Telkom SuperCentres & Thintana i-Learn Project evaluation Report.




This is an evaluation of Telkom SuperCentres and Thintana i-Learn Projects funded by Telkom SA and Thintana Communications LLc respectively. Both projects have rolled out computers and provided Internet access points for 300 schools in the nine provinces of South Africa. SchoolNet South Africa, herein referred to only as SchoolNet, is implementing both projects.


This evaluation took place while implementation of the projects was continuing and therefore is formative by its nature. It focuses on selected cases and draws lessons for wider application. Its audiences are in particular SchoolNetSA, Telkom Foundation and Thintana Communications LLc.


According to Passey (in Watson, 1999: 224) ‘evaluation has power to be destructive as well as supportive.’ This evaluation is by no means judgmental; rather it seeks to provide ways of moving forward. The evaluation study sought to respond to the following main question:

To what extent have the projects succeeded in meeting their goals as well as the expectations of those involved in the projects, and what have been the effects of this investment in supporting school networking?


The Telkom SuperCentres and Thintana i-Learn projects are fully described in Chapter 2 of this report. Broadly, the projects intended to:

            Install computer networks with a server and dialup Internet connectivity in schools around the country (300 in total);

            Develop the effective educational use of the provided ICT facilities by running a programme of development for educators in using computers and the Internet in education;

            Provide appropriate technical training, onsite and telephonic technical support to the schools;

            Conduct a monitoring and evaluation process that assesses the qualitative and quantitative impact of the project.

Objectives of the evaluation

The objectives of this evaluation are to:


            Provide an overview of the conceptualization, design, and aims of the projects;

            Monitor project progress and involvement;

            Document and analyse the experiences of participants in the projects;

            Provide a comprehensive overview of the way in which the projects have been implemented and the opportunities and pitfalls associated with this process;

            Make judgements, based on empirical evidence, about the success of various components of the projects, and of the success of the projects in totality.

Scope of the evaluation

The activities and processes developed for this evaluation exercise have emerged from discussion with SchoolNet SA and are also based on SAIDE’s extensive experience in conducting evaluation projects for technology-enhanced learning initiatives. The evaluation covers both projects from inception. The scope of the evaluation includes the following components:

            Project conceptualization and objectives;

            Project management;

            Communication strategies;

            Selection of schools;

            Procurement of equipment;

            Installation of equipment;

            Maintenance of equipment;

            Operational functionality of networks and Internet connectivity;

            Training sessions;

            Training materials;

            Post-training support;

            Sustainability measures;

            Effects of the projects; and

            Lessons that can be extracted from these projects.

Research Design

The evaluation brief stipulated that the research design should include both quantitative and qualitative data. It is often argued that, primarily, the difference between qualitative and quantitative approaches or paradigms lies in the different data collection strategies: qualitative approaches are thus classified as being non-numeric research, and quantitative approaches as numeric research. This is, however, a radical oversimplification of the debate. The notion that the sharp distinction and divide between qualitative and quantitative methodologies is a false dichotomy is supported by literature. Though authors in general agree about the fact that these two perspectives have particular and different historical roots, many are of the opinion that these differences have been overemphasized, and that, more important, in practice one will seldom find any research that employs only one of the two perspectives. The following extract from Keohane, King & Verba (1994:5) gives a sense of this debate:

the differences between qualitative and quantitative traditions are only stylistic and are methodologically and substantively unimportant. All good research can be understood - indeed, is best understood - to derive from the same underlying logic of inference. Both qualitative and quantitative research can be systematic and scientific. Most research does not fit clearly into one category or the other. The best often combines features of each.[1]


According to Bryman ‘the distinction between qualitative and quantitative research is really a technical matter, whereby the choice between them is to do with their suitability in answering particular research questions’.[2]


Though the bifurcation of the two traditions may be artificial, there is no question about the fact that the two methodologies can do different things. Data obtained by making use of qualitative measures is in general more in-depth, textured, and richer. The kind of data generated by quantitative methods, on the other hand, is more generizable, and predictions can be made. Macun and Posel[3] suggest that the issue of reliability in any kind of research is best tackled through triangulation. They further state that:

Therefore, rather than relying on any research method to replicate the data produces by another, we can more fruitfully treat each method as providing complementary sorts of data, the reliability of which rests in their coherence as an integrated answer to the research question.


In this study, a triangulation of qualitative and quantitative data gathering techniques was used. It is necessary to use a variety of methods, as each is best suited to generate a specific category of information that it may not be possible to elicit by use of another method. It is clear that all methods have their strengths and weaknesses, and that it is therefore necessary to decide which combination of strategies will be the most fruitful.


The methods to be used in this study are the following:

ˇ        Thematic collation of evidence from documents obtained from the relevant institutions;

ˇ        Review of measures of outcome;

ˇ        Interviews with Project Team members, staff from partner organizations, school principals, and teachers;

ˇ        Compilation of a timeline of significant events in project life;

ˇ        Review and analysis of data obtained from self-administered questionnaires; and

ˇ        Case studies of selected schools.

Data Collection

Documentary Review

Surveying project documentation forms is a very important part of the evaluation design, particularly in drawing up the project description. Documentation that was reviewed include:

            Project proposal and start-up documentation;

            Business plans submitted by schools;

            Project management meeting reports;

            Bi-weekly reports by implementation agencies;

            Helpdesk activity reports;

            Monthly status reports by Telkom IT helpdesk (where applicable);

            Project problems and queries logged with the SchoolNet helpdesk; and

            Progress reports by various partners.

Measures of Outcome

For some aspects of the projects systematic records were kept and statistical information was made available. This information was analysed and included in the evaluation report, where it is contextualized within the other findings. Types of information included,

            Email use statistics;

            Log of Internet use;

            Record of computer use;

            Learners’ performance; and

            Distance-learning participation statistics.

In-depth Interviews

Interviewing key participants and project team members offers access to immediate and detailed information. The interview has been described as a conversation between research and respondent with the purpose of eliciting certain information.[4] In this regard, Bell further states that

 “[a] major advantage of the interview is its adaptability. A skilful interviewer can follow up ideas, probe responses and investigate motives and feelings, which the questionnaire can never do…. Questionnaire responses have to be taken at face value, but a response in an interview can be developed and clarified”.[5]


A further advantage of the interview is that questions can be rephrased and cognisance can be taken of unanticipated issues.. A problem with interviewing is that is leaves data on the level of ‘reported’ action hence observations were made in order to verify what has been reported.

Self-Administered Questionnaires

Data for this study was also collected by means of a number of self-administered questionnaires. We circulated questionnaire to participating schools at the start-up of the projects to collect baseline information which we would then compare with data that would be collected later in the evaluation process. Unfortunately most schools did not return the base-line questionnaire. After we visited case study schools a number of issues emerged. We developed and circulated a questionnaire to participating schools based on emerging issues as a way of verifying these before we could generalise. Eighty-one (81) computer centre managers managed to complete the questionnaire and sent it back to us.  Two other email questionnaires were sent out: one for project managers and the other for project funders. Unfortunately only one person from Thintana Communications LLc responded and there was no response from Telkom Foundation, despite concerted efforts to get them to respond..


Quantitative data collected through means of the questionnaires was analysed by making use of descriptive as well as inferential statistics using relevant statistical tests.


Case Studies

An important component of the research was qualitative and case study-based. Ten case studies of schools were undertaken. The case studies vary in depth and scope. As such, they contribute to a rich and detailed understanding of the way in which the projects are being implemented in schools. A case study is not a method as such but rather a research strategy. Although issues of validity and generalizability need to be taken cognisance of, the positivistic paradigm is often not appropriate in the case study. This is because the context is usually an integral part of the design and so there will always be too many variables for the number of observations made.


Hartley (1994: 209) offers a definition of a case study that describe this method in terms of its usefulness:

Case study research consists of a detailed investigation, often with data collected over a period of time, of one or more organizations, or groups within organizations, with a view to providing an analysis of the context and processes involved in the phenomenon under study. The phenomenon is not isolated from its context (as in, laboratory research) but it is of interest precisely because it is in relation to its context. (Hartley 1994: 209)[6]


Thus, the case study is ideal to explore not only the uniqueness of each context, but also what is of more general interest and significance.


Within the case study design, a range of methods may be made us of. Although both qualitative and quantitative research methods may be used, most researchers working within a case study use qualitative methods because of the nature of the questions asked. Hartley (1994: 209-210) explains why case study research often comprises a range of research methods - both qualitative and quantitative:

Many case study researchers, in their pursuit of the delicate and intricate interactions and processes occurring within organizations, will use a combination of methods, partly because complex phenomena may be best approached through several methods, and partly deliberately to triangulate (and thereby improve validity).[7]

Advantages of Case Study Research

Haralambos[8] (1994: 833) argues that case studies are usually qualitative in nature and make no claim to be representative, but generate rich and detailed information and are useful for generating typologies or general categories, which can then be used in future research. Bell[9] (1993: 190) notes that a major advantage of the case study method is that because the researcher concentrates on specific situations, it is more likely that she will be able to identify things that may be hidden in a large-scale survey.

Drawbacks of Case Study Research

A major drawback of case study research is that it is not possible to generalize on the basis of the findings. Haralambos and Holborn[10] (1994:833) state that ‘it is impossible to determine how far findings of a study into one example of a social phenomenon can be applied to other examples’.


