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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