A Raspberry Pi computer lab for learners in South Africa

Back in July we wrote about an exciting project aiming to make computing accessible to school students in South Africa, where most schools have no computers at all and many lack electricity. Solar Powered Learning was raising funds for a Raspberry Pi computer lab at a secondary school in Johannesburg, with the aim of creating a facility that can be reproduced all over South Africa, and powered by solar energy where mains electricity isn’t available.

Their Indiegogo campaign was successful; we donated a classroom set of Pis and accessories, and project manager Taskeen Adam and fellow organisers set about coordinating volunteers to sand, drill, paint, lay cables, build desks and fit curtains.

Remarkably, less than one month after the close of the fundraising campaign, the new computer lab was ready to use.

Computers in the new lab

Computers in the new lab on the day of its launch

Graham Schwikkard, a good friend of Pi who represents us in South Africa, went along to the launch of the new facility in September. He writes:

The team really did a stellar job meeting such a tight deadline. I was especially charmed by the school choir opening the ceremony, a student’s poem extolling the potential of technology and the many hand written thank you letters from students. It was very clear that the school, teachers and learners are very excited and appreciative of the project.

Launch day

Learners and teacher enjoy using their new lab for the first time

The Lab itself utilises a Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP) with the Raspberry Pis working as thin clients. The server is additionally loaded with Khan Academy Lite (adapted to the local curriculum). This lets the students have a capable desktop experience and access to teaching videos and interactive exercises. Worth mentioning are the key local partners Siyafunda CTC, PiFactory and Ismail Akhalwaya, who have done a similar setup previously at another local township school and were key in getting this project completed. ‚ÄčThis first pilot does not include solar panels and they were able to use a school which has an existing electrical connection.

Hopefully, in the coming months we’ll be able to see the success of the model, and we hope to see it expand across South Africa where many schools lack both computer labs and valuable computer skills.

Students wrote to thank project sponsors

Several of the students have written letters of thanks to sponsors of the project – it’s clear the school community is really excited about the opportunities their new computer lab offers. It’s been great to watch the project develop this far, and we’re looking forward to more!