In addition, many researchers have tended to avoid the case study method as it is sometimes seen as biased and lacking in rigor (Yin: 1982:).[11] However, as Bell[12] (1993:193) points out, case study research, like all research, should be collected systematically, and needs to be methodically planned. Furthermore, all research, including quantitative studies, ultimately involves analysis and interpretation and is therefore open to research bias. By being aware of the possibility of bias and by making explicit one’s own subjectivity the process of research can limit the ‘bias’.


Information for case studies was collected making use of a combination of the following data collection strategies:

            Photo documentation;

            Informal interviews (face-to-face, telephonic and email)

            Review of measures of outcome;

            Document review; and


During the fieldwork in selected schools, interviews with principals, computer centre managers and educators were conducted. A framework for the questions to be posed in these interviews was developed but these interviews were mainly informal. The researchers had greater freedom to modify the questions and were able to probe further where necessary.


The interviews consisted mainly of open-ended questions. These questions were structured such that they generated open-ended responses, which enabled us to understand and capture the points of view of those involved in the project under study. As Patton (1990: 24) argues,

Direct quotations are basic sources of raw data in qualitative inquiry, revealing respondents’ depth of emotion, the ways they have organized their world, their thoughts about what is happening, their experiences, and their basic perceptions[13]


In using qualitative data, sampling was not an issue. A base-line questionnaire was sent to participating schools at the start-up of the project. According to the Project Manager at SchoolNet, most schools did not return the base-line questionnaire. From the ten schools’ case studies, interesting issues emerged. However these could not be generalised. For verification purposes a questionnaire was developed based on these issues. The questionnaire was sent to all 300 schools participating in the projects. Eighty  one (81) computer centre managers responded to the questionnaire. Of the 81 computer centre managers who responded 51 came from Telkom Schools and 30 from Thintana Schools. To select schools for the case studies the following criteria was used:

1.      The selection covered a range of socio-economic contexts;

2.      The selection included schools from rural, peri-urban, and urban context;

3.      The selection should cover different geographical locations and schools from a minimum of three provinces should be included

The selection included schools where it was reported that the project is going well as well as schools where there are reported to be problems.

Report Structure

This report is divided into five chapters. In the first chapter we assess the context in which the projects are being implemented focusing specifically on schools participating in the project. In the second chapter we provide a detailed description of the Telkom SuperCentres and Thintana i-Learn projects. The chapter looks at how the projects were conceptualised, how they are being implemented, expected challenges and difficulties and how some of these are being resolved. In the third chapter we provide a review and evaluation of the Educator Development Network with specific focus on the module Finding Information. The chapter presents an analysis of the educator participation in the module. The fourth chapter presents perceptions of effectiveness. The chapter looks at whether stakeholders have a common understanding of the project. It looks at the role of SchoolNet SA and captures perceptions about the SchoolNet’s technical support and teacher training and finally it looks at the use of computers in schools. In the fifth chapter we present lessons and a conclusion. 



Chapter 1:

Understanding the Schools’ Context


In this chapter we present information that contributes to an understanding of the context within which the Thintana and Telkom SuperCentres projects are being implemented. Such information is important as it enables us to assess the extent to which contextual factors have helped or hindered the success of the projects. The broader context in which the Thintana and Telkom SuperCentres projects are being implemented includes, but is not limited to the following,

ˇ        the particularities of the South African education system,

ˇ        policy frameworks on information technology and schooling,

ˇ        the collaborative nature of the projects,

ˇ        challenges posed by public-private partnerships; and

ˇ        historical inequities in school resourcing.

However, for the purpose of this evaluation we focus on the schools context. As Passey (1999) argues,

“understanding school contexts is important, not only because they enable those undertaking evaluations to understand differences and to make reasonable comparisons, but also because they offer schools opportunities to do the same”(p.325)


According to Passey, the success and failure of schools implementing ICT projects could depend on a range of significant elements and factors such as:

ˇ        the approaches and stance of the principal or senior management;

ˇ        the role and responsibilities of the IT coordinator;

ˇ        the involvement and practices of the library resources management;

ˇ        the presence and contribution of an IT policy;

ˇ        the extent of integration of curriculum and administration;

ˇ        support gained through staff development;

ˇ        consideration of teaching styles;

ˇ        concerns about IT skills of pupils;

ˇ        provision of IT technical support;

ˇ        allocation of funding;

ˇ        deployment of physical resources;

ˇ        focus for school community link;

ˇ        development of a sharing ethos;

ˇ        forms of monitoring and record-keeping; and

ˇ        uses made of evaluation and assessment.


Many of the contextual factors raised in this chapter are in agreement with those that Passey has identified as important for determining the success and failure of schools implementing ICT projects. .

Location of Schools

The Thintana i-Learn and Telkom SuperCentres Projects have delivered and installed computers in schools that are in deep rural areas. In some cases researchers had to travel up to 160 kilometers from the main centre (nearest city or town) to schools taking part in the projects. For example, Oranje-diamant in the Northern Cape is 120 kilometers away from Kimberley. Chief Jerry Secondary School and Insika Secondary School in Mpumalanga are close to 160 kilometers away from Nelspruit. Qantayi Secondary School, situated in Port Dunfort in KwaZulu-Natal, is close to 50 kilometers from Richard’s Bay and about 35 kilometers from Empangeni. Besides the distances, it was clear from observation that some of the areas where the schools are situated are faced with adverse socio-economic conditions characterised by unemployment and poverty.


Most of the schools participating in the projects are located next to other schools. This is not surprising. When schools sent in proposals to be considered for inclusion in the project they were required to say how they were going to share the resources with the community and with other schools. This suggests that schools that are closer to others and met other project requirements would have received favourable consideration.


A focus on location of schools is particularly important because in situations where a project goes into deep rural areas, provision of technical support becomes a major issue which could hinder the project from attaining its goals. Rural areas in South African are characterised by high unemployment rates and as principals indicated, many parents struggle to pay school fees. The inability of parents to pay school fees could have a bearing on the sustainability of projects such as the Thintana and Telkom projects. As indicated earlier in these projects, schools are required to maintain the computers and pay for the Internet bills, security company, night watchmen and pay insurance premiums. To be able to pay for these costs, most schools have had to raise their school fees. Seventy percent (70%) of computer centre managers who responded to our questionnaire agreed that their schools raised fees subsequent to participating in the projects.

Facilities and resources

As indicated earlier, Passey has identified deployment of physical resources as one of the important elements that can determine the success or failure of an ICT project in a school.


We found that despite the fact that some of the schools are situated in poor areas, most schools participating in the projects have in place basic physical facilities and resources important for teaching and learning. Of the 81 computer centre managers who responded to the email questionnaire that was sent to participating schools, 95% agreed that their schools have photocopiers, 68% said they have overhead projectors, 59% have libraries while 64% said that their schools have Science/Biology laboratories.


The ten schools that we visited for case studies indicated that they have the following resources and facilities:


Science Lab/s

Staff room

Tape recorder


TV set



Tel line

Number of schools with the facility /resource









Number of schools with facilities /resources in use









Number of schools with facility/resource requiring service









Number of schools with facility/resource unserviceable










Some schools indicated that they are using some of the facilities for purposes other than those for which the facilities are meant. For example, three schools said that they have libraries, however, one has converted it to a computer centre; one is using the library as a classroom while the third school is using it as a bookstore. Some schools have more resources and facilities than other schools. For example, two schools indicated that they each have 5 laboratories for Science and Biology. From the table above it is also clear that most of the resources and facilities are in working order.

School size

Some schools have large numbers of learners. Of the ten schools that we visited only one school has less than 1000 learners. The large numbers of learners impact on individual learners’ access to the computers.


We found that schools that have large numbers of learners deal with this problem in different ways. The most common way of dealing with the problem has been to divide learners into groups and to offer them computer lessons in cycles. This strategy has enabled most schools to offer computer lessons to all their learners. Of the 81 computer centre managers who responded to our questionnaire, 67% said that their schools offer computer lessons to all learners.


While the cycles strategy has the advantage of giving all learners access to computers, its limitation is that in some cases cycles take longer to complete resulting in learners having to wait for longer for their lessons. As a computer educator at Insika Secondary School complained, if he teaches a particular group, it takes up to a month before he sees that group again. He asserts,

“by the time they come back for their lessons, they have forgotten most of the things that I taught them in the last sessions This makes progress very slow. (Computer Educator at Insika Secondary School)


In some schools, while all learners are allowed to use the computers, formal computer lessons are only offered to learners in senior grades. For example according to the principal at Oranje-diamant Primary School which runs from grade 1 to 7, although they had not started giving computer lessons at the time of the visit, they were planning to introduce grade 7 learners to computer lessons when school reopened after the winter break. At William Pescod Secondary School, the computer laboratory coordinator confirmed that while learners in grades 8 and 9 could use the computers, formal computer lessons are only offered to learners in grade 10, 11 and 12. Twenty six percent (26%) of the 81 computer centre managers who responded to the questionnaire said this is the case in their schools.


We also found that there are schools that have not yet started offering computer lessons to learners. Seven percent (7%) of the centre managers said that this was the case in their schools. Reasons for this are not clear. However, computer centre managers in some of the schools that had not started offering computer lessons to learners at the time of our visit to the ten schools, indicated that they wanted to start by train educators before offering lessons to learners. This is understandable as Passey argues that support gained through staff development is one of the factors necessary for the success of ICT projects in schools. However it is an act that needs to be closely monitored so that it does not end with learners getting no training at all. 

