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Monday, 16 December, 2002, 09:26 GMT
South African pupils get hi-tech boost
A warehouse full of computers, IBLF
Thousands of computers are heading for South Africa

More than 600 million perfectly good computers will be discarded by companies over the next five years.

But an ambitious project is hoping to put hundreds of thousands of these abandoned machines to use helping children in the developing world become computer literate and better educated.

The project is being co-ordinated by a group called the Digital Partnership. It unites large companies that regularly update their stock of desktop computers with software makers, networking companies and aid agencies to ready the machines for use in schools, village telecentres and prisons.

Already the first few thousand computers have been installed in schools in South Africa.

Good as new

The ever-increasing size and sophistication of software on desktop computers means that large companies often have to upgrade their equipment to handle the demands of new programs.

PC donors
Cadbury Schweppes
Eli Lilly
Rio Tinto
Royal Bank of Scotland
Standard Chartered Bank
Thames Water
Turner Broadcasting
Most of the computers being thrown out still work perfectly and many are broken up and buried in landfill sites.

Now the Digital Partnership, set up by the Prince of Wales' International Business Leaders Forum, is setting up a program to collect the discarded computers and use them in schools in the developing world.

The first nation helped by the Digital Partnership is South Africa. Over the next year it hopes to transfer 170,000 computers to about 4,000 government schools in the country.

A network of workshops is being set up in South Africa to refurbish the donated computers and locals are being trained to do the work.

Telecentres full of computers are being set up in the schools and teachers are being trained in the best ways to use the machines in lessons.

Eventually all the machines will be running Windows XP and the Office XP suite of programs. Microsoft has waived software licence fees for all the schools getting computers via the Digital Partnership program.

Cost concerns

South African children using the machines, IBLF
Pilot projects are already under way
To help pay for the upkeep of the computers, schools are being encouraged to open up their computer rooms to locals and charge for courses in technology skills, for printing out documents or hosting e-mail accounts on their behalf.

Web-based portals are being set up that will host up to date textbooks and educational material that should help schools save money and pay for the maintenance of the machines.

Financial help has also come from the South Africa Government which has passed laws guaranteeing cut price net access for schools.

The first projects that gave 4,000 computers to schools in South Africa went live in June this year and now the Digital Partnership is stockpiling computers ready for the next phase.

Robert Davies, chief executive of the International Business Leaders Forum, said eventually the Digital Partnership hoped to be funnelling discarded computers to schools all over the world.

See also:

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18 Nov 01 | Science/Nature
18 Apr 02 | UK
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