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Innovative Programmes and Projects

The Wireless School Connectivity Project

The Wireless School Connectivity Project is an initiative that has connected a secondary school in a poor township of Harare, to the Internet using wireless technologies. The concept was developed as a result of participation in a wireless workshop in which the fundamentals of building wireless links was demonstrated as an alternative low-cost approach to connecting schools to the Internet. The wireless technology itself is a bundle of solutions that use the licence-exempt Industrial Scientific and Medical (SM) 2.4 GHz frequency band for connecting both the “first mile” to the Internet Service Provider (ISP) and distributing the internet using WiFi in the classroom.

The development of the project required collaborative effort from various stakeholders whose input was crucial in making the school connectivity project work.

The project team established relationships with four main stakeholders through whom they were able to deliver an Internet connection to the school: the Internet service provider; the backbone service provider; the regulator; and the school ICT training organisation.

The project team gained valuable experience from the programme and these have been documented for take away lessons:

Lesson 1: Define the technology need correctly – just as any development action should be in response to an identified need, the same is applicable to ICT in school networking;

Lesson 2: Firm partnerships assist in effective implementation – Technology-focused projects are not without their challenges, particularly when using certain technologies that may require skills that project staff or partners have not used, or obtained before;

Lesson 3: Timing can enhance implementation success – It was fortuitous that the other partners (PowerTel and Zarnet) were also considering similar interventions and the initiation of this project allowed them to channel their resources into this work. In other words, the project came just at the right moment because the partners were also in the process of planning for similar school connectivity interventions;

Lesson 4: Building capacity to use the technology is key – A new technology innovation will only be useful if it is used. Whilst this may seem an obvious statement, it is important always to remember that technologies are an enabler of education rather than solutions in themselves. It is better education we seek, and not better technology. The most important component in the value chain of delivering this education is a teacher who is ICT savvy and able to integrate the technology into the curriculum. Equally, the learner’s appreciation of technology in their process of learning should be emphasised.

It is without doubt that the foundations of this project lie in the wireless skills training workshop in Pretoria in 2005. The latter was facilitated by the Association for Progressive Communications.  The plan for the future is to track the progression of wireless technology developments and to bring it to bear in the context of the school networking initiative in Zimbabwe. The project hopes to develop a “mesh network” using wireless technology, so that all schools in the Highfield’s Township have low cost Internet in their computer labs.

Source: IConnect