Solar powered ICT schooling solution in Uganda

As part of an effort to bridge the ‘digital divide’, the Intel Learning Series Alliance in partnership with Jasco, Custom Technologies and the Xavier Group, have delivered a completely solar powered ‘Classroom on Wheels’ to Victorious Primary School in Uganda.

The ‘Classroom on Wheels’ includes a laptop trolley, a teacher laptop and 35 Intel powered Classmate PCs along with a WiFi access point, with content and administration delivered by the Critical Links Education Appliance. To address the unique needs of the school in Uganda a complete solar charging solution forms part of the system.

This solar solution operates as an autonomous system without ever requiring mains power. Jasco has also partnered with leading education content development organisation LearnThings to develop a curriculum and content for the teachers and learners at the school.

“Solar power is a vital component to the solution, since many schools in Uganda, including Victorious Primary School, are off the national grid. Even those that receive state power are prone to surges and outages, which makes running any sort of computer centre or computer classroom difficult,” says Paul Fick, divisional MD of Jasco Enterprise.

“This project was commissioned by Intel as part of a global mission to advance technology in education. Jasco, as an Intel Learning Series Alliance partner, co-ordinated the development of the solar component by Custom Technologies to ensure full functionality with the various components of the system, and supplied the hardware components for the classroom.

Jasco also provided training and remote assistance for Xavier Group, who were in charge of deployment and implementation of the solution into the school.”

The solar powered classroom solution is a fully sustainable solution, as it runs entirely off a renewable energy source. The charging system incorporates three solar panels, two battery connections and a charge management system, which is fed into a charging unit housed within the laptop cart that facilitates the charging of the laptops and the server.

The system has also been designed to run off a simple battery, even a car battery, to ensure that a cost effective option can be found for any region it is shipped to. Fully charged, the solution can last for up to three days before the battery is drained. The entire solution is designed to continue functioning should a single component break, and individual components can be quickly replaced to restore the system to full capacity.

Xavier Group, Intel’s local education partner on the ground in Uganda, are specialists in the provision of ICT solutions in the country, with a sound knowledge of the local market and local conditions. Jasco aided by providing the necessary skills transfer and remote assistance to enable Xavier Group to deploy the solution.

Xavier Group managed the entire process through to completion in September 2011, and is providing on-going training for the teachers at the school on how to use the system and adapt the content delivered by LearnThings. Xavier Group has also appointed a dedicated co-ordinator for the school should any problems occur.

“Computers are the future, and if our students do not have access to computers they are put at a disadvantage. This project showcases the opportunities that ICT provides. The project has been very successful and has attracted a lot of interest both locally and across Africa.

The Inspector of Schools and the Minister of Energy have both paid the site a visit, and the Victorious Primary School computer classroom also appeared in a Kenyan newspaper. The students also enjoy being able to learn on computers and being connected to the world using the Internet, and they and their parents have embraced the new computer classroom” says David Raymond Magezi, CEO of Xavier Group.

”We are constantly exploring ways to grow this initiative, and we need to scale up the solution and procure additional equipment in the school. We are also in the process of developing a plan to roll out further solar powered computer classroom solutions to five other schools in Uganda,” he adds.

“This innovative solar solution, combined with the purpose built ruggedness of the Classmate PCs which have been designed to withstand even the roughest handling, and the powerful teaching capabilities presented by the Critical Links Education Appliance, offers an exciting new teaching concept that brings ICT within reach of children in developing countries like Uganda.

It gives these learners the opportunity to embrace technology from an early age and engage with their educators in new ways, as well as to stay up to speed with developments all over the world, giving them a chance to become competitive in the modern world,” Fick concludes. 

The Ugandan Government is currently on a drive to introduce solar powered computer and technology solutions into schools. Victorious Primary School will act as a pilot project and proof of concept to illustrate the power of technology in schools and, hopefully, to attract further investment into this type of technology in future. 

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