Tablets for schools: all the details

More information has emerged about Gauteng’s ambitious R396m project to provide tablet computers to public schools. By Craig Wilson.

Steven Gounden

Steven Gounden

The Gauteng provincial government believes it can train teachers at 2 200 schools in how to use tablet computers in education before the 2014 academic year commences in mid-January. That’s when the schools will be provided with 88 000 tablet computers for use by pupils.

On Wednesday, the provincial government provided some detail about its plans to supply the Huawei tablets to schools in the province.  Now, more details have begun to emerge.

The department will spend R289m on the devices and a further R107,2m on network lease costs, a total spend of R396,2m over the two years the project is scheduled to run.

Steven Gounden, director of shared central components and ISAD (Information Society and Development) at the Gauteng department of finance, tells TechCentral that the teacher training will initially take place at special training centres around Gauteng. A training plan is already in place and will begin soon. If necessary, there are as many as 80 suitable facilities that could be used if the process needs to be ramped up after the first training sessions.

Though only three months remain of the 2013 academic year, Gounden says he’s confident the necessary training will be completed, in part because under the previous Gauteng Online initiative, which this replaces, teachers from 800 schools were trained over two weekends.

To ensure the process is streamlined, the department has appointed five project managers, each covering three of Gauteng’s 15 districts. There are also 100 IT technicians and 80 e-learning coordinators. Training will take place between September and November because schools close in December.

Gounden says the training is not only aimed at ensuring that teachers are comfortable with using the tablets, but that they understand how to get the most out of them as teaching aids.

The department has chosen Huawei’s 10-inch MediaPad for the 88 000 tablets it will be dishing out to schools.

Curriculum materials will be supplied by the department of education, which Gounden says has already developed some content for electronic devices as part of the Gauteng Online project. All of the content will be stored online and can be downloaded to devices using connectivity provided by Cloudseed, the company that won the linked tender to provide each school with access. Content will include textbooks, past papers and additional materials.

“Everything sits online and learners will have access to all of it,” Gounden says. The goal, eventually, is to link content to student profiles.

Government also wants to encourage Huawei to consider building a local assembly plant to reduce the cost of future devices. “We want the service provider to build a plant in Gauteng so we can get devices to every learner in much the same way Turkey got Apple to build an assembly plant there.”

With the tablets having connectivity, Gounden says they will by default be limited to a predefined list of websites along with the online repository of content. There will, however, be a mechanism to allow them on to the general Internet should it be necessary for a particular class.

Huawei is supplying 88 000 MediaPads to Gauteng schools

Huawei is supplying 88 000 MediaPads to Gauteng schools

The department of education has begun circulating a list of schools that it feels ought to receive tablets first. “Schools that have been the most disadvantaged will be prioritised,” Gounden says.

Cloudseed, the company tasked with providing connectivity for schools over the next two years was the end-to-end supplier for the Gauteng Online project, but has been criticised because more than 500 of the 2 200 schools that were meant to be provided with computers and connectivity are still without them.

Gauteng Online project critics will question the company’s ability to deliver a second time round. Gounden says concerns about Cloudseed are understandable but misplaced because the company will be paid in arrears and is subject to strict stipulations about service levels that will have to be adhered to, otherwise punitive clauses will come into effect.

Moreover, part of the e-learning solution involves the ability to monitor connectivity in real time. “I can tell you what’s going on in the 1 600 currently connected schools at the touch of a button. That functionality will now to be extended to a further 600 schools,” Gounden says.  — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media

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