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New Tuxlab looks to community for sustainability

By   |  May 15, 2006

A new model for sustainably implementing computer laboratories in underprivileged schools is being piloted by Tuxlabs, a division of the Shuttleworth Foundation. Tuxlabs has partnered with a Sowetan entrepreneur, who will sell services in a school’s open source laboratory to the community once the school day ends.

St Martin’s High School in Orlando West, Soweto, is expected to get its 30-PC lab next Tuesday 23 May. Running Edubuntu – an education-specific port of Ubuntu – the lab sports brand new equipment from Acer. Unlike similar laboratories, which face a loosing battle against support needs and unskilled teachers, St Martin’s laboratory will be run by Sowetan entrepreneur Clifford Nkosi.

“What the pilot will try to address within schools is the constant problem of sustainability and promoting use of labs, maintenance, and general issues around computer problems. Schools themselves don’t have the time or resources to take advantage of the fact that there’s a community around them that also requires these services, so they can’t use the computers and internet access to generate funds. By using an entrepreneurial partner, one can address issue of sustainability and funds, that can be used as funds for school, to maintain the lab, and pay someone’s salary,” says Hilton Theunissen, open source project lead, The Shuttleworth Foundation.

To stimulate interest amongst students, Nkosi will be starting a geek club amongst learners. The geek club will be exposed to open source in the workplace, with trips to open source companies, and will also be able to get computer certifications like the OpenICDL and LPI certifications.

As a marketing drive to the general community, Nkosi will be offering 20 unemployed members of the community an introductory course to computers for free. Lab training and services will be available to the general community from 2:00pm to 5:00pm for a fee.

Nkosi says that his main concern at this point is cash flow, and he is currently looking for funding, particularly to pay an assistant for both training and support. The ex-Acer employee says that he’s always had a nack for entrepreneurship, having started his first small business selling clothing in high school.

“His main aim is to make money in a socially conscience way,” says Theunissen. “He’s pushing the boundaries on this one.”

If the project is successful, Theunissen hopes that the model can be adopted both nationally and internationally. Acer is particularly interested in the results, he says, and could consider the model for other sustainable development projects.

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