Archive for the ‘VSA’s partner eKhaya ICT’ Category
There are a great many excellent educational resources on the internet – some have even been produced specifically for African and underprivileged kids. Unfortunately, the digital divide makes it very difficult for these resources to wind up in the hands of those who need them most. Content is great, and there is great content, but to be an effective supplement to education it also needs systems for distribution and management, which allow timely updates and feedback, and measurements of learner engagement with the materials. Most of all, it needs educators and support staff who know the content and can incorporate it into their teaching.
We’ve long wanted to use awarenet to help address this problem. From the first version we included features to allow learning materials to be collected, curated and distributed on awarenet. The latest version takes this further – teachers and technical staff can now use awarenet’s package management system to install the content which they need on their local awarenet instance, or build their own packages from sources on the web. Learners then have fast, local access to resources such as digital textbooks, video lessons, past exam papers, and can download them to their lab accounts or mobile devices. Since mobile awarenet nodes can create their own wireless network, no internet or other infrastructure is needed at the point of use – though a computer lab with mains electricity is preferable.
The default set of content packages we’d like to set up on all awarenet servers includes textbooks from Siyavula (English and Afrikaans), past exam papers provided by South Africa’s Department of Basic Education (multilinual) and video lessons on all subjects from Khan Academy (English) and the University of Cape Town (isiXhosa). We’re also looking into including collections from Project Gutenberg (multilingual), WikiHow, the Wikipedia Selection for Schools, Geogebra and many other sources.
Learners in many Eastern Cape schools have very restricted access to textbooks and teachers. We want to help provide the best available substitute – digital books and recorded instruction provided by world class educators, preferably in learner’s home languages. Where schools don’t have staff or funds for a working library we’d like to put one on every capable phone. Even in more developed countries schools can benefit from these, and need tools to manage these resources and track their use.
If you’re a teacher and know of free or open source materials which you think we should be including, please let us know in the comments.
This year’s AGM will take place on the 3rd of November 2012 at 11am in Berlin. Please, RSVP to this blog if you would like to take part. Here is the agenda for the meeting:
2.1 The Association: VSA as NGO and PBO, eKhaya ICT-VSA MoU, awareNet software and programme, old and new coordinators and trustees, the yearly financial statement, new bank accounts
2.2 awareNet: stats, champions, partners
2.3 eKhaya ICT: awareNet software/product, mobile servers, CSIR, license key/fee
3. Roadmap for 2013 for the awareNet programme, incl. research and conferences
We are looking forward to talk to all interested members and non-members and to hear your opinions and questions.
South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research has brought together a number of government agencies, local groups and stakeholders for an ambitious project in Cofimvaba, near Queenstown in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. Goals include improving education, creating food security and building the local economy through agriculture and related SMEs. The project is currently based at the Arthur Mfebe Educational Centre, where awareNet is being used to develop learning materials for a new agriculture curriculum.
This is an exciting first for awareNet: there is currently no internet access or desktop computers at the school. Curriculum development work is done almost entirely on Android tablets connected to a portable hotspot – a laptop running Edubuntu 12.04 and the latest version of awareNet for mobile devices. Utilizing a wireless mesh network which will be built by the Department of Science and Technology, we hope awareNet will bring localized educational content and web services to mobile users in the wider Kwa Manzi community, and schools across the St Marks circuit.
For now – eKhaya ICT, supported by the VSA, has been training teachers and project members on the ground in the use of awareNet for collaborative authorship, creating multimedia on tablets, and use of the mobile server.
We originally set out to develop software to bridge the digital divide – to bring internet services and the opportunities which come with technology literacy to those who had been left behind, particularly in rural areas, and starting in the Eastern Cape. To see awareNet being used this way, and the enthusiasm of teachers at an under-resourced rural school to use and benefit from new technologies has been a shaft of sunlight in a cloudy month.
eKhaya ICT and the Rhodes University IT Department fixed Ntaba Maria PS’s Internet connection to the Rhodes network in combined effort. Rhodes donated a 48 port switch, which was installed and tested by eKhaya ICT. Ntaba Maria’s principal was overjoyed and thanks everyone involved.
Also the learners are very happy to be back online. While the connection was not functioning, they used the mobile awareNet server to learn how to use the Internet and Web 2.0. Now that they are re-connected to the Rhodes network, they can access awareNet.org.za and also other useful websites, such as Google. The Internet quota for this connection is too small to regularly access websites such as facebook, flickr or YouTube, but awareNet offers all their services cobined and gives the learners a chance to communicate with other learners and teachers, even from overseas.
Thanks to the awareNet mobile server and the free service of the VSA, four schools in Grahamstown are able to provide education in Internet usage to their learners, even though they have no or only limited access to the Internet: Khuhliso Daniels SS, Nombulelo SS, Ntaba Maria PS and Ntsika SS all have computer labs, but Internet access is expensive and often susceptible to faults, the school staff often lacks the ability and time to deal with such problems.
One solution to this problem is the employment of one of our mobile servers that host awareNet, a tool to learn how the Internet works and how to work in the Internet – without a permanent connection to the Internet. (For technical details read this blog.) Our community coordinator, Terri Penney, who teaches computer and Internet usage at eight schools in Grahamstown, simply travels to the mentioned four schools with her laptop, which also functions as the awareNet server.
Plugged into the intranet at the school, the learners and teachers can collaboratively work on projects, take part in forum discussions or comment on each others’ blogs in a safe, but real Internet environment. Often they encounter the Internet for the first time and are both, grateful and enthusiastic about this possibility, which is rated as crucial for their further development as a responsible and employed part of the South African community. We hope that the Department of Education will soon not only officially acknowledge but also support this technology and service by the VSA and its partner eKhaya ICT.
