4.1 School-based telecentres
While the connection of schools to the Internet via broadband is a worthy goal in and of itself, the benefits can be multiplied by taking advantage of the sunk costs of equipment and connectivity, as well as the administrative and management structure of the school, in order to provide services to the broader community during non-school hours.
School-based telecentres can offer services similar to Internet cafés, such as access to PCs, Internet connectivity, and video and audio communications software. Instead of being purely driven by profit, school-based telecentres are also focused on meeting community needs, particularly for rural and underserved populations.
School-based telecentres have several benefits over for-profit Internet cafés:
- Natural clientele – Students who need or want ICT access for school projects take advantage of the online resources and may tout their benefits to family members or other non-students. As more job applications move online, family members and members of the community without home Internet access need a public Internet access point to apply for jobs.
- Life skills and vocational training – Outside of school hours, telecentres can leverage computers and Internet connections to offer life-skills training tailored to the communities in which they are located, as well as vocational training.
- User fees – Any fees charged to non-students can be reinvested to update equipment, improve connectivity, or provide additional training.
- Existing administration – Leveraging school administration and management personnel allows telecentre staff to focus on training and support roles rather than management tasks.
- Government involvement – Given the involvement of local and/or national governments in school funding and operation, school-based telecentres may benefit from subsidized Internet connectivity, favourable taxation regimes, or bulk procurement opportunities.
- Financial stability – As an element of the school, the telecentre is less dependent upon user fees for rent and utilities. In addition, wherever students pay tuition or there are parent-teacher or community organizations that are able to raise funds for school use, such funds indirectly contribute to telecentre operations. Further, the costs of school connectivity can be spread over a larger user pool, creating a lower per-user cost.
School-based telecentres can encounter challenges, including balancing the needs of students and those of the community at large. Management must understand the needs of both communities, as well as logistical challenges that may include a lack of electricity in evening hours.
School-based telecentres have been in operation for several years, with Zimbabwe’s World Links for Development (WorLD) often cited as one of the earliest programmes. WorLD began in 1999 with the establishment of 12 telecentres for combined student and community use, funded with World Bank support. By 2002, WorLD was supporting 45 telecentres across Zimbabwe.178
The World Links programme drew on its Zimbabwe experience to expand to other countries and to develop a training programme on the establishment of school-based telecentres. SchoolNet Uganda, a World Links partner, established a network of rural, school-based telecentres with additional funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, while SchoolNet Nigeria also operates school-based telecentres for afternoon use by the community.
In a slightly different model, the Partners of the Future in Sao Paulo, Brazil, did not specifically develop telecentres, but instead offered community-oriented technology training in school computer labs during non-school hours.179 Although general PC usage training does not require broadband connectivity, such programmes are enhanced by the ability to provide broadband-enabled services.
In Sri Lanka, schools in the Computer Learning Centres (CLCs) programme recover a portion of their operating costs by providing services to the public after school hours. The Ministry of Education issued a regulation allowing schools to keep the money earned from telecentre services instead of transferring it to the central treasury. About 90 per cent of schools with CLCs provide after-hour use, with 70 per cent of them earning a profit. The earnings have been used to pay for access, electricity, maintenance and repairs, and to purchase printers and scanners.180
In Uganda, a school-based telecentre (SBT) Project was launched in 2004 with telecentres based at schools but open to the community, especially during holidays. The project was implemented by SchoolNet Uganda, together with the Uganda Communication Commission (UCC), the Rural Communication Development Fund (RCDF), the participating schools and the Ministry of Education and Sports. One of the main objectives of the project was to explore creative ways of ensuring sustainability of educational institutions’ ICT facilities and activities. For the pilot project in five schools, the partners contributed the following:
- Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) – Utilizing the Rural Communication Development Fund, UCC contributed USD 40,000 in the form of VSAT equipment and 10 new computers, along with technical auditing.
- Ministry of Education and Sports – School selection, policy support and training, project monitoring and evaluation.
- SchoolNet Uganda – Project management and coordination, 50 refurbished computers, technical, pedagogical & telecentre management training and support and mainstreaming the telecentres into SchoolNet activities.
- The schools – A dedicated room, burglar proofing, power upgrades, LAN materials, security, paying recurring electricity and Internet bills, teacher training, facilities for a training centre for the Ministry of Education and Sports, forming a telecentre management committee, opening the centre to the community and leading the overall management of the centre.
- Faith Action Organization Development – Stakeholder mobilization and school-based telecentre management at Ngora High School. 181
Bloome, Anthony, “School Networking Initiatives and School-Based Telecentres:
179 Background Note for Ethiopian Country Team,” World Bank, December 2002. “Case Study: "Projeto Parceiros do Futuro (Partners of the Future), Sao Paulo, Brazil,” http://info.worldbank.org/etools/docs/library/91628/telecentres/telecentres/workshop/sbt-pdf/case-studies/BrazilCaseStudy.pdf