Conference sneak preview

Technological innovations at eLearning Africa 2010


© Intel Corporation

eLearning Africa has once more proved to be a hub for information on how innovative technology can advance the cause of education for all. This year’s conference in Lusaka, Zambia, saw the launch of a new rugged “classmate PC” for school children, featured cost-effective, multi-user computing models and showed how hospitals in Tanzania are using “digital pens” capable of automatically converting handwriting into patient files.

By Talent Ng’andwe

The Mulungushi International Conference Centre, the venue for this year’s eLearning Africa meeting, was a hive of activity. Outside, locally manufactured traditional costumes, art works and curios were being sold by Zambian traders but, in the main hall, a selection of the latest technologies was on show. Zambia’s Vice President, Hon. George Kunda, took a tour of the stands, in the process laying to rest his concerns about the availability of affordable and more reliable technologies in Africa.

Intel Corporation, the world leader in silicon and processor technologies, displayed its Learning Series, a research-based education solution for implementing e-learning for students aged five to twelve. This system – a package of hardware and software – ideally works on a 1:1 basis where every child is equipped with a computer. Services and support are delivered by local vendors, allowing local needs to be met.

Lusaka also saw the launch of the Intel-powered convertible “classmate PC”, which has been purpose-built to be child-friendly and rugged. This energy-efficient device combines full-scale functionality with enhanced capabilities, as well as improved performance.

“The future and sustainability of a growing and developing African continent lies in priming the next generation to take advantage of the technology evolution,” said Shelly Esque, Intel Vice President for Legal and Corporate Affairs.

Digital pens for health workers in Tanzania

In Africa, as in most other regions throughout the world, it is still standard practice for doctors and nurses to keep handwritten patient files. However, these files can easily become lost and, if patient data has to be transferred from one medical institution to another, the files can take a long time to arrive.

Technical hospital advisor testing a digital pen in Arusha, Tanzania

eLearning Africa  presented solutions to this problem. In Tanzania, for example, health workers are using “digital pens”. The pens automatically convert doctors’ or nurses’ handwritten notes into digital files, which are easier to share and archive. They also take up less space.

According to Pauline Kimollo from the Christian Social Services Commission (CSSC), applying these technologies helps to reduce the time spent at dispensaries or health centres while also preventing the theft of receipts and medicines.

Affordable computing for poorer countries

Stephen Dukker, Chief Executive Officer of NComputing, addressed the issue of costs and efficiency for ”thin clients” . The California-based company manufactures hardware and software for so-called virtual desktops. Their solution is based on the simple fact that today’s PCs are so powerful that their users only employ a fraction of the available computing power. NComputing taps into unused capacity, making it available to multiple students. As a result, up to 30 students can simultaneously share the power of one PC – as if each had their own computer.

The solution allows current budgets to be met, whilst reducing space and energy consumption. It is ideal for sub-Saharan African countries facing financial constraints, limited infrastructures and a shortage of electricity.

According to Stephen Dukker, Ncomputing solutions are now used in 30 African countries. Even the lowest-spec PCs have become “super computers” for education in Africa.

NComputing has three product lines which are based on how the “thin clients” connect to the PC or server: The X-series which connects through a PCI card, the U-series which uses an included USB cable, and the L-Series that uses standard Ethernet networks.

For information on desktop virtualisation and “thin clients” click here

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