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Cloudgate provides low-power, high-tech solution for rural school

Gratton School near Eshowe in KwaZulu-Natal aims to provide an excellent education for rural children – a mission that recently expanded to include e-learning facilities powered by CloudGate Android devices.

The school is a project of Norwegian NGO Zulufadder, which supports around 1 000 children in the rural areas around Eshowe who are affected by HIV/AIDS and poverty. "We realised that the rural education system wasn't supplying what these kids need, so we decided to start a community school," explains Nick Philips, a member of ZuluFadder's Board of Directors and chairman of the school's governing body. "Our aim is to provide an education good enough to enable our 230 learners to get into mainstream tertiary institutions."

Part of this, says Philips, "is providing the best resources we can, and developing computer skills is important." The school first battled to get Internet access: "Local 3G coverage is hopeless and not even canvassing Telkom directors in person could get us an ADSL line. Finally, at the beginning of this year we got a broadband satellite solution. That enabled us to look at equipping our library with computer equipment."

Gratton's governing body opted to buy 30 CloudGate devices running Android. "The CloudGates have several advantages over more conventional PCs," says Philips. "They're lightweight and easy to use, and they draw only 10W of power. Even 30 of them running at once uses hardly more power than a couple of lightbulbs. It would be a very different story running 30 conventional PCs."

Philips says the school also believes the Android operating system is a good bet: "Everyone has an Android device now, and these kids would much rather have a tablet than a PC. There's a clear trend towards basing everything in the cloud, and with stable Internet access and Android we're putting our learners in a good position for the future."

"Access to the huge number of apps available for learning can make a dramatic difference to schools," says Brian Timperley of Turrito Networks, the company behind CloudGate. "From Wikipedia to Mathletics to Google Earth to apps for reading, spelling and learning times tables – it's all available at a very low cost – certainly much lower than textbooks."

The school is investigating how it can use e-learning most effectively, adds Philips. "There aren't any blueprints for this and there's still a gap between providing hardware and providing a practical, useful software environment for users. We're all on a learning curve, including the teachers, but there's a great sense of excitement. We have a committee headed by a teacher working to identify the most useful e-learning apps for our users and are all building up our knowledge."

"For the first time in our school's history, we have had one our learners gain entry into and graduate from university. Can you imagine what will be possible with technology and e-learning at the heart of our school's curriculum," concludes Philips.

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