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Burkina Faso tastes affordable computing

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Microsoft and Intel are sponsoring Classmate sub-notebook PCs in Burkina Faso as part of their controversial aim of bringing affordable computing to school children everywhere. The devices feature Intel chips and will run Windows and other Microsoft software.

The Classmate deployment at the Lyc'ee Philippe Zinda Kabore in Ouagadougou is the first in Francophone Africa and the third on the continent after Nigeria and SA.

But the promotion - as well as the rival One Laptop Per Child campaign - has not been without criticism.

Open source zealots say Microsoft`s participation is the digital equivalent to "handing cigarettes to children". They charge that weaning the young on Microsoft products will addict them to that form at the expense of alternatives.

Others, like NComputing CEO Stephen Dukker, say computerising Africa`s schools with PCs is a gross abuse of available resources. He argues that thin client-style virtualisation solutions are more appropriate as they are much cheaper, which allows the available money to go further.

Burkinabe roll-out

Nevertheless, the Ouagadougou lyc'ee will receive 50 Classmate PCs equipped with Internet connectivity, a host of Microsoft software including Windows XP, and localised education content.

To accelerate students` future job prospects, the devices will be fully integrated with the Microsoft Partners in Learning curriculum modules and Digital Literacy training, says Microsoft. Intel will provide additional teacher training as well as consult on smart schools and ICT development and integration.

"By building on the power of affordable computing, we can deliver the most relevant, high-quality learning experiences that will help the youth of Burkina Faso develop their technology skills," says Microsoft`s Michael Rawding, VP of the company`s Unlimited Potential group.

The Microsoft contribution is part of an additional five-year investment of $235.5 million in global education that the US multinational says "has touched the lives of more than 10 million students, teachers and education policy-makers in Africa since its launch in 2003".

Burkinabe near-neighbour Nigeria has leapt onto Classmate and has already deployed the device and its associated infrastructure to 300 schools. Work is afoot to take it to 300 more. In SA, the system is still in pilot phase and has to date only been implemented at two classrooms at a school near Pretoria.

Related stories:
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PCs 'are too pricey`
Nepad e-schools under review
Africa told to step up
E-school costs nailed down
E-school implementations lag
AMD provides low-cost PC labs
Mobile phones to teach Maths
Plan to fund ever teacher with a laptop
Classmate works
Low-cost PCs a reality

Leon Engelbrecht
ITWeb senior writer

Leon Engelbrecht is an ITWeb senior writer.

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