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South Africa: R2bn to Make Gauteng Schools Paper-Free
Source: itWeb News
Source Date: Friday, June 13, 2014
Focus: Knowledge Management in Government
Country: South Africa
Created: Jun 13, 2014

Ramulifo adds the official opposition will support this bid to have Gauteng "set the stage" in ICT and education as long as it is correctly implemented. Connectivity for Gauteng schools was initially set to be provided through a project called Gauteng Online, but this idea was scrapped, and connectivity will now be enabled through the province's broadband programme.

The R2 billion plan follows last year's announcement by the province that the revamped Gauteng Online project, now the e-Learning Solution, would supply tablets and connectivity to 2 200 public schools in the province. Huawei Technologies won a R289 million contract to provide 88 000 10-inch tablets, while Cloudseed was awarded a R107 million contract to provide WiFi and 3G connectivity for a period of two years.
Vital training
Graeme Bloch, visiting adjunct professor at University of Witwatersrand Public and Development Management School, says there is no doubt technology needs to become more pervasive at schools, but questions whether the ultimate aim of going paperless will be achieved. The great idea requires a lot of strong administrative skills to make it work and people need to be realistic about what is possible, he adds.
Bloch says the plan will require the broadband network to work, and will also need teachers to be trained. Gauteng's R1.2 billion Broadband Network project, which has been on the cards for several years, is finally gaining traction, with the first links expected to go live this year.

Gauteng's network, which will be handed over to the province in five years' time, will incorporate 1 600km of high-speed fibre-optics and will consist of an initial eight core locations, no greater than 80km from the next core location, which will be connected by a 10GB "protection ring". Provincial buildings will be connected by 1GB protection rings to each other and through dual 1GB connections to one of the core locations.

Bloch notes while the technology will improve the quality of education at schools, it will never make them paperless. The Department of Education this year boasted glowing pass rates for the matric class of 2013, but a closer look at the recent figures shows fewer students are taking key subjects such as mathematics and science compared to previous years, while low numbers are passing with more than 40%.
Students will be able to access knowledge and information in a different way, and the plan will open up services such as Google, notes Bloch. However, he fears the marginalised schools will not benefit as much as the elite institutions. "As long as it does not just increase the divide, it is necessary, but it's not a magic bullet."
Implementation questions ICT veteran Adrian Schofield adds the new MEC's idea to issue all pupils with tablets has turned, overnight, into a plan to rid schools of paper. However, he has seen Gauteng's plans for ICT before, and they have not been overall success stories.

Schofield says capacity must be built into the project in terms of the teaching infrastructure, control of the technology, and use – such as how the tablets will be charged. "It sounds great. I believe we should go that route, but what are the steps to implementation to make it sustainable?"

Gauteng is not the only province to roll out tablets, with the Cofimvaba project in the Eastern Cape having so far equipped 12 schools with tablets, with another 14 set to come on board this year.
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