Schools’ Functionality

One of the factors that Passey considers as critical in determining the success or failure of an ICT project in a school is the approach and stance of the principal or senior management. According to interviewees in the schools that were visited, their schools have in place management and governance structures that work effectively. Ninety eight percent (98%) of the informants who responded to the questionnaire also agreed that this was the case in their schools. The interviewees also indicated that they did not experience major problems of discipline amongst learners.


Performance in terms of matriculation pass rates varied significantly in the schools. For example while some schools like Chief Jerry Secondary in Mpumalanga achieved a 50% pass rate in last year’s matriculation results, William Pescod Secondary School in the Northern Cape achieved an 85% pass rate.

Commitment to ICTs

Some of the schools participating in the project had vision and commitment to use computers even before they started participating in the Telkom SuperCentres and Thintana i-Learn projects. In some cases the commitment to ICTs is captured in the schools’ mission statements as indicated below,

“Our goal is to provide quality and relevant education to all learners irrespective of age, ethnicity, gender and religion by making use of the latest technology as well as qualified and highly motivated educators. (Pescodia Secondary School, Mission Statement)


“through the effective and efficient utilisation of the latest methodology and technology available implemented by highly motivated and specialised educators, with the support of parents and other stakeholders. (Oranje-diamant, Mission Statement)


“We aspire to use the latest methods and technologies in our teaching (Tlhomelang Secondary School, Mission Statement)

To show their commitment to using ICTs, some schools had already purchased one or more computers through their school fund while others had started seeking sponsorship from various possible sponsors before taking part in the Telkom SuperCentres and Thintana i-Learn Projects. In fact 80% of computer centre managers who responded to our questionnaire agreed that this was the case with their schools. Interviewees from schools that already had a computer or computers said they used the computers mainly for administrative purposes. In most cases the computers were not connected to the Internet and email unless such computers had been from a sponsor who had wanted the school to use the computers for the Internet and email purposes as well. In some cases educators did not have access to these computers. Where they had access, they used the computers for typing tests, class lists and mark schedules.


According to Passey the presence and contribution of an ICT policy is one of the factors that can determine the success or failure of a ICT project in a school. It is encouraging to note that 60% of computer centre managers who completed the questionnaire agreed that their schools have an ICT policy. Thirty two percent 32% said that their schools do not have an ICT policy or plan. While this is not such a higher percentage, it is worrying for sustainability reasons.

Shortage of ICT Skills

Despite the fact that some schools had already acquired computers prior to participating in the Telkom and Thintana projects, interviewees indicated that most educators in their schools had never had any formal training in computers. Seventy-three percent (73%) of computer centre managers who responded to our questionnaire confirmed that less than a quarter of educators in their schools were computer literate before the SchoolNet training. This could be one of the reasons why some schools have not started offering computer lessons to learners rather they have decided to offer training to teachers first.


There are cases however where some educators had some basic knowledge of computers. In most cases schools selected those educators with the basic computer knowledge as their computer centre managers. These educators then went on to receive two days of network administration training organised by SchoolNet SA which intended to enable them to providing training and support to other educators and learners. We found that some schools have since appointed a person with advanced computers skills and qualifications whenever they had a post to fill.

Parental buy in

Some schools have managed to get parents to support the projects. Parents’ have supported the schools by not only endorsing the schools’ desire to participate in the projects but paying extra money to ensure that the schools are able to maintain the computers and pay for the alarm security system and insurance premiums. As indicated earlier, 70% of the computer centre managers who responded to the questionnaire agreed that their schools raised school fees so that they would be able to take care of the extra costs. Thirty one percent (31%) of respondents said that their schools did not approach parents to pay more. Examples of schools that raised fees include schools that raised school fees as follows: from R65 to R100; R60 to R100 with the R40 added specifically for maintaining the computers and from R30 to R50 per annum.


Whereas parents have been willing to pay extra fees, it should be noted that 41% of respondents said that parents agreed to pay extra fees without squabbles. Twenty six percent (26%) of informants said that parents only agreed to pay after much persuasion. Two percent of respondents said that parents in their schools refused completely to pay extra fees.


It is clear that except for the fact that schools lacked educators with ICT skills and that some of the schools participating in the projects are from deep rural areas, the projects are being implemented in schools that have the basic requirements to enable them succeed. This is not surprising. In fact some of the project-related documents reviewed in this evaluation process pointed out that this was a criterion for selecting schools to participate. From the documents it was clear that SchoolNet and funders asked schools to put in a business plan before they could be considered for the projects. The plans had to say how the school intended to use the computers, how the community was going to benefit through the computers and how they intended to sustain the projects in their school. We also noted that the selectors were not only interested in the availability of rooms with burglar bars but they were also interested in understanding the approach and stance of the principal to the use of ICTs, the school’s commitment to teacher development, and teachers’ approaches to teaching and learning.


Chapter 2:

Design, Planning and Implementation of the Projects


This chapter provides a description of the Telkom SuperCentres and the Thintana i-Learn projects. The description was generated through a detailed review of the Telkom SuperCentres and Thintana i-Learn project documents. Documents reviewed included proposals, minutes of meetings, contractual agreements between various partners involved in the projects, invitation letters to schools, all additional information that was sent to schools selected to be in the projects and progress reports prepared for and presented to the Project Steering Committee. A list of reviewed documents and abstracts consulted is contained in Appendix 4.


The Telkom SuperCentres and Thintana projects have mostly run in parallel. The descriptions show that, while these projects have some differences in terms of scope and targeted schools, they are similar in many respects. Due to similarities between the two projects, SchoolNet SA, which was responsible for the management and implementation of the two projects, reported in the Thintana Project Steering Committee meeting of the 09th June 2000, that they intended to construct one team to run the two projects.[14]


The Telkom SuperCentres and Thintana i-Learn projects both emerged as part of the respective sponsors’ corporate social responsibility obligations in South Africa.


Thintana Communications LLc is a foreign consortium comprising SBC International and Telkom Malaysia, which has held a 30% equity stake in Telkom SA. It has sponsored the Thintana i-Learn project. Thintana Communications wished to “promote and uplift the education of historically disadvantaged people of South Africa and is committed to providing financial assistance for their well being and development”.[15] To this end, the company undertook to fund a project aiming to use ICTs to enhance education in the classroom by training educators in use of ICTs. SchoolNet SA was contracted to manage and execute the project, which is known as Thintana i-Learn. Thintana Communications LLc envisaged that, through such training and assistance, “the recipients would be able to access employment in the telecommunications and IT sector and related industries.”[16]


Similarly, Telkom SA has sponsored the Telkom SuperCentres project. Telkom introduced the ‘100’ SuperCentres project as a follow-up to the Telkom 1000 Schools’ Internet project, which the company implemented between 1998 and 2000. In the first phase, Telkom had selected and provided one computer and Internet access to 1000 schools. In the second phase, Telkom selected 100 schools from the original 1000, with a view to installing computer networks of 21 new PCs with a server and dialup Internet connectivity in each. The purpose of the SuperCentres was to:

improve the quality of teaching and learning in the selected schools through the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and increase the number of learners who are proficient ICT users.[17]

Scope and Purpose

The broad scope of the Telkom SuperCentres and Thintana i-Learn projects is to:

ˇ        Install about 5100 new and refurbished computers including a server and dialup Internet connectivity in 300 schools around the country. Telkom and Thintana aimed to install about 2100 and 3000 computers respectively.

ˇ        Develop effective educational use of the provided ICT facilities by running a programme of development for educators using computers and the Internet in education. The programme targeted at least 10 educators per school/centre.[18] This means that more than 3000 educators were to be trained.

ˇ        Provide appropriate technical training, onsite and telephonic technical support to the schools. This technical training was to be provided to 2 educators per school meaning that a total of about 600 educators would be trained.

ˇ        Conduct a monitoring and evaluation process that assesses the qualitative and quantitative impact of the project, from which this report has emerged.


For the respective sponsors, the projects serve business purposes as well. They create a positive image of the companies in the country and expand the potential client base for telecommunications services in the education sector. These could be reasons why the contract between SchoolNet and participating schools required schools to allow SchoolNet to “brand the computer rooms as per respective sponsors standards.”


Collectively, the projects have cost close to R50 million with SuperCentres costing close to R29 million including the cost of hardware which was procured by Telkom directly while Thintana cost about R21.2 million.

Implementing the Project

The Telkom SuperCentres and Thintana i-Learn projects are being implemented over the same period starting in August 2000. Initially, the projects were meant to be completed by the 31st July 2002.[19] However, this was changed to December 2002.[20] According to Janet Thomson, provision of distance modules has been extended to December 2003. SchoolNet is responsible for implementing the two projects.

Project Management

The documentation reviewed did not indicate any problems relating to management of the projects. Roles and responsibilities of project partners were clearly articulated and management structures such as the Project Steering Committee existed

Role of SchoolNet SA

The documentation reviewed presents the roles of SchoolNet in both the SuperCentres and Thintana projects in a clear manner. The agreement between Thintana Communications LLc and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) (p.2) clearly states that SchoolNet is responsible for management and execution of the Thintana i-Learn project. The nature of the agreement between Thintana Communications LLc and the IDRC, acting on behalf of SchoolNet, made it possible for SchoolNet to enter into contracts with service providers such SourceCom Technology Solutions and schools involved in the project[21] It should be noted that at the inception of the projects, SchoolNet operated as an in-house project of the International Development Research Centre as its core funder. During the lifespan of the project, SchoolNet became an independent legal entity as a Section 21 Company. This did not affect the execution of management of the project, as the respective legal agreements were transferred from IDRC to the new SchoolNet Section 21 Company.


