By David Smith, The Guardian (October 28, 2011)
Resilient mobile classroom incorporating laptops, video camera and electronic blackboard will work in areas without electricity
Their days of sitting in a ramshackle, sweltering school building, or taking lessons under the shade of a tree, could be about to change. Children in the farthest corners of rural Africa are the target of a mobile, solar-powered classroom that was launched in Johannesburg this week.
The classroom, built inside a 12-metre-long shipping container by electronics firm Samsung, has an array of gadgets including laptops, a video camera and a 50-inch e-board in place of a blackboard.
According to the manufacturers, the "solar powered internet school" can easily be carried by truck to remote areas, survive harsh weather conditions and, crucially, operate where there is no electricity supply.
Foldaway solar panels provide enough energy to power the classroom's equipment for up to nine hours a day, and for one and a half days without any sunlight at all. The panels are made from rubber instead of glass to ensure they are hardy enough to survive long journeys across the continent.
Samsung said: "Electricity remains Africa's largest economic challenge with the level of penetration lower than 25% in most rural areas.
"This lack of power isolates communities, and limits their access to education and information, both of which are key to fast-tracking a nation's development."
The classroom has space for 21 pupils and a teacher, and includes a ventilation system designed to maintain a "temperate environment".
It is fitted with a variety of computers including solar-powered laptops and tablets. It also has an energy-efficient fridge, a file server loaded with educational content, a router, a video camera and a "world first" Wi-Fi camera, all of which communicate via 3G.
This allows a central location, such as the department of education, to monitor classes and deliver curriculum-based content directly to the laptops of both pupils and staff.
If the best-laid plans are struck by a computer glitch, teachers can still use a regular built-in whiteboard and chalkboard.
The prototype is being piloted at the Samsung Electronics Engineering Academy in Boksburg, east of Johannesburg. It will then be sent to Qunu in the Eastern Cape to undergo further testing.
President and chief executive of Samsung Electronics Africa, KK Park, said: "We have set an ambitious goal for ourselves in Africa: to positively impact 5 million lives by 2015."