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 Thursday, February 04, 2010

In 2004, a project was initiated to provide distance learning centers in the Solomon Islands. This project, established under the EU education sector program, was initiated following trials using email in 2002. In the trials, ten students (with two supervisors) studied for a university course module, sending and receiving papers by email; the trials were judged to have improved turnaround and tutor-student communications, but suggested that a larger project would need better connectivity.

By 2007, there were nine distance learning centers in special buildings attached to schools. Each centre has a short wave radio, a VSAT, six computers, a printer, a scanner and solar panels; the cost of equipment and installation of these centers is approximately 50,000 USD. These costs would now be significantly less with using cheaper VSATs (coverage has improved), fewer solar panels (the power consumption of computers is lower).

Each distance learning centre has a full time supervisor (often a former teacher with computing skills) who maintains equipment, provides basic computer training for users, and assists students with using the equipment and IP applications such as collaboration tools for distance learning. The VSAT receives course materials from education service providers in the capital city or elsewhere. VSATs in the distance learning centers, share a 256 kb/s downlink and 128 kb/s uplink satellite connection that cost 4,000 USD per month.

Distance learning centers need to be used heavily if they are to be commercially viable; making revenues exceed running costs is more difficult for them than for rural email stations. Intended primarily for reinforcing classroom learning, training teachers, and providing formal and vocational courses, distance learning centers are also open to the public every day as Internet cafés. The strategy for sustainable operation relies partly on partnerships that also contribute to the educational objectives; for instance, a bank branch in a distance learning centre would perform electronic funds transfer over IP (thereby avoiding electronic funds transfer using phone calls) and also be involved in financial training.

A distance learning centre has a management committee that includes members from the school, the school board, the community and various sectors of society. The management committee works with the supervisor in partnership with an NGO (PFNet) and the Ministry of Education.

Source: ICT Regulation Toolkit Website