UGANDA RURAL SCHOOLS VSAT SCHOOL-BASED TELECENTRE (SBT) PROJECT
SchoolNet Uganda with the support of the World Bank Institute, World Links Organization, Schools Online, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Ministry of Education and Sports implemented at 2-year pilot project (2002-2003) for rural school connectivity in Uganda. This was the first School-based VSAT connectivity project in Africa.
The project involved 15 schools located in different parts of the country. Ten(10) rural educational institutions of Ndejje SS (Luwero), Iganga SS (Iganga), Duhaga SS (Hoima), Teso College Aloet (Soroti), Lango College (Lira), Moroto High School (Moroto), Mbale SS (Mbale), St. Henry’s College (Kitovu), Muni NTC (Arua) and Kigezi High School (Kabale) had stand-alone C-band VSATs. One school, Mwiri College (Jinja) had an onward connection to four other schools; PMM Girls (Jinja), Wanyange Girls (Jinja), Kira College Butiki (Jinja) and Jinja SS via spread spectrum wireless microwave links. The VSAT installation and commissioning was done by Wilken AFSAT and Verester, a global Communication Solution provider provided the satellite bandwidth.
The participating schools were to act as school-based tele-centres (SBTs). For a School-based tele-centre, the ICT resources which are based at the school are open to the community after school hours, over the weekend and during the holidays.
Project partners and their roles:
- Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donated the earth-satellite dishes (VSATs).
- Schools Online (USA) provided the computers, printers and micro-wave wireless equipment.
- Ministry of Education and Sports paid for the duty-tax clearance.
- World Links Organization provided funding for technical, pedagogical, business plan development training and subsidy for half the monthly bandwidth costs for 2 years.
- SchoolNet Uganda was responsible for facilitating importation of all hardware, initial computer hardware testing, Local Area Network (LAN), coordination among schools and third-party installers (masts),quality assurance, technical support and remote monitoring of the VSAT connections, liaison between schools and the WBI point-of-contact for Verestar, additional phases of technical and pedagogical training and development and delivery of high-impact community-focused services.
- Participating schools were responsible for hosting the VSATs, providing burglar-proofed rooms for the computers, providing insurance and security, underwriting the computer lab costs (e.g. chairs, desks, power points), financing recurrent costs (electricity, satellite bandwidth, maintenance, paper, toner) , release teachers for training and staffing.
The pilot project was a learning experience not only for Uganda but also for other countries.The objectives of the project was to establish:
- Provide access: Reach out to rural schools in Uganda.
- Test technology: Determine affordability and technically sustainability of VSAT technology.
- Financial sustainability: Determine demand and willingness to pay for ICT services and Internet by rural schools and communities and whether rural communities can meet the recurrent costs.
- Influence Regulatory environment: Licenses for rural wireless connectivity.
- Educational value: Benefits impact of providing fast Internet access to rural schools on educational outcomes and life long learning.
- Community impact: The impact rural connectivity on community socio-economic development.
- School-based tele-centre (SBT) concept: Test whether the concept of an ICT resource based at a school but is also open to the community is workable in the Uganda concept.
Some of the pilot’s main successes lie in the attention that was given to implicating the schools, generating enthusiasm for the project and increasing its value through synergies with other projects:
- A thorough community needs assessment preceded and gave its direction to the project.
- The project generated a high general level of enthusiasm.
- The School-Based Telecentres (SBTs) were used and enhanced through synergies with other projects, thus repeatedly proving their value.
- SchoolNet Uganda was established as a necessary coordinating structure.
- A certain degree of financial sustainability was reached, proving that schools in rural areas in developing countries can successfully house telecenters that can create revenue-generating value for their community.
- With adequate equipment, training and minimal technological support, most schools were able to ensure their technological sustainability.
- Despite the difficulties of setting up connectivity in rural Africa, sufficient technological quality was reached to provide a satisfactory user experience.
- Feedback from different members of the community (students, teachers, other members of the community) showed overwhelming user satisfaction.
The main challenges are linked to the difficulties of sustaining – financially, technically and organizationally – such a project without further outside intervention.
- The choice of the service provider had a significant impact on what became one of the main issues of the pilot: downtime.
- It was vital to select adequate, sturdy equipment and include at least a minimal level of technological support when choosing a service provider.
- ICT finances within the telecenters had to be clearly separated from the school’s budget so as to ensure the SBTs independence and continuation.
- Demand for the SBTs had to be encouraged, for instance through active outreach efforts.
A series of key lessons can be extracted from the project, focusing on the importance of continuing support, on the technological particularities of an ICT project in Africa and on sustainability issues.
(i) General Lessons:
- It is important to have “champions” to support innovative projects.
- Coordination and continuous training are key to moving the project forward.
- The regulatory environment can have a decisive impact on cost and sustainability.
(ii) Technology Lessons
- VSAT-related technologies can be proprietary, thus expensive and difficult to handle.
- Technology evolves and must be reassessed regularly.
- Reliability and sturdiness of the technology can be the most important factor.
- KU-band functions in tropical climates despite its reputation.
- Partners must be chosen carefully with the long-term in mind.
- The trade-off between initial equipment cost and recurrent cost must be analyzed, taking into consideration the aims and means of the project.
(iii) Sustainability Lessons:
- A motivated, long-term leadership can ensure the persistence and success of the project.
- ICT finances must be separated from other finances within the telecenters and schools.
- As long as people see value in the ICT service, they will pay for it.
- Synergies with additional activities increase the value and outreach of the SBTs.
- Location has an impact on the School-Based Telecentre (SBT)’s ability to generate support from the community.
Impact of the Uganda VSAT Project
The project had the following impact:
- As a result of the VSAT Project, Uganda become advanced beyond many other developing countries in terms of rural connectivity—and in particular in the dissemination of VSAT technologies.
- Teachers and students in rural schools move rapidly toward the use of ICT resources to support learning across the curriculum, and to the development of high-value skills for globalizing economies as a result of access to computers and the Internet and access to teacher professional development.
- The project catalyzed setting up of ICT resources in rural areas by business entrepreneurs and setting up Internet Points of Presences (PoP) in rural towns.
A detailed report: An Overview of the Uganda Rural Connectivity VSAT Project can be downloaded from the link below