The eNeighborhood Project, created to bring educational resources to the lowest income areas in sub-Sahara Africa, is a registered US 501(c)(3) charity. Our goal is to provide holistic, sustainable educational support to students and adults in remote and low-income urban locations, regardless of their current infrastructure.
Sustainability is a crucial aspect of any development project. Ensuring the long-term sustainability of the project can involve several strategies, including:
Developing local capacity: One way to ensure the long-term sustainability of the project is by building local capacity. This could involve training local residents to manage and maintain the technology infrastructure, providing technical support, and encouraging local entrepreneurship in the tech sector.
Using renewable energy: In remote and low-income areas, access to reliable and affordable energy can be a challenge. To ensure the sustainability of your project, you could consider using renewable energy sources such as solar or wind power to power the technology infrastructure.
Building partnerships: Collaborating with local government, NGOs, and other stakeholders can help to ensure the sustainability of the project by spreading the costs and responsibilities and building community ownership.
Implementing a monitoring and evaluation plan: Regularly assessing the impact of the project and making adjustments based on feedback can help to ensure the sustainability of the project by ensuring that it is meeting the community’s needs and evolving as required.
By considering these strategies and others, you can help to ensure the long-term sustainability of your project and maximize its impact on the community.
Over the last few years, we have made multiple trips to Africa and interacted with students, teachers, and administrators. Our experience has led us to understand that sustainability involves more than what is outlined in the UN SDG framework. Specifically, we have identified the top four factors that have contributed to the unsuccessful implementation of educational technology in Africa. They are:
- Affordability: To ensure a successful implementation, it is important to consider the initial cost and ongoing maintenance expenses that must be affordable even after the program sponsors have left. A major aspect of this is managing data costs, which can vary greatly from a few dollars to nearly $1,000 per gigabyte. Therefore, relying solely on online (cloud-based) solutions will only work in affluent areas.
We addressed this problem by categorizing the data into two groups: “dynamic data,” which refers to information that changes frequently, such as student attendance, grades, and enrollments, and “static data,” which comprises unchanging resources like textbooks, teaching materials, videos, and audio recordings. We provide the static content to the school and the surrounding community via a locally installed industrial computer (sometimes referred to as an “edge” server – see: Intel – Edge Computing) with long-range Wi-Fi antennas, enabling individuals to access more than 99% of the data without worrying about data charges.
In regards to the frequently changing “dynamic data,” we have improved the student management software that we offer to reduce the amount of data usage. For additional details on how we accomplished this and the impact it has had, please refer to: Scalability
- Durability: Rural areas are difficult to reach and usually lack computer workshops to repair and maintain equipment. To address this issue, we have selected the toughest and most durable gear available. Local servers are industrial grade, notebooks are military grade, and all other equipment has been selected for the longest possible life before repair or replacement. All our selected devices are designed to have a typical lifetime of 5-10 years or more under normal operating conditions.
- Independently powered: In most rural (and many urban) areas of sub-Saharan Africa, there is no access to affordable, dependable electricity. Solar energy, however, is a good alternative because of the location, where there is an abundance of sunlight. In order to make solar energy more widely accessible and affordable, we developed a low-power alternative solar implementation that satisfies the requirements of this intervention while being more dependable and less expensive than conventional solar solutions. For more information on how we do this, see: Solar Energy
- Independently managed: The way we implement has a direct bearing on this. Instead of sending teams of Americans to Africa for a brief period of time to set up these installations, we work with local African partners and teach them everything necessary to set up, maintain, and instruct school staff on how to use and maintain what they have been given. The initial implementation of this will take a little longer, but it will ensure long-term success that does not require ongoing attention from US-based professional consultants.
Working With National Governments
As we work with national governments where we launch projects, we propose a three-phase approach to implementing our solution in schools countrywide:
- Phase 1: this consists of a small number (2-10) of pilot school projects. The purpose of these pilots is to allow us to customize the “standard package” for the needs of the country, including language support and the integration of any current national curriculum.
- Phase 2: this adds 50-100 additional school pilots to allow us to test in every part of the country and work out logistics for the eventual deployment to all schools in the country. These pilot schools will also allow those who will vote on the Phase 3 implementation to see a working pilot in their district.
- Phase 3: deployment throughout the rest of the country.
For more information on this implementation plan, see: https://www.eneighborhood.org/education-implementations/ . This document only refers to selected Phase 1 pilot implementations.
Our ultimate goal is to improve student achievement for low-income students by providing the resources to allow every child to learn about any subject. Our project intent is to provide everything that is needed to promote this learning using software that addresses the basic educational needs and allows the school administration to keep track of students and their activities. In order to provide the software, we need to also address the dependencies required for it to work in every location, not only the wealthy schools. Dependencies include:
- Software requires hardware – rugged notebook computers that are as capable as typical business workplace machines.
- Notebooks need to be recharged in the overnight hours – this requires renewable power with stored energy. We have designed a long-lifetime solar energy microgrid that can recharge all battery-powered equipment during nighttime hours.
- Since data charges are very high in most places, we would want to stage most of the information needed on a daily basis. We accomplish this through a local battery-powered server with storage that can independently deliver educational materials.
- Since we need to host support in a centralized location and the exchange of student information, we will provide 3G/4G networking equipment to connect to the public Internet. Due to the high cost of Internet data, we do not envision allowing students to access this connection for general Internet browsing, at least until the state of Internet access changes to make it affordable.
