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Refurbishing office computers for schools and the community

Bridge Pa School uses recycled School Reference PCs from The Ark (June 2005)

Soul uses Encarta to kickstart a project about rugby, on one of Bridge Pa School's School Reference PCs

Auckland company The Ark is turning old business computers into well-specified 'School Reference PCs' and selling them to schools for only $250.

The Ark, a CANZ-accredited computer recycler, is refurbishing Celeron 500s with 17 inch monitors, built-in sound, and network connections. All have the latest Windows XP Pro operating system and come pre-loaded with the Microsoft Office XP suite. The 'Reference' part of the model name comes from the Encarta encyclopaedia, which is also pre-loaded onto the machines.

It's a huge amount of computing power for the price, made possible by the Ministry of Education and Microsoft Schools Agreement combined with the savings available from computer recycling.

Some of the computers have been sold principally as 'Encarta Machines', used in standalone reference situations in school libraries and protected from software changes, malicious or not, by an extra device called HDDGuarder. This $59 device plugs into the computer and prevents changes being made to software and files on the hard drive. Every time the machine restarts, it comes up with the original configuration, right down to the position of icons on the desktop. It can still be used for other student work, but that work has to be saved on a floppy disk or USB flash drive, or transferred to another computer via a network.

The Reference PC has been a "godsend" for Bridge Pa School near Hastings, says the principal, James Kenrick. The school recently bought four machines to replace computers that were so old and basic that they used Microsoft Wordpad for word processing.

Kenrick is delighted with the computers and says all the programs work efficiently. It's been a huge boost in computing power for the students, both from the Microsoft Office tools and through Encarta, which, along with the Internet, has greatly extended their horizons.

"They've been amazed at the information that's there, including little movies," says Kenrick. The students had just kicked off a project about rugby by researching information on Encarta, then cutting and pasting material into Word.

"We're only a small school – 47 students – and our budget reflects that. We'd love more of these computers and we're hoping to find local sponsorship to do it."

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