On the contrary, while in terms of the Service Level Agreement between Telkom, SchoolNet and Dell (p.4), SchoolNet is responsible for managing the SuperCentres project, Telkom has always been actively involved. It has always been clear that SchoolNet is managing the project on behalf of Telkom. For example, it was Telkom that entered into agreements with Schools and not SchoolNet as was the case with the Thintana Project. This has meant that schools participating in the Telkom SuperCentres project are accountable to Telkom.


Despite this difference, SchoolNet has had by and large similar deliverables for the two projects. SchoolNet is responsible for overseeing all activities related to the projects including setting up of provincial committees, selecting schools, training of educators and, co-ordinating the evaluation of the projects.


There is evidence to suggest that SchoolNet worked hard to ensure proper planning for project activities and to be financially accountable. Most of the project progress reports submitted to the respective Project Steering Committees contained details, including dates in which activities, such as school selections and training of educators were going to be undertaken and completed per province. Most of the progress reports also contained detailed expenditure reports. These were particularly important to ensure that all important activities were carried out and within the budget.

Project Steering Committees

Each of the two projects had a Steering Committee responsible for supervising the project. These committees were particularly important as they held regular meetings where progress was reported, difficulties raised and solutions sought. There is no evidence to suggest that these committees did not function effectively.


The Project Steering Committees for the two projects differed in size probably because the projects themselves are different in terms of scope, with the Thintana i-Learn covering more schools. Each Committee comprised representatives of partners involved in that particular project. The SuperCentres’ Project Steering Committee, comprised a representative from each of SchoolNet, Dell, Intekom and Telkom. The Thintana i-Learn project Steering Committee comprised three representatives of Thintana Communications LLc, three representatives nominated by the IDRC, one from the Department of Communications and one representative from the National Department of Education. The Telkom SuperCentres Steering Committee agreed to meet on the first Tuesday of every month, get project progress reports circulated a week before the meeting and circulate minutes one week after the meeting. In practice, these project meetings did not take place as consistently as originally envisaged, with meetings tending to be more frequent in the infrastructure rollout phases of the project. A series of technical meetings was held with Telkom ITX, the IT Division of Telkom contracted internally to undertake the rollout, and Dell was not directly involved.


SchoolNet has devised similar steps in implementing the two projects. Procedures include selection of schools, procurement of equipment, installation of equipment in schools, provision of technical training to selected educators, and provision of educator development programme. Details are provided below.

Schools selection Process

SchoolNet coordinated the school selection process and regularly presented progress reports in meetings of the Steering Committees for the respective projects. SchoolNet’s reports on the school selection process show that similar steps were followed in selecting schools for both projects. The process entailed,

ˇ        Informing provincial education officials, including MECs, about the project;

ˇ        Setting up provincial committees to assist in selection of schools;

ˇ        Short listing schools;

ˇ        Inviting schools to submit proposals;

ˇ        Evaluating the proposals;

ˇ        Visiting short-listed schools; and

ˇ        Making final selections


SchoolNet worked very closely with provincial education officials and selection committees in particular. Where officials had queries, SchoolNet managed to provide satisfactory responses. For example, the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) wanted clarification on what was going to be Telkom’s responsibilities with regards to safety of schools and sought to ensure that hidden costs in relation to involvement in the project were outlined to schools.[22] SchoolNet provided a response which the GDE accepted.[23]


Criteria for selection of schools had a few differences from project to project. Both projects excluded schools that did not have access to electricity. Initially, it was agreed that schools that were not from previously disadvantaged backgrounds would be excluded. However, this was relaxed in exception cases [S1] where where some such schools were where populated with learners from previously disadvantaged backgrounds.[24] In the SuperCentres’ project, only schools from the first phase of Telkom 1000 Schools  Internet Project project were to participate and selection was also done in line with the strategic development objectives of provincial Education Departments. In terms of criteria for selection of Thintana i-Learn, as outlined in the minutes of the Project Steering Committee meeting of the 04 August 2000, only secondary schools were to be selected and schools from the Telkom 1000 Internet project were also not to be included. However, these requirements were later relaxed. With the approval of the Steering Committee, SchoolNet has been able to select schools from Telkom 1000 as well.


The following additional criteria applied for selection of schools for the Thintana i-Learn project:

ˇ        Some schools had to be from rural areas;

ˇ        There should be a flow through from the Thintana MST Project; and

ˇ        There should be flow through from the National and Provincial departments of education.[25]


In both projects, schools had to submit business plans. Available documentation suggests that SchoolNet provided some support to these schools to enable them to put together their business plans. It did this by sending them additional information sheets and briefing documents intended to help schools understand the project and guide and assist them putting together their plans. The business plans had to cover issues such as,

ˇ        Background on how the school related to the communities;

ˇ        The position of school leadership of ICT;

ˇ        Leadership in terms of management of facilities and finance;

ˇ        Leadership in terms of planning and strategy;

ˇ        Schools’ approach to teaching and learning;

ˇ        The role of staff in decision making;

ˇ        The attitude of staff towards educational technology;

ˇ        The schools plan to facilitate staff development; and

ˇ        How management was going to support staff development in the project.[26]


To be more specific the plans were required to include the following elements:

1.      Name of school

2.      Postal address, physical address and description of geographical location of the school i.e. is it an urban school or rural – if rural how far from the nearest large urban centre.

3.      All available contact numbers (e.g. telephone, fax, email, cell phone)

4.      Name and contact of the principal

5.      Background of the school

6.      Proximity to other schools and community centres

7.      Financial plan outlining how the insurance and running costs of at least R1000 per month will be provided.

8.      A plan outlining the school’s vision for the educational use of computers.


The proposals that SchoolNet received from schools used the guiding questions and the structure that SchoolNet had suggested to them. As a result proposals were similar and many of them satisfied the criteria in that they had the required infrastructure and security in place.


SchoolNet evaluated all proposals or business plans that were received from schools, drew up final lists and sent the lists to the provincial officials including Members of Executive Councils (MECs) for approval. In evaluating the proposals from schools, SchoolNet looked at the following factors, which were also presented as guidelines for writing the business plans:

ˇ        Organisational issues in the school – Here, among others, SchoolNet was interested in a number of issues including,

-          How effective was management in the school;

-          Did the school provide a healthy climate for effective teaching and learning;

-          How the school related to the community

-          How the school intended to use the computers to the strengthen the relationship with the community;

-          How the school leadership was going to be involved in supporting the project;

-          How the school leadership was going to manage and finance the ICT facilities

-          How the school leadership was going to ensure that the computers were catered for in the school time-table.


SchoolNet also checked if the schools met the specified infrastructural and security requirements outlined earlier.


ˇ        Educator training and learning – In this category, SchoolNet looked at issues relating to methods and approaches to teaching and learning, looking specifically at issues such as collaboration in the classroom and the extent to which inquiry between educators and learners was encouraged. Schools also had to show how the computers were going to assist and/or transform teaching and learning in the schools.


ˇ        Staff involvement – In this section, schools had to outline issues such as staff attitude towards educational technologies, and the schools’ plan to facilitate staff development.


SchoolNet did not only rely on information that schools provided. SchoolNet and Telkom also sent the project team members to all shortlisted schools to check if they met basic infrastructural and security requirements.[27] The visit by project team members to schools was vital for ensuring that decisions were not only made on the basis of good business plans but also on practical situation of schools. The following were some of the specified infrastructural and security requirements:

ˇ        A dedicated room where the computers would be installed;

ˇ        Sufficient tables for 20 computers, one server and one printer;

ˇ        Separate power points for each of the 20 computers, one for the server, one for the printer, one for the hub and one for the modem;

ˇ        Have the power circuit feeding the PC’s power points on a separate circuit breaker;

ˇ        Ensuring that insurance policies covered lightning damage;

ˇ        Burglar bars on the windows;

ˇ        Security gate on the door;

ˇ        An electronic alarm consisting of at least one passive infrared eye and that the alarm had to be linked to an armed response unit.[28]


SchoolNet provided schools with sufficient information to enable them to make informed decisions about whether or not they should participate in the projects, especially taking into account the issue of sustainability. SchoolNet sent to schools that had been selected for the projects letters contained information on:

ˇ        The infrastructural requirements that schools had to meet. These were the same as specified above.

ˇ        The choice of Internet access methods. In this section SchoolNet provided details of differences between Analogue and ISDN and cost implications for each Internet access method. SuperCentres schools were made aware that Telkom would grant telephone rebates of R300 per month from date of installation until December 2002. Internet Service Provider fees were also sponsored for both Supercentres and Thintana schools until December 2002. Thereafter, schools will carry the costs.

ˇ        Insurance, operating and long-term maintenance and replacement costs. This section made schools aware of the following:

-          They would have to ensure the equipment to an appropriate value

-          When the computer hardware warrantee expires in April 2003 they will be responsible for replacement or maintenance costs for the equipment; 

-          They should budget for replacement or upgrading of computers; and

-          Operating costs for a computer laboratory, including security, telephone costs, insurance premiums and stationery were likely to be in the region of R1000 per month and that they would have to budget for this;

ˇ        The educational and technical training programme. Schools were informed that they would have to select two educators to receive technical training who would then manage the ICT facilities. Up to 14 educators at i-Learn schools and 20 educators at SuperCentres schools would also be required to participate in the SchoolNet education programme. Educators selected to undergo the training would have to have time to participate in the project.