This year, the wireless link provided by the Rhodes University CoE for Ntsika Secondary’s Internet access has not been stable enough to use for awareNet classes. There has been barely enough bandwidth for the staff to do email. There are not enough resources to solve the problems with wireless link, and a fix is scheduled for later in the year.
This is a very common and very real situation in our schools. It’s also a common situation in other African schools in African centres, where Internet is becoming more and more important to education.
awareNet is designed to solve this problem — and it has successfully been doing so at Ntsika school for the last two weeks!
The results have been amazing! The following diagrammes show how the system works:
AT NTSIKA SECONDARY SCHOOL (figure 1)
1. Take a simple R2500 laptop loaded with an awareNet server (free).
2. Plug the server into the LAN.
3. Do an awareNet class on the mobile server – let the children socially network!
4. Unplug the mobile server and take it back to the office…
AT OUR VSA OFFICE (figure 2)
1. Purchase inexpensive high-speed Internet (1Mbps, uncapped data transfer) – we recently did this because prices dropped! This connection is (as so often) not available in the township where copper wire required by ADSL is commonly stolen.
2. Plug-in the mobile server at night and allow it to synchronise.
Step 2 is really simple! The process is completely automatic and there’s nothing to do except attach to our office WiFi LAN. The mobile server automatically synchronises with the rest of the awareNet network, bringing blogs, forum updates, project posts from the kids at Ntsika to the ‘Net and vice-versa.
THE TOTAL DISTANCE TRAVELLED BY THE LAPTOP PER DAY IS 20 KM (figure 3).
This month Masifunde in Port Elizabeth will start using a mobile awareNet server, so we thought we should also use one at Ntsika.
Masifunde is the first of a number of NGO partners who will start bringing awareNet to their learners to bolster technology familiarity and awareness.
We not only have computers there, on which we show awareNet content and explain the functionality of awareNet. You can also chat to all sorts of different awareNet users: learners from the various schools in Grahamstown, teachers and community coordinators and obviously, the VSA staff and the developers of awareNet (eKhaya ICT).
Interested visitors can create user accounts and start using awareNet straight away: We have created new projects that can be joined, e.g. “The SciFest Experience” Project. We also collect photographs with the theme “The African Century: ICTs Inspiring Innovation”. The best ones will be submitted to the eLearning Africa Conference Photo Competition.
SciFest takes place in Grahamstown, more precisely in the Monument, from 14.-20.3.12. You will find us on the 1st floor. Free Entry.
The Village Scribe Association is investigating the registration of the word “awareNet” as its trademark, in preparation of more widespread use in 2012. Since the service has already been in use for two years — awareNet is a common law trademark, although it may be unclear whether to whom the trademark belongs: eKhaya ICT or the VSA. As reported in an earlier post, we are formalising relationships with all our partners and collaborators. This includes eKhaya ICT, with whom the VSA enjoys long and fruitful relationship.
Although eKhaya ICT clearly holds the copyright to the code of the “machinery” that delivers the awareNet service, the awareNet service is what people deal with and what finally brings about beneficial change in our communities and schools. For this reason, we decided that the awareNet name and trademark is known through the efforts of the VSA and must belong to the VSA. The VSA allows eKhaya ICT to use the trademark in exchange for a portion of any sales of the awareNet “machinery” – even if run under another label.
We think this is a fair arrangement.
In terms of this arrangement, we investigated some of the regulations around trademarks. The word “awareNet” is in use for other purposes than education in other areas of the world. However trademarks are specific to a category and can also only apply to a particular country. The good news is that that word awareNet is not in use in “Class 41: Education; providing of training; entertainment; sporting and cultural activities.” This information was provided by SelfService.co.za for R285, and it comes from the registrar of trademarks office. With this information we can go ahead and apply for a trademark registration in South Africa.
The question is: why should we register? We have a wide audience, and an MoU with eKhaya ICT which confirms the ownership in case of a muddle. Clarity does have a business value – a fact that is often overlooked in small enterprises and organisations. In his poem “Mending Wall”, Frost (1914) questioned whether “Good fences make good neighbours”. Only processes and regulations can craft a world in which 8 billion people can live satisfying lives in peace and this means building virtual demarcations that are transparent to all.
MoU’s can be cancelled and contested. Relationships change. As the South African Registrar of Trade Marks points out:
“Trade marks can only be protected as such and defended under the Act if they are registered. Unregistered trade marks may be defended in terms of common law. The registration procedure results in a registration certificate which has legal status, allowing the owner of the registered trade mark the exclusive right to use that mark.”
Now that’s a good fence.
Anna and Ron Wertlen went to the SANGONet Conference this week (01-03/11/11), at the Wanderers Club in Johannesburg to present the awareNet social network to an international audience of educators, politicians, funders and activists.
SANGONet brings together everyone interested in ICT for rural development (#ICT4RD). The conference was very well organised and it was made sure that the different parties exchanged important information about their programmes, products, funding methods, initiatives and reasons for failure or success.
The VSA demonstrated how awareNet works, and eKhaya ICT additionally introduced the concept of Reed House Systems’ Teleweaver. Especially, the awareNet demonstration attracted three large groups of listeners. We were approached with requests for installations of awareNet at schools (in local mesh networks) as well as the usage of awareNet as a service delivery platform for specific content from potential partners. We are looking forward to follow up on all those offers and ideas.
The VSA published a short film about the music event on Peace Day. Have a look at the outcome of our wonderful project, in which learners from 5 schools in Grahamstown learned how to use computers and the Internet, how to write HipHop lyrics and perform them on stage in only 2 months.
Please, watch this video on YouTube.
All of this could not have been possible without our partners: eKhaya ICT, Sonic Art Studio, Inyaniso and Peace One Day. Thank you for the fantastic collaboration!