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Fast-tracking ICT at Tokomaru School (November 2006)

Students at Tokomaru getting to grips with one of the Compaq Evo computers in the school’s brand-new network.

Tokomaru School in the Manawatu has suddenly moved from almost no computing to a sophisticated new ICT system, thanks to the Ministry of Education’s ‘Schools Network Upgrade’ project and a bunch of cheap yet grunty computers from CANZ refurbisher Remarkit Solutions.

Before the new installation, which took place at the end of Term 3, students at the school had only five computers that were barely used. Once brand-new, they’d become ancient, slow artifacts. There was no network and only one computer had Internet access, through a slow dialup connection.

In 2004 a Ministry survey showed that few small schools had networks, mainly because they faced disproportionately high costs to build them. Following this, upgrade deals were offered to 550 schools identified as either ‘very small’ (less than 77 students) or ‘small’ (77-187 students). The Ministry would pay most costs for network installation or upgrades. The very small schools would share 20 per cent of the cost and the small schools 25 per cent.

Tokomaru School was among 350 schools which took up the offer. Funding their contribution was not difficult – the cost was taken out of the school’s five-year property development fund which the Ministry holds.

The networking equipment was top quality, very capable and reasonably priced as a result of the Ministry’s bulk purchasing. The package included design, cabling, switching, training and an Acer server running a customised Linux operating system developed in Christchurch by Smart Computer Systems.

Tokomaru School saved even more because it opted to buy CANZ refurbished ex-corporate computers for less than half the price of the cheapest new machines. They’re powerful machines with Pentium IV-2Ghz processors that should handle school computing needs for some time to come.

Total cost for the network infrastructure was $39,000, of which the school’s share was $7,800. The 20 computers, a network printer and equipment roll-out cost another $8,350.

The computers, pre-installed with Windows XP, Microsoft Office, Spybot antispyware and AVG anti-virus, were set up onsite by Woodville company Lael Computers.

Two machines went into each of the school’s active classrooms and a specialist suite of 12 computers was set up in a spare room. Security immediately became a physical problem as well as Internet issue when someone broke in and walked off with one of the computers. Fortunately, Tokomaru’s community spirit kicked in and neighbouring Stevenson’s Engineering, which had been burgled in the same week, installed steel bars on the computer suite windows at no cost.

Suddenly the Internet has become practical. “We’re rapt that email opens up in five seconds instead of five minutes, and students no longer get bored waiting for information to come up,” says Nick Beamsley, the school principal. “It’s fantastic and opens up a wealth of possibilities.”

The school opted for a DSL internet connection, as part of Telecom’s SchoolZone package that also includes a firewall and spam filtering. A website could be hosted at no cost, but this is “down the track”. Video-conferencing is another SchoolZone option the school could consider later.

Now Tokomaru School has all the gear, and a big learning curve lies ahead for staff and students. “One of our first priorities is to join one of the Ministry’s ICT Professional Development Clusters.”

 

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