ˇ        Contract that schools had to conclude with Telkom SA or SchoolNet. Schools were made aware that they would have to sign a contract binding them to their obligations and that equipment would only be delivered once they had signed the contracts.

ˇ        Sample layout labs. This section provided schools with different examples of computer laboratory layouts from which they could choose.[29]


Additional information sent to schools also included details of what was going to be covered in the technical training, face to face introductory training and in the distance on line course.


Following the final selection of schools, SchoolNet sent out copies of contracts to schools. The contracts included response forms which each school had to complete. These contracts served as confirmation that the schools had,

ˇ        Security systems in place;

ˇ        A room with tables and electricity as specified;

ˇ        Insured the equipment; and

ˇ        Educators had been selected for the technical, face to face and on-line training.

These schools had to provide proof in the form of copies from the electrician, alarm company and insurance broker and names of educators selected for the training.


The contracts signed between schools and Telkom and SchoolNet (on behalf of Thintana), clearly stipulated obligations for each of the parties. In terms of the contracts, Telkom and SchoolNet undertook that between the date of commencement of the projects until December 2002, they would do the following:

ˇ        Make hardware and software available to schools;

ˇ        Make maintenance support for the hardware and software available to the schools;

ˇ        Pay the costs of Internet facilities from suppliers chosen by respective sponsors;

ˇ        Provide 2 day off site technical training to 2 (two) educators nominated by the school.

ˇ        Provide 1 day on site face to face induction session to at least 10 (ten) educators;

ˇ        Provide distance (online) training to 10 (ten) educators and establish a mentor network to provide regular telephonic and email support to participating educators.[30]


The contract between SchoolNet (on behalf of Thintana) and schools was in many ways similar to the contract between Telkom and the school. The difference was that Telkom offered to pay up to a maximum of R300 per month for the telephone usage in respect of the Internet facility supplied by Telkom. However schools would have to pay for any additional amount.


The process of selecting schools was not always smooth, particularly for the Thintana i-Learn Project. There were no indications in the reports that school selections for the Telkom SuperCentres project experienced any major problems, probably because the schools were already part of the first phase, the Telkom 1000 Schools Internet project, and therefore already knew what was expected of them. Only two provinces were reported to be proceeding slowly in school selection. These were the Eastern Cape where 12 proposals had been received and the Free State where according to minutes of the Steering Committee meeting of the 2nd November 2001, there had been a poor response from schools. Problems that were not of SchoolNet’s fault were reported with regards to the selection process for schools for the Thintana project in the Eastern Cape, Northern Province and Free State. Poor efficiency on the part of the departmental official in the Eastern Cape and slow co-operation from the appointed TELI coordinator in the Northern Province led to a delay in submission of proposals in the two provinces. The process also proceeded slowly in the Free State, because there was only one person made available for the project.[31]

Infrastructure and Technical Programme

Installation of equipment in schools followed soon after the selection of schools had been completed. Each of the project partners had clearly stipulated roles and responsibilities regarding rolling out of equipment. For the SuperCentres, for example, Telkom was responsible for purchasing equipment as specified. Dell would install the equipment and provided maintenance services to sites after installation of computer centres had taken place. Intekom was responsible for developing, maintaining and hosting a project website. As the project manager, SchoolNet was responsible for liasing with Dell and Intekom on aspects relating to their respective services in the project.[32] Subsequent to these initial roles and responsibilities being defined, Telkom opted to procure installation services from Telkom ITX rather than through Dell, and Intekom’s role was restricted to supplying Internet accounts.


The Telkom SuperCentres Project aimed to install computer networks of 21 PCs with a server and dialup Internet connectivity in 100 schools around the country. Ten computer laboratories were to be installed in 8 provinces while the Northern Cape was to get 20 computer laboratories. The Thintana i-Learn project intended to deploy 3200 Internet-enabled computers in 200 schools spread across the nine provinces.[33] However, due to budgetary constraints, the number of schools to benefit from the project was reduced to 198 and a standard configuration for each site was amended to consist of 10 refurbished PCs and 4 new PCs with head phones, a server, modem, printer, and Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS). This meant 14 workstations and 1 server per site, which also meant that the total number of machines that Thintana i-Learn Project intended to install in schools was reduced from 3200 to 2970, which amounted to R13, 007, 888.[34] Subsequently, one additional school was added in the Free State which was paid for from the interest earned – with the approval of the Project Steering Committee. This meant that 199 schools ultimately are participating in the Thintana i-learn project.


Rolling out of infrastructure in schools was also not always smooth. A report presented to the Steering Committee meeting on the 16th August 2001 captured some technical problems emerging from rollout of equipment in Gauteng and the North West provinces. Problems raised by schools and trainers included:

ˇ        All workstations in the lab had the same identification;

ˇ        Server was not connected to the hub;

ˇ        Hub was not mounted on the cabinet;

ˇ        Second hard drive had not been installed;

ˇ        Backup drive had not been installed;

ˇ        None of the workstations could see the server’s CD drive; and

ˇ        Compulok screws had not been fitted on the PCs


The Thintana i-Learn Project Closure Report of the 15th August 2002 shows that theft of equipment in schools was one of the major problems. The report shows that a total of 7 schools had been burgled and computers stolen. Five of these schools had insured their computers and the insurance company had honoured the claims. According to the project Manager two schools from Thintana dropped out of the project because the schools lost their computers through theft. Unfortunately they had not insured the facilities, in contravention of their undertaking


The liquidation of Memtek (a company sub-contracted by Sourcecom to supply, prepare and deliver computers in schools) also delayed the rollout of equipment in Free State and Eastern Cape.


However, indications are that while several technical problems were experienced, the regular meetings of the Project Steering Committee provided a platform where the technical problems could be raised and discussed on time. SchoolNet had also made attempts to minimise technical problems by installing and running a pilot laboratory in Cape Town.

Training of Educators

SchoolNet is responsible for training of participating educators for both the Telkom SuperCentres and Thintana I-Learn Projects, and its approach in providing training is similar. In both projects it is a contractual obligation for participating schools to select a minimum of two educators to undergo technical training and ten educators to participate in SchoolNet’s education programme. The selected educators are required to have time to participate in the project.


SchoolNet developed a comprehensive educator development programme, which covered issues around training of educators in both the technical and educational aspects. The programme included the following:

ˇ        technical training (training for the two would be computer centre managers per school),

ˇ        training of mentors (mentors are professionally qualified individuals recruited to provide pedagogical support to teachers doing SchoolNet’ online module),

ˇ        training the trainers (training for people appointed to provide training to computer centre managers),

ˇ        developing materials,

ˇ        piloting the materials, and

ˇ        providing distance training.

SchoolNet undertook to ensure that a proportion of mentors and trainers subcontracted would be previously disadvantaged individuals. In this section we provide a brief description of each of the components of the educator development programme. A detailed review and evaluation of the programme is in Chapter 3 of this report.

Pilot Programme

Before the mentor system and distance education course were offered in all provinces, SchoolNet ran a pilot programme in three venues where a face to face introductory course was offered to 10 educators at each venue and those educators were subsequently registered on the distance education course. The piloting programme was taken seriously and SAIDE was appointed to evaluate the programme. Lessons from this piloting process were incorporated in the overall educator development programme.


Mentor programme

SchoolNet planned to provide its educator development programme partly through distance education. To this end, SchoolNet established a mentor network to provide regular email support to educators registered in the programme. The mentors are appointed on a part-time basis and the following are their roles as articulated in the advertisement that SchoolNet circulated:

ˇ        Facilitative and Supportive;

ˇ        Monitor email interaction within group of approximately 15 educators;

ˇ        Provide formative assessment comments to educators based on email interaction and contents of reflective journals; and

ˇ        Know when and how to intervene as required by the learning process.


The advertisement further specifies that interested people need to meet the following requirements:

ˇ        At least 5 years classroom experience;

ˇ        Basic skills in email and word processing;

ˇ        Experience in using computers in education;

ˇ        Supportive manner – able to accept a range of views;

ˇ        Committed and accessible via email on a daily basis (9 hours per week required);

ˇ        Good interpersonal skills; and

ˇ        Organisational and record-keeping skills


In terms of the advertisement, mentors would be paid on a pro rata basis per completed learner.


Janet Thomson coordinates the mentor selection and training programme. She and Gerald Roos developed the Mentor Course materials which they have reviewed after each course. According to Janet Thomson, they deliberately made the course tough in order to ensure that the mentors would be able to keep up with email volumes and the pressures of meeting deadlines and also to ascertain whether they could maintain an interactive and supportive email culture. The course also enabled the co-ordinator to identify whether the applicants had the appropriate email manner to become supportive mentors.


Initially, SchoolNet wanted a maximum of 100 people to be recruited as mentors. According to Thomson, SchoolNet continued to recruit mentors because they anticipated bigger groups because of the delays. Indications are that recruiting mentors has not been a problem. The report to the Steering Committee meeting of the 7th December 2000 shows that by that date, 100 people had applied to be trained as mentors, and 77 had been accepted. However there were a further 64 people doing the course. The report indicated that more mentors were going to be recruited. The report of the 16th August 2001 (p.2) shows that 90 mentors had completed the course and that an additional 30 mentors were about to qualify. The Telkom SuperCentres Project Progress Report of the 31st January 2002 shows that 114 mentors had successfully completed training.


