Hawkstone group begins roll-out of first Saab-sponsored iLabs, and calls for more sponsors

HARDLY A WEEK passes without news of some IT company donating computers to a school, and that`s a good thing. Not so good is how often we hear of computers standing idle at schools - and that`s if they`re not stolen within a few weeks - due to a lack of electricity, space for a computer lab, budget for PC maintenance, or the educators with the computer savvy to, in turn, inculcate in schoolchildren.

And so, a local technology outfit, the Hawkstone Group, has come up with what it thinks is a solution to all these problems, rolled into one: a turnkey computer lab, complete with an educator.

Centurion-based ICT company Hawkstone has been involved with small, transportable internet, computer, telephone, fax and copy centres - branded Hawkstone iCafes - for remote and semi-remote areas for some years now.

More recently, it was involved in the supply of computer hardware and furnishings to over 130 stations as part of the troubled Gauteng Online project.

Having learnt from these experiences, it has decided to offer its own Hawkstone iLabs, which are larger computer facilities intended for schools in remote and semi-remote areas, and which will not only serve the school`s learners, but also as venues for after-hours adult education and training.


, project manager at Hawkstone iSolutions, explains that the iLab structure is a cross between a prefab building and a container - "only classier and more functional". iLabs require no structural approval, and are cheaper to roll out than adapting what is often a poorly constructed rural classroom to begin with, for power supply and requirements, he says.

An iLab measures seven by seven metres and houses 24 learner stations, plus a desk and a station for the educator. And, they take just over a week to assemble once the ground has been levelled. Fullard explains that with security and durability obviously being big concerns for schools, workbenches and seats are bolted into the floor. Screens are housed in metal casings with shatterproof glass covers. And there is one central enterprise level server, which is locked under the teacher`s desk - essentially doubling up as a 19-inch rack, which is also bolted in.

"Any breach of the building sends an alert to the relevant authorities in the area," he explains, referring to the iLab`s alarm system and asset tracking devices.

All 24 stations - essentially thin clients - are networked and they include software for internet usage via a satellite connection. However, much of the software, which also includes encyclopedia content, messaging between the stations and teacher`s desk, educational applications such as Learnthings, office applications, and multimedia content (including Google Earth), can be used offline. So, in the event that the school chooses not to get an internet connection, learners and other users still get the feel of using a web browser and e-mailing each other.


How the establishment of an iLab works at present is that a company would sponsor any number of labs in their entirety and for a certain period of time.

"Hawkstone offers corporate sponsors a complete social responsibility `package`, including the lab building, and the computer hardware and software. We manage the project from start to finish, including the training of the educator, ongoing reporting on learners and the use of the facility in the community," Fullard elaborates.

Hawkstone has just rolled out the first two pilot facilities at schools in Limpopo Province, where the labs were ready and waiting for the two school`s learners when the third term started.

These rural iLabs, which will be fully managed by Hawkstone, are sponsored by Saab Group, a Swedish aerospace and defence company. Saab will also be sponsoring another two labs next year.

Worth noting is the presence of webcams in the classrooms, so that sponsors can also see them in operation, and the opportunities for corporate branding, both inside and out the iLabs.

"Yes, we`re making money out of the project, but we know it makes a big difference in the lives of the school children and other users. So, now we`re doing our utmost to find more sponsors. In fact, we may even set up a trust where companies can invest a portion of the cost of an iLab, and as we get sufficient funds for a single iLab (about R600 000), we will roll it out at a school of their choice," says Fullard.

Given that is a 45% shareholder in Hawkstone iSolutions, there are even opportunities for roll-out in the SADC region.

Tags: Education