Milestone for Stop-Start Gauteng School Computer Lab Project


An eight-year-old project to install computer labs in all Gauteng schools has finally reached 1300 classrooms, after an initial R500m scheme was abandoned and a fresh R2bn tender issued.

Gauteng Online is now being run by SMMT Online, which has ripped out much of the equipment installed by six consortiums that won parts of the original tender. Some equipment had been reused but most was no longer seen as appropriate, Chief Technology Officer James Ainslie said last week.

As the overall project manager SMMT needed to correct past mistakes, he said, as the tactic of appointing several suppliers had failed. When Gauteng Online was revived, SMMT found fewer than 10% of 1200 computer labs were functionally intact, and only 61 had proper Internet access.

"We have refreshed all those facilities," Ainslie said. "Over time hardware depreciates, so in all the classrooms where there were Gauteng Online labs we have replaced the old technology." The original tender wasted vast amounts of taxpayers' money and squandered the efforts of companies including Sun Microsystems, Acer, IBM, Mustek and Sahara. They each created labs in two dozen schools for their technologies to be evaluated. Then the contract was split among six consortiums, which installed labs in hundreds of schools.

The project floundered under a lack of leadership from the Gauteng education department and many labs were vandalised or fell into disuse. As momentum faded, technical support dwindled and equipment was stolen . No content-filtering was imposed in schools with internet access, so access to pornography was rife. The project was then transferred to the Gauteng Shared Services Centre, and the initiative was rewritten, retendered and won by the relatively unknown SMMT.

Mustek CEO David Kan said his consortium had equipped about 300 schools. Although it had been paid , Mustek did not want the reworked tender as it was designed for project managers, not technology suppliers.

Of the 2042 schools involved in Gauteng Online, SMMT has installed computer labs in 1375. About 470 need to have prefab classrooms installed to house a laboratory, and 157 need structural repairs before they will be fit to receive the computers.

Each lab has 24 workstations for pupils, a computer for the teacher, internet access and a printer. Up to 25 teachers will be trained in each school to use the computers in their lessons.

Business Day