Top marks for Classmate: schoolchildren in Africa are set to get a major boost to their education through the use of very affordable computers. Andrea Bohnstedt describes the launch of Intel's Classmate initiative in Kenya.

Author:Bohnstedt, Andrea
Position:Information Technology
 
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It's small. It's got coloured handles. You can drop it on the floor, or spill some of your soft drink on it, and nothing much will happen. In fact, it looks a bit like a kid's toy, and that's because it practically is--Intel's Classmate mini-PC has been designed for schoolchildren.

At the launch event at Kamiti Secondary School in Kenya's capital Nairobi, pupils proudly demonstrated to the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Education, Karega Mutahi, and to journalists how they use it to solve an exercise through online research.

Since August 2006, Intel has launched several 'proofs of concept', i.e. pilot initiatives to demonstrate how the Classmate can be used and what it can achieve. In sub-Saharan Africa, these programmes have been initiated in Nigeria, South Africa and now also in Kenya, where the Kamiti Secondary School in Nairobi was chosen as the project partner. In these 'proofs of concept' exercises, Intel works with a selected school and donates a number of Classmates.

The project management is done in cooperation between Intel's country staff, the host government and the school staff. So far, the results have been incredibly encouraging: children participating in the programme improved their grades by 25% in the first three months, and these improvements were sustained afterwards.

The Classmate is effectively a stripped-down version of the usual computer to make it more affordable to the education sector in developing countries and provide schoolchildren with access to computer literacy and the wealth of information that is available through the internet.

Intel does not actually manufacture the Classmates itself; it developed the reference design and sells the chips, but the Classmates are produced around the world by independent manufacturers. It is also not intended to be a regular retail product: under the current distribution strategy, clients will mainly be governments and schools, or any other body involved in education that would place large-scale orders.

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The computer runs on Windows or Linux, depending on what the customer prefers, has some learning software, and is equipped with a USB port and a wireless internet connection.

The Classmates can connect between each other and with the teacher's PC. In schools, they are easier to deploy than computers in a regular computer lab because they require less infrastructure--they have a strong battery that can last up to four hours and at the end of the...

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