Guest post: A Pi lab in rural Ghana

Liz: This post comes from Heather and Trevor Grant, who work with a student-led charity called The Best of Both, based at the British School of Brussels. Thanks both! 

For the past five years The Best of Both initiative has worked with state-sector rural schools around Bolgatanga in the Upper East of Ghana to help improve access to water, food – through school gardens – and educational resources (books and access to ICT).  Last year, computer labs based on NComputing technology were installed at two schools. This year a Raspberry Pi solution has been installed at Dachio Primary and JHS Schools.

Three weeks ago the intended computer room looked like this:

After meeting with the headmasters, parents association and Regional Assembly representatives, the room was rapidly transformed with electricity being installed, walls plastered and painted, and desks and chairs promised for the computer lab.  Before the new computer desks arrived the teachers gave up their desks so that an initial installation of the system could take place.

6 Raspberry Pi’s have been installed and networked via a switch to a wireless router.  One of the Raspberry Pi’s is a dedicated RACHEL educational server. [Liz: you can learn more about RACHEL, World Possible’s Remote Area Community Hotspots for Education and Learning, here. World Possible are using Pis as servers for materials like textbooks, Khan Academy videos, health guides, world literature e-books, encyclopaedias and much more – we’ve been very excited to learn about what they’re doing.]

The initial feedback from both teachers and pupils on the RACHEL material has been great. They can see that they have access (on the Raspberry Pis, on Android tablets and even on the headmaster’s smart phone!) to a huge amount of content without having to rely on poor and expensive internet connectivity. Also attached to the switch is a Windows 7 desktop which will be used eventually as a gateway to 3G internet access as performance improves. The Raspberry Pi clients are using DVI monitors purchased in Accra together with HDMI to DVI cables, keyboards and mice.  The monitors were not easy to find and further additions will probably be based on HDMI to VGA converters so that locally sourced cheap screens can be used.

All the Cat5 cable crimping, keyboard configuration and user security set-up was done by Genesis Abaa, a young guy from Bolgatanga who spent every Sunday with me learning together about Raspberry Pis.  Genesis is now looking for more projects where he can help install Raspberry Pis, RACHEL servers, and network with the Raspberry Pi community.

The new ICT lab is all about access in a practical way that will work at this rural state school. Children can experience use of the computers whilst others watch until it is their turn. Parental support to help fund ongoing maintenance (electricity, light bulbs etc) is important and being able to get a group of parents in the room is important.

The parents were amazed at the handover ceremony when they were shown the Raspberry Pi.

A RACHEL Pi  server has also been installed at the Bolgatanga Ghana Education Service so that other teachers can see what is possible and make use of RACHEL as a resource.  A further RACHEL Pi server has been installed at TRAX, a local NGO that provides local support to the British School of Brussels. Trax is focused on rural community development, and it will be interesting to see how the healthcare material included with RACHEL can be used.

Thanks to Norberto Mujica and Jeremy Schwartz for their help with RACHEL.  Thanks to the Raspberry Pi Forum.  Through this amazing support resource I made contact with Luis Jose Marmisa Gazo.  Without the help and guidance from Luis we would probably have never found a way to get the Raspberry Pis onto the internet in Ghana using an XP laptop and 3g dongle.  Thanks to Geert Maertens for sharing the learning from his team working with St Marcellin Comprehensive College in the Cameroon.  Thanks to our friend Ben Laryea who showed us most of the ICT shops in Accra as we went in search of monitors.  Thanks to Genesis Abaa for his help in setting up the system – building local capability to install, support and train is even more important than the physical provision of the computers.  Thanks to Vincent Subbey from TRAX for allowing us to turn part of his house into a test lab before we installed at the school. Thanks to Nick Lavender and the students and staff from the British School of Brussels for their support throughout the project.