- Teacher training. It is not expected that teachers will already know how to use and take care of these facilities or how to best use them to improve student learning. We will provide basic in-person (or Zoom-based) instruction for teachers and administrators on the proper use of these facilities. Advanced instruction will be included in video form in the local library that comes with the package.
In order to reduce cost and streamline support, deployment, and maintenance, we will implement a “standard package” that includes software, computer hardware, solar energy and networking equipment at each location.
By having a consistent configuration in all our locations, we are able to monitor and maintain all computer equipment from a centralized location. Using our Dexterity™ AI-based software, all computers report their health to a centralized location on an hourly basis, including indicators that will inform the central location that repairs will be needed in the foreseeable future. Additionally, having a standard hardware configuration allows us to maintain a limited stock of replacement equipment and parts, so that if repairs are needed, they can be taken from a local supply location.
By standardizing software and hardware, we will be able to prepare for each new installation quickly. It will also allow us to keep locations updated with new releases and teaching materials as they are made available.
Continual Monitoring – Student Progress
The software that we provide will include a facility to keep track of student achievement at a centralized location (when implemented on a large scale, data for all schools would be kept in the same database, but segmented to maintain privacy). This is the same software that has been used to collect and quality check information to support “no child left behind” (in the US) and similar programs in the UK and Australia.
Phase 1 Pilots
In the first phase, we are planning two types of pilot projects: one designed for areas where the schools are larger and can support their own computer lab(s). The second, more suitable for rural locations, will include a fixed building that will be shared by and meet the needs of multiple village schools. Time in this building will be scheduled and split between schools that share it.
This building will be located in a location that is within walking distance of the supported schools. It will contain a computer lab, an equipment room, a storage closet and a small office area. The illustration to the right is a quick diagram of what such a building might look like.
It will have three main areas: a classroom, storage and a small office. On the roof will be solar panels and attached to the side of the building will be a pole where 3G/4G public wireless and local Wi-Fi antennas will be mounted.
As we did research into how such a building would be used, we realized that if it were not located in a school, then it could be used by the community when the school is not using it. This would provide the following benefits:
- Adults who were called to war in previous years could use the facility and resources to learn to read and understand mathematics.
- Women who were forced to leave school due to pregnancy would be able to use the facilities to catch up at night with fewer childcare issues.
Not only would it enable them to learn reading and basic mathematics, but if they were interested subjects like: information technology, starting a business, online sales, marketing, science, history, advanced mathematics, climate, economics, ESL (English as a second language), and engineering,
Additionally, since it is not directly attached to a school, this technology center could be used to give demonstrations to outside parties, such as people from other schools who are considering implementing our education technology.
Like the single classroom model, it would have a counseling center and resource closet for girls. To see a larger picture, click on the image.
This model is for larger communities or where several schools will be sharing the one learning center. It would have three computer classrooms, each with 15 laptops and a small server for each set of servers.
Like the single classroom model, it would have a counseling center and resource closet for girls. To see a larger picture, click on the image.
The Computer Classroom
The computer classroom will have a desk for the facilitator (teacher) and 15 smaller desks with laptop computers. The student desks will be large enough for two people to share the computer.
- These computers are tested to US Military Grade (MIL-STD-810G) specifications for drop, shock, low/high temperature, low/high altitude, dust, humidity as well as other conditions.
- This means they are designed to last for many years with simple normal maintenance (cleaning, proper storage when not in use, etc.).
- These come equipped with 4-8GB of memory and run Microsoft Windows 11. They will be equipped with an extra-large capacity 3-cell battery which should last up to 17.5 hours per charging, giving them enough capacity to remain in use for the entire school day, plus several hours in the evening.
- These machines are also equipped with built-in Wi-Fi, high quality audio and two high-quality cameras.
Each location will have a small (10cm x 10cm x 3cm) but capable DC-powered server running the Microsoft Windows Server operating system and larger implementations will be supported by a hyperconverged host platform from Scale Computing.
This server can have up to 4TB of very fast storage that can easily hold our library of over 3,000 books and 15,000 other educational resources, including video and audio recordings.
Two types of networking equipment will be included with the package:
This will permit access to educational materials by local members of the community who have their own device without incurring wireless data charges.
In places where access to a public grid is not available, we will supply a African optimized DC-only solar energy microgrid that will include:
- Solar panels and mounting hardware – we plan to use monocrystalline panels because they are the most efficient and long-lasting panels available.
- An MPPT solar controller – if possible, we will select one that has a Bluetooth interface, so that we will eventually be able to keep track of the microgrid’s health using the Dexterity health reporting system.
- A Lithium solar storage battery – since battery technology is continually changing, we may change this specification is better technologies are developed.
- A DC-powered charging station that can get its power from the solar storage batter and delivers DC power to USB and/or other connectors. This will be used to power the battery-operated server and to recharge laptops and other rechargeable devices.
Unlike most other solar energy systems, our microgrids do not include an inverter and notebook AC adapters are not needed, since the computers connect directly to the charging station.
If you would like to see an independent source explain the merits of DC-only solar energy, see: 5 Reasons DC Electricity Should Replace AC Electricity in Buildings or watch the video at: The DC-Powered Building – Brad Koerner, Cima.
The model we present implements all parts necessary to achieve the goal of enhancing student learning. Each location is fully implemented (software, hardware, solar power), independently of other installations that may be underway.
By implementing relevant software and everything needed to support it, we believe that we can bring lasting, sustainable, positive impact for low-income communities in Africa.
Lastly, by working with local in-country partners, we will develop a more sustainable, independent framework that will continue many years after the initial implementation.