Low-energy Internet for Education – Where Electricity is a Challenge

On December 8, 2005, dot-EDU set up a low-cost, low-energy using lab in rural Uganda that may be just the solution for places where electrical problems (surges, brief cuts, and brownouts) tend to damage ICT equipment. At Bulera Primary Teachers College, four hours northwest of Kampala, the staff began to set up a hybrid system that uses both 12-volt direct current (DC) – as well as standard AC from the mains. Eventually, it will shift over to become a ten-work-station lab that is entirely run off of 12-volt. There are further plans to have the lab run on “boda” power if the main electrical system is down for a long time. (A boda is a motorbike used in many rural places; a litre of petrol – about $1 usd -- and a simple roller device -- can allow the motorbike to charge the battery system enough to run the lab for hours.)

Using Thin Clients & Low Energy LCD Monitors........
A key part of this lab is the use of low-energy, low-cost “thin client” devices – rather than regular desk-top PCs, which use much more power. In this case, the team chose to use Wyse terminals, which are about eight inches tall and two inches wide. These terminals have no moving parts, no fans, and cost well under $300 US dollars, yet – when connected to a server – have all the ports and capabilities of modern PCs. With the help of a company in Kampala called Ultratec, the thin-client devices were adapted so that they run on 12-volt DC instead of using 220 to 240 AC power cords. Ultratec also supplied a battery back-up system that allowed some equipment, such as the server (a low-cost Dell desktop in this case) and a laser printer, to run on AC; an inverter changes the 12-volt back to AC. The battery back-up system takes power from the mains and provides a stable 12-volt system, even when the mains is not working.

Low-energy LCD monitors (15 inch) are also part of the setup. They are being adapted so that they run on 12-volt, which further reduces the “load” (power consumption) of this rural lab.

....to Address Power Challenges in Teacher Colleges
This dot-EDU pilot project follows on an earlier dot-EDU project called Connect-ED (ended on 9/30/05) that was supported by USAID/Uganda; in that project, computer labs were established in eight primary teacher colleges (PTCs) and at Kyambogo University. Connect-ED staff provided training so that colleges could develop their own content; Connect-ED staff also put curriculum materials on CDs and on the Web, and tried innovative approaches to teaching new pedagogies (including a four-month online course, called “Teaching for Understanding,” that was developed at the Harvard Graduate School of Education).

A challenge with the Connect-ED project was that unstable power at the eight primary teacher colleges knocked students and tutors off the Internet – and often damaged equipment (even when a standard UPS was used to deal with surges). The battery back-up system and low-energy thin-client solution now being implemented, will let us look at a low-cost way to bring innovative technologies to remote sites in Africa.

A key partner in this enterprise is Bushnet, an ISP, based in Kampala. They are using wireless technologies to bring the Internet to rural Uganda. Bushnet’s Internet solution being set up at Bulera PTC (in Hoima), like the thin-client lab, uses equipment that can run on 12-volt.

EDC’s Scott Gunn and William Wright, and Peace Corps Volunteer Jamie Bruner, have played critical roles in this implementation.

You will find a more technical overview and update in a follow up article.

For More Information, Contact:
Kit Yasin
Director, Education Development Center
Tel: (202) 572-3700

Related DOT-COM Activity
Uganda - Connect-ED Phase II

Uganda - Piloting Low-Energy, Low Cost Thin-Client Appliances to Link Teacher College and Primary Sc
Related DOT-COMments Newsletter Articles
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