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Driving ICT into schools with Jasco’s Education Appliance

30 August 2012
5 July 2011
For many years now, e-learning or ICT-enabled learning has been a no-brainer concept; it’s been much harder to put into practice, however. The challenges are not just high cost and poor and unreliable infrastructure, it’s the ‘how’ of it all. Enter the Education Appliance (EA) from Jasco – a converged, multifunctional, multiplatform appliance delivering the learning, networking and administration infrastructure for School 2.0, an initiative that promotes the use of technology and collaboration incorporating interactive social media (Web 2.0 technology), creating the next-generation of schools.

Says Mark van Vuuren, MD of Jasco ICT Solutions: “The EA will help pioneer next-generation learning and infrastructure for schools. It offers everything a school would need for the rollout of a comprehensive ICT-enabled learning programme – from the technical connectivity to learning and course management, and administration of the security, and networking functions – in a simple, easy to use package. What’s more, EA alliance partners offer course content that is accredited by the South African Department of Education, and remote management capabilities allow a service provider to simply dial into the box to troubleshoot or make necessary changes.”

The South African education system struggles under the combined burden of too few teachers, a lack of maths and science expertise, expensive textbooks and crowded classrooms. “ICT offers an enriched learning experience and in South Africa it has the potential to relieve some of those challenges,” says Van Vuuren,
In the box

The EA is an appliance that was developed through the collaboration between Critical Links and Intel.  It includes server and communications capabilities that incorporates all the functionality required for schools including voice and communications; security; collaboration such as social media, blogs and the creation thereof; data security; content filtering; backup/restore etc. The EA can be WiFi enabled, easily deployed and user friendly.   It can be managed remotely too.

Says Van Vuuren: “We scope requirements and will do initial configuration of the device. We also offer a Service Level Agreement (SLA) which will cover remote management, troubleshooting and maintenance of the devices. This means the school does not have to appoint IT services subcontractors or personnel.”

The EA is available on a range of scalable platforms. This series of devices can enable up to 1000 concurrent learners for education institutions like universities, colleges or even corporate learning programmes. But it is South African schools that will possibly benefit most as this device lowers entry barriers. “Starting at approximately R30 000 for the entry level appliance, these devices can revolutionise the education model in South Africa - pioneering next-generation learning and infrastructure for schools,” says Van Vuuren.

New education models

Old perceptions around ICT enablement and e-learning need to change, suggests Van Vuuren. “Technology and new teaching models are there to assist, not replace teachers. In addition, there are many e-learning models that can be implemented – it’s not necessarily about giving every student a laptop, it’s about introducing a  model that will enhancing the ability and capacity of teachers to teach. ICT-enabled education is the teaching model of the future – it will extend the reach of educators, improving their efficiency and making teaching efforts more effective. It will also help create more compelling learning experiences.”
He paints a few relevant scenarios. Consider the benefits of the following:

• One teacher can, with the assistance of a laptop or other devices, give the same science or math lessons to three (or any number of) different classes – and it’s interactive, because teachers can monitor and respond to learners’ questions in real time.
• Add student laptops to this equation and reports based on pop quizzes, also done in real time, will give teachers insight into student understanding of the material.

Notes Van Vuuren: “Repetitive tasks such as basic material preparation, student and course administration and management is made easier. Teachers have access to approved, high quality standard course content that can be updated as needed and enriched by additional materials from the Web or through use of other teaching aids. This means they spend valuable time adding value to lessons, not preparing basic lessons. In addition, student attendance, progress and performance can be tracked and monitored, and teachers alerted – so no students ‘fall through the cracks’.”

The challenges of teacher shortages can also be addressed with this system. Says Van Vuuren: “Consider the benefits if private school lessons can be beamed to Model C schools in real time, especially senior level or special content courses that require highly expert or experienced teaching inputs; or these lessons could be recorded and played back to a class, with a teacher to facilitate question and answer sessions. Furthermore, the EA will enable teachers to enrol and complete courses online part time to advance and enhance their own skills. And there’s the advantage of cultural broadening and knowledge sharing as children and/or teachers can collaborate on learning projects across cultures and geographies.”

The EA supports comprehensive voice, data and video communications between a student and teacher, and amongst the students, both locally and remotely. A simple, easy to use interface supports administrative tasks related to learning and networking functions, including security. One-to-one and collaborative learning is provided with 24X7 access to learning resources.

Some of the features include:

• Student Information System (SIS): documents student specific information - demographics, class scheduling, performance transcripts and attendance.
• Learning or Course Management System (LMS): schedule and course management, supports on-line and classroom learning, administration for users, courses, grades, languages, security, appearance, networking, reports
• Learning Activity Management System (LAMS): manage and deliver on-line collaborative learning activities, highly Intuitive visual authoring environment suitable for content development and collaborations
• Wikis, Blogs, Forums, Chat: Wikis and blogs allow the joint creation and sharing of documents and content ; forums and chats for discussions among students or teachers and students
• School Conferencing System (SCS): synchronised live presentations, web pages shared locally or over the Internet
• Shared Screens: shared screens among teachers and students

School 2.0 is here, now

Notes Van Vuuren: “ICT-supported teaching and learning will improve the quality of education, and can be used to enhance the skills of educators. What is certain is that technology is advancing at a tremendous rate and is becoming increasingly ubiquitous. While not every child in Africa goes to school with a smartphone in hand, or will have individual exclusive access to a laptop or PC, the opportunity to exploit technology to improve teaching outputs and learning ability is now within reach.

“School 2.0 may sound futuristic but it’s being adopted across the globe by governments and institutions that understand how the current shortcomings in education models, including teacher and funding gaps, can be sustainably bridged with ICT-enabled education solutions. A tipping point is being reached as the cost of ICT devices continues to fall, and connectivity becomes more affordable and possible.”
The EA is a proven solution. It has been rolled out in Portugal, Brazil and Malta, and is now being introduced in South Africa and the UK. In Portugal, EA is being deployed in 1220 schools by Portugal Telecom for the Portuguese Ministry of Education in one of the world’s largest “Digital School” modernisation efforts.
For further information contact:

Mark van Vuuren
Managing Director
Jasco ICT Solutions
Tel: 011 266 1714
Email: mvanvuuren@jascohq.co.za