While recruitment and training of mentors has not been a problem, some problems have been reported with regards to the appointment and making adequate use of the mentors. According to Janet Thomson, SchoolNet’s educator development programme has lost a number of mentors for various reasons. Most of the reasons are said to be personal. Delays in the project are also said to be demotivating factors. For example, while the first cohort of mentors was trained in November 2000 they were not appointed until July 2001 and even then only a few were needed as there were many technical problems delaying the anticipated volumes of learners. There was further demotivation when technical problems started at active schools resulting in depletion of groups. However, Janet Thomson pointed out that, a number of processes have since been developed to prevent some of the delays caused by technical problems.


SchoolNet has put up systems to provide some support to mentors. These include mailing lists for them to support each other and there are mentor co-ordinators who work with the mentors on any problems that occur.

Materials development

SchoolNet developed CD-based materials and support resources consisting of seven modules for the educator development course, which is being delivered to participating educators through distance education. The modules develop educators’ readiness to use computers and the Internet in their professional work. The modules are:

ˇ        Word processing for educators

ˇ        Spreadsheet for educators

ˇ        Using Web resources

ˇ        Designing web pages

ˇ        Finding information

ˇ        Questioning and thinking skills

ˇ        Assessing information literacy[35]

Four   other modules are being produced for the Educators Network: two  on school leadership and management of ICTs, and one each on Maths and Science teaching. [36]


The materials development process and decisions around which modules to produce drew from various sources. According to Janet Thomson, the materials drew somewhat from the materials called Educator Development for Telecollaboration, developed for SchoolNet SA by Gerald Roos and Janet Thomson. There were also concept development meetings that were organised by SchoolNet and the Department of Education, which included participation from the SCOPE Project[37], a bilaterla programme between the Finnish government and the Department of Education. Finnish funders and the departmental curriculum developers. Following a period of initial development, a pilot project and an evaluation of the pilot conducted by SAIDE, SchoolNet and SCOPE agreed to jointly fund the development of the Educators Network modules, and contracted SAIDE to manage the materials writing and production process, which included active participation by SchoolNet Thomson and Roos.

Online distance course

As indicated earlier, SchoolNet is providing the educator development programme through distance education. Educators registered in the distance course have been arranged into groups of approximately 15 that are facilitated by mentors. The mentors have received training to enable them to facilitate and support the groups through email and online interaction. SchoolNet has designed systems to enable it to monitor the interaction. An analysis of data on interactions between the groups and their mentors is presented in Chapter 4 of this report.

Face to Face Introductory Sessions

SchoolNet kick starts its educator training by organising face-to-face training sessions for educators in each school before they register for the distance modules. The face to face introductory sessions normally take one and a half days.


The purpose of the face-to-face introductory sessions is to enable educators to use communication tools for the distance education course, in particular. A database capturing the reports that trainers from all provinces have sent to SchoolNet about the face to face introductory sessions indicates that between the 28th July 2001 and 09 February 2002, 69 workshops had been organised through out the provinces. A total number of 1104 educators attended the technical workshops. Of that number 662 decided to register for the distance education course while?The reports also indicate that except in isolated cases, educators who attended the sessions were co-operative and willing to learn as some trainers clearly articulated,

I was impressed by the enthusiasm of the educators and their prompt response to the activities of the day. This was one centre's training I will never forget for sometime. We enjoyed the training and everything went well.[38]


While trainers generally praised trainees for their enthusiasm, some reported on the technical and connectivity problems that they experienced which in some cases interfered with the training sessions as in the cases below. It must be noted that most of the cases reported above were from the first few cycles. Following these reports processes around scheduling of training were revised to ensure stable connectivity.[39] This is what trainers said,

Generally the trainees are very keen to learn, it was unfortunate that the time allocated for training was insufficient, two days was going to be appropriate in order to drill the main aspects of the course and procedures[40]


All went fairly well. Most trainees could however not register on the day, as their e-mail addresses were not activated. Those that did also did not receive the 15 minute response. They were requested to try and register on the following day 030202.[41]


As we could not establish an Internet link-up no matter how we tried, online registration could not take place. The educator trained for the technical support was requested to sort out the problem during the following week.[42]


Some of the web-based activities could not be achieved due to lack of Internet connectivity. The network could not be accessed. I had to manually load the important folders using a portable CD ROM on computers which did not have this function[43]


One case pointed to lack of proper communication between a trainer and a coordinator. Even in that case however, the training continued,

It was unfortunate that I was informed at 09hrs by ….. about training but I managed to arrive and start training to the educators who were present. I experienced some difficulty with confirmation but later it was sorted out.[44]


Train the Trainers

Philemon Kotsokoane, Gerald Roos, and Janet Thomson were responsible for conducting the “train the trainer” sessions in all provinces and they were also responsible for developing the material for the trainers.


SchoolNet circulated an advertisement for IT trainers. These persons were going to be contracted to conduct on average, three 1˝ days training sessions in their provinces. Only persons who had experience of training educators would be considered and preference was going to be given to those who were successfully engaged in the Telkom 1000 training sessions. Regional training sessions were going to be conducted for prospective trainers. SchoolNet needed 10 trainers per province but more prospective trainers were invited to the training. Only those who had successfully completed the training were going to be appointed. It was required of prospective trainers to be familiar with MS Word, Paint and Pegasus Mail.

Documentation at our disposal indicates that “train the trainer” sessions were well organised and ran smoothly. The “train the trainer” course wanted to stress to the trainers the concept that they must develop independent learners and must help educators by pointing them to where they could find help on the CD.


Telkom Foundation had emphasised that both mentors and trainers should include people from previously disadvantaged communities. However, to some extent the requirement that people to be appointed as mentors needed to have experience in teaching IT limited SchoolNet to appointing educators from Higher Education Institutions  (HE), independent schools, ex House of Delegates (HoD) and ex model C schools. However educators from outreach programmes as well as schools in the World Links for Development (WorLD) were recruited to be trained as trainers and mentors. A Thintana i-Learn Project Progress report of the 31st January 2002 shows that by this date, a total of 89 trainers had been trained from the nine provinces with Mpumalanga having the highest number with fourteen trainers and the Eastern Cape having the lowest number with five trainers (p.5).

Technical training

SchoolNet contracted National Data Systems to provide technical training to two educators from each participating school. Details of what this aspect of training covers had been made clear to schools.[45] The training aims at familiarising educators with hardware and the network, so that they are able to attend to minor technical problems and assist other educators. It is not clear if educators to be trained in this aspect were required to have any prior knowledge of computers. At the same time, it would seem that a two day training course would not be sufficient to enable those educators to handle basic technical problems confidently. We note, however, that SchoolNet did establish a Help Desk to provide telephonic support to these educators. 

Partnerships and funding

While this document focuses on two projects, there are other projects of a similar nature that are being rolled out in different provinces. These included Gauteng Online, Khanya Project in the Western Cape and the Thintana MST Project. Where possible, SchoolNet has attempted to draw these projects closer to each other.


It would seem that establishing cooperation between the projects and soliciting partners has been much easier to do in the Thintana i-Learn Project than in the Telkom SuperCentres. The issue of partnerships was always discussed in meetings of the Thintana i-Learn Project Steering Committee. In fact, in the meeting of the Thintana i-Learn: Project Steering Committee of 04th August 2000, it was agreed that all parties were at liberty to pursue additional sponsorship that would add to the value of the project. As indicated earlier, because of this openness to partnerships and additional sponsorship, the Thintana i-Learn Project has been able to draw in the following partners,

ˇ        3COM who offered modems, hubs and 600 network cards to the value of R1,1 million for all 200 schools in the project.

ˇ        Microsoft provide free software licences; and


The Thintana Project Steering Committee also agreed to work with Khanya Project in the Western Cape. Details of how these projects were going to work together were not disclosed. [46] 


In contrast, existing documentation suggests that Telkom was solely responsible for funding all aspects of the SuperCentres project. The only partnerships referred to in the Telkom documents are those that were established with service providers including SchoolNet SA, Dell and Intekom.


In order to facilitate communication and ensure that there was no confusion, partners identified people who were to serve as first points of contacts. SchoolNet also produced newsletters as another way of communicating about the projects.


It is clear from this chapter that Telkom SuperCentres and the Thintana I-Learn are two different projects, which by and large had similar objectives. SchoolNet manages and implements both projects. Because there are more similarities than differences between the two projects, SchoolNet implements them simultaneously as though they are one project. Documentation reviewed presented a positive picture about the management of the projects and the overall implementation process. There are no indications that SchoolNet encountered any major difficulties in informing provincial education officials about the project, establishing provincial selection committees, selecting schools. Face to face introductory training for educators has been provided and there is enthusiasm and willingness to learn among educators. However SchoolNet experienced a major problem when SDD and Memtek which had been sub-contracted by Sourcecom to provide technical services in rolling out of infrastructure were liquidated[SCM2] . As has been said on several occasions in this report, the liquidation of SDD and Memtek resulted in technical problems not been attended to on time. Subsequently, training of educators was delayed.


