Top South African primary school embarks on ambitious computerisation project

Hillcrest Primary School in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa has commissioned the first phase of a R1.3 million (approximately US$ 150,000) computerisation project designed to equip learners with laptops linked to “a modern, secure, fully interactive ‘campus’ network.”

The aim, according to the school’s governing body, is to enable the school to realise its dream of a fully computerised, collaborative learning environment.

School’s principal Sally Chapman said: “The network is already used by a number of our 1 200 students, and it’s key to our goal to be among the forerunners in terms of technology adoption in South Africa and our ‘device per learner’ mission.”

First Technology, a South African ICT company, is designing the campus network using Enterasys Networks cable/wireless infrastructure.

Chapman added: “We’ve been fortunate to have achieved what we have from a technology perspective, and it has been our governing body’s top priority in line with our objective to optimise our facilities and keep them relevant. The network has given us the platform to continue to do this, as we see fit, in the years ahead.”

According toJohn Dovey, the governing body’s chairman, the school already had a number of computing resources which lacked cohesion.

Dovey further elaborates that the concept of one laptop per learner was appealing as it facilitates collaborative learning and peer-assisted learning.

“With this in mind, we decided to make the network installation a priority. We settled on a fibre-optic backbone as it was upgradable, with a life expectancy of at least 20 years. We also opted for comprehensive network management, so a server and the establishment of a dedicated server room became mandatory,” He said.

Currently, all grade seven classrooms are equipped with these screens, with grade six and other classrooms soon to follow suit as the phased roll-out continues.

“Today, with the introduction of the Enterasys network, every one of our 52 classrooms has a wireless access point (AP), allowing students to link to the school’s network and access the Internet – including Google Earth and other important sites vital to their curricula – while sharing printers and other hardware, including the classrooms’ interactive data screens,” Dovey said.

A further 16 wireless APs are strategically placed on the school’s premises, giving around 80 percent wireless (Wi-Fi) coverage on playing fields and common areas. This enables laptop computers and tablet computers to be used for scoring of sports events, with the results being posted and updated live on the school’s website.

The school says it is looking to deploy Microsoft Lync, the unified communications platform, over their new network to allow for telephone calls as well as audio, video and Web conferencing to be routed over the infrastructure.

“In future it should be possible for teachers within or outside the school to make use of ‘virtual classrooms’ to have one-one-one interaction with individual pupils – or a select group. It’s something we’re actively exploring at the moment,” Dovey added.

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