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Dec 09, 2011

Samsung Africa launches solar-powered Internet schools

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Technology giant Samsung Africa has geared itself to increase accessibility to education and connectivity across Africa through the launch of its Solar Powered Internet School model at the Samsung Engineering Academy, in Boksburg, east of Johannesburg, last month.

A world first, the exclusively solar-powered mobile and completely independent classroom is designed particularly for use in remote rural areas with limited or no access to electricity.

The Solar Powered Internet School model tackles one of Africa’s biggest economic challenges, namely electricity supply. On average, less than 25% of rural areas on the continent benefit from electricity, resulting in isolated communities with limited access to education and connectivity – both of which are key to fast-tracking a nation’s development.

The initiative is an example of Samsung’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) investment on the continent, and its keen focus on education and harnessing the company’s legacy of innovation to respond to the needs of people on the continent. The launch follows the roll-out of Samsung Africa’s ‘Built for Africa’ product range and the Samsung Electronics Engineering Academy earlier this year.

“We have set an ambitious goal for ourselves in Africa: to positively affect five-million lives by 2015. We believe that this can most effectively be achieved if we connect our CSR initiatives with our history and core business. With the goal to grow our business on the continent, we also know that we have to sustain our level of innova- tion. This can only be achieved if we invest in education to facilitate African thought leader- ship and to ensure we have access to a large workforce of skilled engineers in the future. The Solar Powered Internet School is a great example of this strategy at play,” says Samsung Electronics Africa president and CEO KK Park.

A 12-m-long shipping container is used to build a Solar Powered Internet School, making the schools easily transportable by truck to remote areas. The schools are built for energy- scarce environments, harsh weather conditions and for transportation over long distances. Fold-away solar panels provide enough energy to power the classroom’s equipment for up to nine hours a day and for one-and-a-half days without any sunlight at all. The solar panels are made from rubber instead of glass to ensure they are hardy and durable enough to survive long journeys across the continent.

The classroom can comfortably accommodate 21 learners, and includes several layers of insulation and a ventilation system to ensure that a temperate environment is maintained. Each classroom is fitted with a 127 cm electronic e-board and different Samsung notebooks and netbooks, including the world-first solar-powered netbooks and Galaxy tablets for student and teacher interface, all of which have been engineered for use in a solar-powered environment.

“The amount of power generated by the schools each day means these schools can be used beyond the traditional school day as an adult education centre in the afternoons or a community centre over weekends.

Our goal is to create an environment that would facilitate learning for whole communities in remote areas that otherwise don’t have access to educational tools or Internet connectivity,” Park adds.

The school is also equipped with an energy efficient refrigerator, a file server, a router, uninterruptible power supply, a video camera and a world-first WiFi camera, all of which are designed to communicate through 3G. This allows a central location, such as the Depart- ment of Education, to monitor classes and deliver curriculum-based content directly to both the learners’ and educators’ notebooks.

The server contains the complete South African school curriculum, from grade 0 to grade 12, allowing the school to teach any school subject or grade.

In the unlikely event of a complete power outage, teachers can continue their lessons using a regular built-in whiteboard and chalkboard. Samsung LED lighting ensures reduced power consumption, while remote solar power diagnostics are in place in the event of a power supply complication.

With 21 students and one teacher, as well as other members of the community, making use of the classroom daily, Samsung has installed its environment-friendly Virus Doctor air-purification system to ward off the spread of germs within the classroom.

The Samsung Super Plasma ion technology emits active hydro- gen and oxygen ions into the air, inhibiting infection by airborne viruses and destroying airborne bacteria, fungi and allergens.

The Solar Powered Internet School prototype is currently being piloted at the Samsung Electronics Engineering Academy, in Boksburg. It has also been sent to Qunu, in the Eastern Cape, to undergo further testing as a functioning learning and teaching environment, with the aim to scale up production of the container schools in future.

Edited by: Martin Zhuwakinyu
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