Chapter 3:

A Review of the Educators’ Network with specific focus on the module: Finding Information


This chapter, while aiming to provide an overall assessment of the quality of the resource, The Educators’ Network, also provides comment for the further refinement and development of the resource in keeping with Patton’s conception of developmental evaluation. We start by providing a review and evaluation of the Educators’ Network in general and then focus specifically on the module on Finding Information. By the criteria for a good site stated in the resource, the CD-ROM/site has strong educational value, and can extend its assumed user’s knowledge base.



The Educators’ Network is designed for the use of educators in practice and is available as a CD-ROM or on the Internet. It comprises a series of distance learning modules for educators who want to use computers and the Internet more effectively in their work. The modules, and types of questions and activities, show that the purpose is the development of pedagogy - with a focus on the development of the educators’ skills for the inclusion of digital technology as a resource in teaching and learning. Some modules focus on teaching and learning strategies that will lead to more effective use of computers and the Internet, while other modules focus on actual use of computers and the Internet in the educational environment. So for example, a section on learning to use a mouse is aimed at the development of a teacher’s basic computing skills (using ‘paint’ as a place to start is likely to develop user confidence as the results are immediate and tangible or as an effective icebreaker for educator-learners) but a module on questioning and thinking, aims to show how digital technology can be used in inquiry.


The Network is designed for a range of educator-learners: the teacher with little or no computer or Internet experience, or with little or no experience of integrating computer or Internet skills into classroom practice; or for the more sophisticated user to sharpen skills and thinking about the use of digital technology in teaching.


The CD-ROM is credible and authoritative and is offered to educators as a resource. As such it has a developmental purpose rather than commercial. Anybody who wants to use the resource in its entirety is permitted to do so as long as that does not involve adaptation in which case permission has to be sought from SchoolNet. 

Site Information

To model good practice and provide an exemplar for a ‘good site’, this resource could have given prominence to the criteria given in the module for establishing the credibility of a resource. “Who wrote the information?” “Who are they “(whether individuals, groups, or institutions)?” “What experience or qualifications do they hold relative to the material they are providing?” “What interests do they have in promoting certain information and points of view?” Contact information is evident only in the evaluation forms, and in the acknowledgements. Users are not informed about the authority of the authors in the use of computers and the Internet in teacher development. However, mention is made of the large team of people and institutions responsible for the concepts and technical aspects of the site. Benchmarking with Rhodes University is said to be in process (with possible exemption from certain parts of the Advanced Certificate in Education). Funders are noted in the “Acknowledgements”: the Telkom Foundation, Thintana Consortium, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Finland. The agencies responsible for the project are SchoolNet SA and the South African - Finnish Collaboration Programme in the Education Sector (SCOPE)


In the introduction, expectations and procedures are made clear to users. Beginners are directed to basic functions of the computer, to modules, and email. Learners-educators are given an indication of the time needed. They are expected to be able to proceed independently - though with support received from materials, mentors and a peer group (and given to the peer group). This support is structured into the design of the course. The mentors are intended to be educators who have experience in using the Internet in the classroom.


The learner-educators is offered various pathways, consistent with adult education principles of need, interest and choice. For those who could or would not exercise this choice, a default pathway is provided. An understanding of the need for flexible learning programmes is indicated hereby. The approach is to support educators learning in their own context, and as such the resource is school-based. Activities impel the learner-educator to try things out with learners.


The mood of the CD-ROM is one of support and ‘low risk’, indicated by comments such as,

“Please do not think of this as a threatening process, where you worry about what other people might think of what you write. Think of it as a process that is an important part of learning. Do not think that people want to criticise you, but rather that you can share ideas and learn together. Try to take the same attitude when you comment on what your colleagues have sent to you”.


Colleagues in email contact are referred to as “friends”. Users, as educators are invited - and if they want certification of completion, compelled - to try out activities with learners, reflect on these attempts, and share their experiences. Central to the resource is the online interaction with other learner-educators, and with an e-mentor, through email, though individual use of the resource is possible. The assumption is made that this group interaction “adds value” to the learning process and will help educators become more “reflexive”. “Other educators’ ideas spark off creativity and assist in reflection (thinking about what is happening). Learning in community will help you become reflexive (think about what you do)”. Through this communication, it is expected that learner-educators will reflect on teaching and learning, on work tried, on problems encountered, and resources available and thence share their experiences, aimed at improving teaching and learning. The gains envisaged are that learner-educators will support and be supported by each other, that this networking will connect them to other educators with similar needs and interests, and that this will contribute to the development of their professional identity as educators, through, in part, belonging to a wider professional learning community; an educational community in which computers and the Internet are used.


The mentor would encourage, pace, and support the learner, as a facilitator, not a judge. “You should see the mentor as someone who can help you to succeed, not as someone who intends to ‘check on’ or monitor your progress”. These links to mentors and peers provide a scaffold for the learner.


Reflection is assumed to generate learning, and hence the e-diary is seen as an important pedagogical tool. Its long-term use is not clear however.


The philosophical underpinnings are found in a constructivist approach, assumed without question. The frequent use of ‘should’ in these sections alerts one to a moral binding to a constructivist approach. This is coherent with current national policy. Constructivism may well become a “paradigm”, but perhaps some external links here could broaden the learner-educators’ views and allow them to see some of the debates.

Access devices

In the main, navigation around the CD ROM/site is straightforward. The activities are clearly accessed, and one can browse through to see what has to be done and what is available. A user can link to any activity. Links across modules are easy to use. The CD-ROM/site is generally accurate. Only a few formatting errors, such as font changes in the section on ‘Bloom applied’, were found. The font is not easy to read on the ‘Ask Jeeves’ illustrations and pictures of computer screens are often small and not user friendly. A few technical glitches were found but have been rectified in later versions, for example getting a list of codes on opening the e-diary and getting the glossary when clicking on ‘hypertext” in ‘Search the CD’. Back and forward arrows did not always work. E.g. No back or forward arrows on ‘About this CD’. Very few, but some typographical errors were found, e.g. “People managing Web sites that you can access free on the Internet, may use of advertising to pay for the costs of running the site”.  On the whole the technical standard of the site is good.


The use of ‘blue’ in the text, which conventionally refers to hypertext in documents, may confuse a more experienced reader initially.


For total beginners, some of the language may be inaccessible, e.g. ‘launch’, and ‘portals’ and in the module, ‘Finding Information’, ‘truncation’ and ‘Boolean’. These may require definition or explanation. 


The CD-ROM offers support in three main areas of teacher work: administration, the Internet and teaching and learning - for administration, the use of a word processor and spread sheets; for the Internet, information about web resources and web design; and for teaching and learning, questioning and thinking, and assessing information literacy. Extending the learner-educators is evident in ‘taking it further’ and with references across other modules.


The CD-ROM refers to different types of questions, and encourages the use of open-ended questions in teaching, those that have no easy answer. However, in demonstrating the use of the Net for searching, close-ended information was sought. The question is then what the role of the WWW can be in open questions? In response to the question, the SchoolNet’s mentor coordinator argues,

that the information searched for can be factual and the questions closed, it is what the teacher requires the child to with the information that is important. If you want to get information about Mandela, it has to start of with fact. She that the point in this case was getting to know the different search engines and the difference between them and not set a challenging class activity.

Notwithstanding the response we think that reference to chat groups may have been appropriately given here, rather than only factual searches. A bias toward the social sciences is evident. Examples for the sciences and mathematics and activities pertinent to these disciplines would be useful.


The content of some of the related modules referred to could introduce shifts to the thinking of many learner-educators, for example, Gardiner’s multiple intelligence. The notion of metacognition could be useful. 

Assessment and Evaluation

Assessment is seen more in terms of support than in terms of certification. Here is an assumption of learning for its intrinsic value rather than for instrumental reasons. Learners can see what skills they ought to have acquired in the self-assessment form they are required to submit for a certificate of completion. This self-assessment form is cast positively, so that learner-educators are encouraged to see themselves as not yet successful, rather than as failures. Completing the self-assessment form is a specified activity, structuring self-reflection into the programme based on explicit outcomes for the module. It can serve as both a structuring tool, if viewed prior to the module, or as a review tool. If a learner-educator’s responses are in the ‘first column’ indicating not having met the outcomes, it could be helpful if the materials provided pointers to remediation.


Learner-educators have to evaluate the module as an activity. The authors invite feedback about the resource, though do not specify how they will use the information


Many of the above comments pertain to the module, ‘Finding Information’, and thus the following section will be additional.

Purpose and outcomes

The module asks learner-educators to select, use and evaluate search tools, and to select, use and evaluate and accurately acknowledge information from these sources.  It expects learner-educators to be able to design classroom activities that make “meaningful use” of the information and to assess the originality of ideas.


Ambitious outcomes are found, for example, in the claim “If we equip students with information literacy skills, they will be able to: (emphasis added)

- Make up their own minds

- Work well in teams

- Solve problems with independence and ingenuity

- Speak, present, and write persuasively


The use of the phrase, ‘better able to’ would be preferable. More realistically, it aims to introduce tools to help educators find information who in turn can help learners find information. One module outcome may be too ambitious for the resource – that of assessing the originality of ideas. Successful completion of this outcome would depend on the experience of the teacher in both a discipline and in critical evaluation. Otherwise outcomes are clear and cohere with aims.


