launch of the project,” says Beyers. ||**||

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