CIO East Africa (Nairobi)

Africa: Meccer Classmate to Simplify Technology in Classrooms

Classmate is an Intel innovation. In Kenya it is distributed by Mustek East Africa Limited who own the Meccer brand, South Africa has it under Lenovo and Samsung classmate in West Africa. It is a touch screen PC purely meant for education.

Peter Omondi, the Regional Sales Manager for Mustek East Africa Limited describes it as spill proof and the machine has a drop test of up to 72 cm, while some units can do up to 1 meter. The idea behind such toughness is that the machine is meant to be used by children, even if they drop the machine it won't easily break.

The machine is used mainly in under developed rural areas, where access to electricity is a challenge, with a battery life of 12 hours, once fully charged, classmate can be used for a whole day without being plugged into power.

Omondi says in areas where electricity is a challenge, lockable charging trolleys come in handy. They are used to charge the units overnight ready for the next day's class. "The teacher might decide to walk with the trolley from class to class and distribute the machines the way textbooks are distributed, just like the computer on wheels concept", says Omondi.

The idea behind the Classmate is not supposed to be used to teach students on how to use a computer but to use a computer in learning just like the way they do a normal social studies class, but this time they are able to take notes on a computer.

The PC is bundled with content from Intel and from a local supplier within the region, which has curriculum from class 6 to 8. This content has been extracted from the 8-4-4 Kenyan education system curriculum, simplified and served with complete test papers all the way to 10 years back for revision purposes.

It also allows students to assess themselves, by providing answers to the same question papers, which parents or guardians can later asses. The ideal set up is for every student to have a PC, however we are not there yet but slowly Mustek is building this capacity by deploying a small number of them; let's say 50 pieces in different regions.

Classmates are far much more economical compared with having desktop computers. In terms of investment, they are the best thing a learning institution can have since they come with content and hardware. Schools are looking at cutting costs on power compared to a case on the amount of power consumed when several desktops are running the whole day.

It is not easy for schools in rural areas with desktops PCs to pay for electricity, since they are not getting any funding for it, so even when organisations engage in such projects, they need to look at the sustainability level before deploying.

In terms on sustainability of software upgrades, Omondi says currently classmate machines in the field are running on Microsoft Windows 7 operating system and Mustek will be supplying Windows 8 machines as per January 2013. However he says the platform doesn't really matter, considering most companies are still running Windows Explorer, of which Microsoft is withdrawing its support after 8th April 2014, Classmate is safe since Windows 7 will still be in use.

Therefore according to Omondi, classmate is safe for the next 10 years, after which there will be need to look again at the IT infrastructure since a lot will have changed.

The company approaches humanitarian organisations like USAID to distribute classmate in different schools in Kenya. At the moment, Plan International is currently doing the same and World Vision has also undertaken a project for education, and Mustek advises them on the value of classmate in schools.

For instance the British Government sponsor primary schools with text books every year, they used to do this directly through the government but currently they give these funds to NGOs to buy the same textbooks for primary school kids.

The cost of buying these textbooks in a year is probably KSh. 4 billion, at the end they get mishandled and worn out quickly. This kind of money can be invested in tools like classmate, which have less maintenance cost, almost zero rate losses in a year and less initial investment capital. For instance, a classmate costs KSh. 30,000, which is more or less a cost saving factor.

Other than the NGOs, Mustek has partners like Copy Cat and Techno Brain who directly approach education institutions to encourage the use of classmate, and others like Safaricom Limited and Kenya Airways who do a lot of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). As a distributor Mustek does a low margin but they make something to keep them a float.

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