Tighter monitoring and the introduction of internal control measures on the Gauteng Online project, which aims to connect 2 199 schools in Gauteng to the Internet by building computer laboratories at the schools and using wide-area network nodes linked to multiple schools to distribute education materials over the network, will ensure that the project’s performance improves, says Gauteng MEC for finance Mandla Nkomfe.
Technical glitches, a lack of and erratic connectivity, owing to inadequate telecommunications infrastructure, and crime and burglary problems plagued the project prior to 2008. However, a mixture of telecommunications media is now being used to enable connectivity from 1 Mb/s up to 12 Mb/s for each school and each laboratory is connected to alarm systems and armed response, and has steel-reinforced ceilings and motion sensors, which has reduced burglary incidents.
The intent is to have the Gauteng Depart-ment of Education disseminate National Department of Education education material over the network; however, an internal audit conducted in 2007 found that there was low use of the system, poor or no main- tenance done, inadequate infrastructure, including in the classes, and no content filtering was being done.
The Gauteng Audit Services, an internal auditing division, also found that only 61 schools were connected and that the rest were offline during that period.
This prompted the Gauteng provincial government (GPG) to monitor and evaluate the services of turnkey information and communication technology systems provider SMMT Telematics Consortium on a return-on-investment basis to determine the value of the project and services.
SMMT was held accountable for deliverables on the project, according to service-level agreements, and has now significantly improved connectivity to schools, Nkomfe assures.
Currently, 1 557 schools are connected and do so through 107 points-of-presence local service nodes, which also provide backup functions and can disseminate uploaded materials, even if they are disconnected from the rest of the private network. Learners and educators are also provided with email addresses to enable them to engage using new telecommunications media securely.
A further 621 schools must still be connected, with the expected completion date around the end of the province’s financial year, in March.
The consortium, meanwhile, has reported that its accounts at the GPG are in arrears. However, all accounts are settled within 30 days of services being rendered and services have resumed, says Gauteng Department of Finance head Stewart Lumka.
An amount of R1.3-billion, 65% of R2-billion, has been spent and 71% of the project’s deliverables have been achieved, notes Nkomfe. Currently, the Gauteng Online project reports receiving an average of 40-million Internet site requests a week.
SMMT’s contract expires in the first quarter of next year, after which the GPG would implement procurement procedures according to the Public Finances Management Act, he adds.
Meanwhile, the Gauteng Online project has stopped using proprietary software and now uses open-source software, specifically Linux Ubuntu, which reduces licence costs and increases the flexibility and customisation options of the software, which are aimed at future uses in education, says Gauteng Shared Central Components and Information Society and Development director Steven Gounden.