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Let Me Learn: IT Labs for improved science and technology education
[Jan 25th, 2012]

Education is arguably the answer to the absence of hope which confronts many dispossessed young South Africans. Equipped with knowledge and skills, the limitations of incapacity fall away and allow the individual to become a meaningful contributor to society. But education in the country is in crisis, especially where science and technology learning is concerned. In many instances, this is owing to a simple lack of resources, especially since science and technology instruction requires expensive equipment. That’s why Business Connexion is tackling the issue head on through its Let Me Learn™ initiative, a core component of which is the innovative IT Labs solution.

According to the company’s Corporate Social Investment (CSI) manager Arnold Beyleveld, it has identified education as the central thrust of its many programmes. “Our focus falls squarely on School Development Programmes and Education & Skills Programmes. More than 75% of our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) budget is allocated to the School Development Programme and the implementation of information technology labs manufactured by Hawkstone iSolution,” he says.

Beyleveld notes that almost every child has some fascination with and interest in information and communication technology (ICT). “The world in which we live today is driven by ICT. Children who do not gain exposure to and knowledge of ICT will be at a distinct disadvantage in terms of the opportunities available to them in later life.”

The IT lab is a self contained, fully equipped educational facility which provides educators and learners in developing communities with access to a computer training environment. Beyleveld explains that the unit is designed as an integrated solution, providing all equipment from the non-technical, such as tables and chairs, through to computer hardware and software, all in a secure facility. With up to 31 workstations per facility, the lab is a complete “ICT classroom”. “These labs are designed for rapid deployment and is delivered complete with training for the teachers to allow each school where one of these facilities is provided, to gain optimal benefit,” he notes.

To date, Business Connexion has implemented seven of these labs at schools around the country; and more are planned in the short-term.

Beyleveld stresses that for the company, the commitment does not end with the delivery of a lab. “As an ICT company ourselves, we are acutely aware that value from any solution which we provide – either commercially or as part of our CSR efforts – depends on far more than the technology itself. Equally important is the ability for people to use that technology,” he says.

The company therefore takes responsibility for the training and development of teachers in the use of the lab, while also providing IT maintenance support to ensure that the equipment is looked after. And with the internet playing such a central role in exposing information and facilitating its access, Business Connexion even carries the cost of broadband connectivity.

“Sustainability and performance, we believe, are concepts which are applicable not only in the commercial environment, but which must be introduced across our CSR initiatives with the same vigour and discipline,” Beyleveld notes.

In addition, the company’s CSI division conducts regular monitoring and evaluation meetings with the school principal and educators to identify any issues or challenges that the school may be experiencing, and to support continued optimal use of the lab as a learning tool. “This process is invaluable,” Beyleveld notes, “We have, for example, identified that the content available as standard with the Hawkstone iSolution iLab is insufficient for e-learning at the lower grades within primary schools.”

In response, he says Business Connexion researched and identified more appropriate software which is in the process of adoption.
 
Given that poor access to ICT is not confined to schools, but is a challenge for broader communities, he says the Business Connexion commitment to maximising value with all the solutions it provides applies to the labs too. Beyleveld explains: “We are working closely with school principals to assist in presenting the labs as a service accessible to the community as a computer literacy centre.”

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