Research

Research

Before we set out on these imple­men­ta­tion projects, we spent con­sid­er­able time research­ing what has been tried before and spent time in Africa, speak­ing to poten­tial users, find­ing out what is impor­tant to them, what is need­ed most (in con­trast with what would be nice to have, not not required). Some of the things we found:

  • In remote areas, we can­not depend on local IT sup­port being avail­able. Typ­i­cal school con­fig­u­ra­tions with a local serv­er and wired work­sta­tions, although use­ful for a small num­ber of com­mu­ni­ties are not fea­si­ble either for instal­la­tion (each loca­tion would take sev­er­al days to weeks to install) or sup­port (they would require sup­port staff to trav­el to the schools).
  • We can­not require local deliv­ery to each loca­tion on a reg­u­lar basis (like sup­plies, fuel, etc.)
  • Remote areas can be very dif­fi­cult to get to, some­times requir­ing deliv­ery via heli­copter or boat (in those cas­es, the weight of the entire sys­tem is important)
  • Con­struc­tion meth­ods vary great­ly between loca­tions. What we install must work (as far as pos­si­ble) under exist­ing con­di­tions and not require addi­tion­al con­struc­tion. Most schools we have vis­it­ed have smooth floors and pro­tec­tion from rain, but there are many that only have dirt floors and less than opti­mal pro­tec­tion from rain.
  • Inter­net access via land­lines is not typ­i­cal­ly avail­able to schools, but 3G wire­less is avail­able to most (with the help of a range exten­der antenna)
  • In most parts of Africa, exces­sive heat will be an issue, espe­cial­ly if elec­tron­ic prod­ucts gen­er­ate sig­nif­i­cant lev­els of heat. We address this by select­ing equip­ment for deploy­ment that gen­er­ates the least heat and com­plete­ly elim­i­nate the high­est heat-cre­at­ing com­po­nents (such as invert­ers in a solar ener­gy solution).

We have spent a con­sid­er­able amount of time find­ing ways to decrease the cost/installation with­out reduc­ing qual­i­ty of the equip­ment to be used by stu­dents, the qual­i­ty of the edu­ca­tion deliv­ered or the reli­a­bil­i­ty of the sys­tem. Some of the steps we’ve tak­en include

  • All soft­ware deployed to the class­rooms will be avail­able through a coun­try-wide pri­vate cloud, includ­ing Stu­dent Infor­ma­tion man­age­ment and online learn­ing. This allows us to: 
    • Man­age every lap­top from a cen­tral location,
    • Deploy new soft­ware, make sure all win­dows and sys­tem updates are performed,
    • Mon­i­tor the health of note­book com­put­ers in class­rooms. This is done through our AI-based Dex­ter­i­ty™ prod­uct that con­tin­u­al­ly mon­i­tors the health of every note­book com­put­er and reports it back to a cen­tral loca­tion for mon­i­tor­ing and prob­lem remediation
    • Store stu­dent home direc­to­ries in a cen­tral loca­tion, so that their files will be avail­able on any note­book com­put­er in the net­work (once the stu­dent has logged in)
    • Con­tin­u­al­ly add to the site’s con­tent with­out requir­ing us to send some­thing to each school.
  • As part of this project we will deploy all new, stan­dard­ized equip­ment that has been ruggedi­zed (a note­book com­put­er can be dropped from 100cm onto a con­crete floor with­out dam­age, can have a bot­tle of water poured into it with­out harm, is dust resis­tant with key­caps that are not remov­able). These should last for many years under dai­ly use with­out requir­ing main­te­nance (oth­er than clean­ing) or repair.
  • All oth­er equip­ment installed will either be espe­cial­ly mod­i­fied to meet a rur­al African envi­ron­ment or will be high-qual­i­ty so that they will last a long time with­out need­ing main­te­nance or repair.
Visual Software, Inc.