Earlier this year Dell’s first solar lab in the Western Cape was launched. This follows the success of the solar powered mobile classroom which Dell launched in Nigeria in July 2013, a concept aimed at providing increased opportunities for learning to students with little or no access to technology or the Internet.
The Dell Solar Lab was launched in collaboration with the Students’ Health and Welfare Centres Organisation (SHAWCO), at their largest and oldest centre in Kensington, where it is strategically positioned to be of service to children from the underserved communities of Manenberg, Khayelitsha and the surrounding Kensington area. This investment follows Dell’s previous involvement with SHAWCO, having equipped both their Manenberg and Khayelitsha centres with fully functioning computer labs.
SHAWCO, a dynamic, innovative and passionate student-run NGO, was started in July 1943 by a University of Cape Town (UCT) medical student, who spent the vacation driving an ambulance to earn money to pay for his medical training. What started as a one-man initiative quickly grew into one of the largest student volunteer organisations.
SHAWCO’s initial areas of focus included youth development, provision of care for the elderly and the disabled. In 2008, SHAWCO introduced an educational component to their model which included providing Maths, Science, English and ICT tuition with the aim of getting children from these previously disadvantage communities into institutions of higher learning. SHAWCO’s aims and objectives were a perfect match for Dell which made partnering with them an easy decision.
The solar lab uses Dell’s unique, “classroom in a box” model, in which a standard shipping container is outfitted with solar panels that power 100 percent of the technology inside. The lab is built onsite and employs local contractors. The lab’s technology solution is comprised of a donated Dell Wyse shared computing system. One PC used by the teacher, networks to the 10 zero client workstations lining the sides of the container. All users access local Internet service paid for by Dell. The setup is highly efficient: each workstation requires just 3 watts to power, as opposed to 150 watts for a typical PC.
This setup also creates a highly collaborative digital learning environment, a new experience for students who had little to no prior exposure to technology. The Dell Wyse zero clients work with Microsoft Windows MultiPoint Server software, which allows a teacher to share what is on her PC and monitor students’ activity. The students work both together and individually to create stories, PowerPoint presentations, videos and spreadsheets as part of their coursework – something they never would have been able to do prior to the investment.
Since the launch, 229 students and 150 SHAWCO community members have been able to reap the benefits that this innovative solar lab has to offer. Of the 229 students, 168 are female learners who believe that the lab now offers them unlimited opportunities to fulfilling their potential.
Overall, more than 400 students, 60% being female, have benefited from over 1200 hours of learning thanks to Dell’s investment of technology into SHAWCO in the last year.
To date over 20 Dell staff members have volunteered their skills and expertise to the students at SHAWCO, specifically with regards to the implementation and project management of the Solar Lab. Of these 20, 11 have been women staff members who have played a pivotal role in making sure the projects have run smoothly and acted as instrumental players in the further development of the worthwhile program.
Plans have just been announced to roll out an additional two solar labs in partnership with SHAWCO and their community centres in Manenberg and Khayelitsha.