The module, ‘Finding information’, looks at language, keywords, subjects, plagiarism and synthesis. The learner is alerted to the open access of the web to postings by anyone, and the need to be able to evaluate sites and sources of information. The need for a search engine is made clear and learners are taught how to use engines like ‘Ask Jeeves ‘(natural language), ‘Google’ (keyword) and ‘Yahoo’ (subject). Further, that even within search engines there is ‘no standard’ alerts readers to the complexity of the WWW. The limitations of search engines are posed and the extent of the web noted, for example that Yahoo, the biggest and most popular subject directory search engine, covers less than 5% of the Web. Using the Harris’ analogies of searching for treasures of information, the user is alerted to the different types and levels of  ‘search’ and that searching is a process like mining. Once a site is found, users are informed about how to evaluate it and how to acknowledge the site. Sites that are useful and reliable can be shared with other learners through an evaluation tool provided.

Learner-educators are taken through a path of looking at websites and group discussion on these to look at the purposes of the site, at establishing credibility, accuracy and bias. The group discussions and tutor intervention would need to be a substantial part of this. A novice may not see the manipulations of persuasive sites that a trained critic may. Each section includes clips that are linked on how to detect bias, accuracy, trustworthiness etc, using examples and analogies, such as a soccer conflict of interests’ example that had a basis in reality.


Procedures and requirements, including technological requirements are clearly expressed; including a caution on telephone costs (perhaps an approximate rate per hour at current Telkom rates could have helped, though would ‘date’ the CD ROM).


The module evaluation for ‘Finding Information’ could have been better expressed more personally as ‘you have found’, rather than ‘learners have found’ to get an individual answer rather than a generalized assumption.

Some general concerns

The distinctions made between information and knowledge are not clear, as the following quote indicates.

“Often we confuse the term ‘information’ with that of the term ‘knowledge’. You as an educator need to be able to present challenging questions and examine issues that can create a need for information in learners. Your learners will be able to use this information to build their own knowledge and present their own original ideas”.


Information is seen as a subset of knowledge, but the modules do not really address how they differ other than that knowledge is said to include ideas, opinions and “understandings”. But what does it mean to build new knowledge for oneself, understood in this way?


Learner-educators are directed to questioning, to creating need in their own learners. Experts too could pose the questions, rather than having all questions learner driven. The learning paradox is that we can’t know what we don’t know.


One role experts could play is to sort the field for learners, knowing a body of literature and selecting appropriate resources, thus offering educators tried and tested resources. Showing learners how to search for such sites on certain selected school topics might be useful.


The module Finding Information frequently refers to the module on Questioning and Thinking. Hence a few additional comments on this module are appropriate. This module was ambitious in its attempts to apply theoretical knowledge in the classroom setting, but the results are confusing at times, for example, the presentation of the table on higher order thinking. One expects in a table some vertical and horizontal coherence, but here only the vertical seemed pertinent. Also, some of the categories could create confusion, for example, ‘making a colouring book,’ is found under ‘comprehension’ as is ‘what do you think could happen next’ which would be better placed under say, ‘prediction’. This table needs some scrutiny, particularly the activities in relation to the ‘verbs’. The use of the term “knowledge” is not the same as Bloom’s used in the Introduction.


By the criteria for a good site stated in the resource, the CD-ROM/site has strong educational value, and can extend its assumed user’s knowledge base. In general it is clear, accurate and referenced, with contributions and credits acknowledged. In general it is easy to navigate and links work. It does not use original graphics much, nor does it fully exploit the possibilities of the digital media, such as video, or simulation. However, it is interactive in nature, connecting a community of learner-educators as they can support each other and share ideas. Overall the purposes, outcomes, materials, tasks and general approach are coherent and in keeping with the pedagogical approach, the assumed users and principles of adult education.

Participation in the Module: Finding Information

In this section we turn, we turn our focus to participation of learner-educators in the module finding information.

Requirements of Participants

In the module Finding Information, participants are required to successfully complete eight compulsory activities out of a total of ten. All activities are designed to encourage group participation and provide opportunities

ˇ        Reflect, or think about their own teaching and learning

ˇ        Experience different learning opportunities

ˇ        Invent and share ideas

ˇ        Share problems and their possible solutions

ˇ        Share resources


For a participant to receive a certificate of completion, s/he must also participate in online peer discussion.


Five groups were selected for analysis. The groups were selected across Cycles 2 to 4, all engaged in the module Finding Information. Cycles refer to the six to seven week period in which participants are engaged in a module. (Thus Cycle 2 refers to the September to November 2001 engagement period; Cycle 3 to the January to March 2002 period; and Cycle 4 to the April to June 2002 period). What follows is an analysis of our sample.

An Overview of participation in the EDN programme

From an analysis of the EDN database, email posted by participants to the groups across the cycles and modules appears low, considering the number of activities participants were required to engage with, and the short module engagement period of seven weeks. These postings are indicated in the table below.


Table 1


Sample Group

Registered participants

Average postings / educator

Average postings/educator for the full cycle






Cycle 4

Group 88





Group 110









Cycle 3

Group 54





Group 71





Group 72





However, the above figures do not count email messages sent by participants directly to their mentors, or by participants directly to other individual participants in the group. Evidence collected elsewhere suggests that there is a significant amount of interaction between mentors and educators that is not group interaction.

Participant attrition

The table below provides a qualitative analysis of participants extracted from the selected sample.


Table 2


Number of  participants completing activity




Group 54

Group 71

Group 72

Group 88

Group 110


Registered participants







0 activities














1 activity







2 activities







3 activities







4 activities







5 activities







6 activities







7 activities







8 activities







Act 1- 8 totals















The above analysis indicates that of the 83 participants registered for this module, 49.4% of them engaged in one or more activities. It is clear that the greater attrition occurs at the outset of the module, in the time between registration and beginning the module. It was not the brief of this research to explore reasons for this non-engagement, however we available evidence suggest that that influencing factors vary from technological problems experienced by participants, motivational issues and techno-phobia to personal and work related concerns.


What is significant is that once participants take the first step towards engagement, through posting a first activity, participation in the module is relatively stable, with each group losing between 1 to 3 group members during the course of the module. An exception is Group 110 which lost 8 group members out of the 12.


Once participants began to engage in the module, their chances of successfully completing is a high - a 62,5% completion rate in Groups 54 and 71, a 83,3% completion rate in Group 72, a 66,7% completion rate in Group 88 and in group 110, a 66.7% completion rate.




The low postings per educator in the sample is a trend found throughout the EDN modules and cycles, although see the comments above related to unmeasured email interaction. Attrition at the outset of the module is a contributing factor to these low participation statistics. The greatest attrition occurs in the period between registration and posting the first activity and not necessarily during the module. Participants who engage in the first activity have a greater chance of engaging throughout the module and thus completing the module.

Nature of Participant Postings

The low email postings does not necessarily mean that participation in the EDN has been unsuccessful. A careful look at the content of postings from both participants and mentors highlights interesting exchanges.


We analysed email postings for utterances indicative of collaboration such as:

ˇ      requesting help and feedback from group members

ˇ      contributing through providing help, feedback and sharing knowledge with the aim of assisting other group members

ˇ      social interaction.



Our findings are summarised in the table below.



Seeking input




Social interaction


Requesting help

Requesting feedback

Providing help

Providing feedback

Sharing knowledge


Group 54







% of postings











Group 71







% of postings











Group 72







% of postings











Group 88







% of postings











Group 110







% of postings











ˇ        Seeking and providing, help and feedback from group members

Across the sample, there are ample examples of participants inviting their colleagues to provide feedback, and seeking help..


Please dear group members correct me where necessary


Hoping for comments


Please help me if I am on the right track


Let me hear about your remarks.


Thank you for your time and efforts to read it and I wait for your comments.


I will wait to hear what you have to say, guys.


PLS give me your opinion.


Please find an attachment on Google word documents and your comments are highly appreciated.

ˇ        The development of knowledge

It is more difficult to ascertain how the group and individual participant postings contributed to individual’s construction of knowledge.


Engagement with others input is rather lacking. Responses mainly fall into stating one’s own findings within the framework of the activity questions. There is virtually no evidence of collaborative behaviour such as disagreeing or challenging one another. There are exceptions such as the following from Group 54 in which a participant engages directly with another through challenging his colleague’s response to an activity:


Dear ….. I went through your response for activity 3, I discovered that the response was inappropriate. Please read my response and rectify your answer. Please do not be offended we are here to share our experiences.


There is no evidence of any further interaction on the above engagement, either by the two colleagues above, or by any other group member or the mentor, although the data accessible for this research is limited to email posted to the group or mentor alias. Where educators may respond to each other directly, this email is not logged or tracked.


Similarly in groups 72, we find a participant agreeing on a point raised by others, “I agree with other members that we tend to forget our roots and we do not make an effort to learn ….”.and in Group 88 a participant provides feedback to a colleague, “…. you are really working!!”


These examples do indicate that participants, although not engaging directly with colleagues by challenging, critiquing or presenting an alternative argument, are interacting with their group members submissions.

ˇ        Sharing knowledge and information to assist other group members

In the main part participants limited their submissions to learning activity submissions, however there is evidence that some participants structured their submissions in such a way that they became learning tools for other group members:


Group 88: Search engines

You have to be specific about the subject you choose to find information and Yahoo will be very specific about the information it gives you.


Putting your keywords between quotation marks narrows down your search and you only get sites which contain these words between the question marks.


Group 88: Google

When using Keyword Search, first make a little note of what you want to find. Then identify the keywords by underlining the main concepts in the statement. Type these keywords in the search box. The search engine will return websites with words that match your keywords.


 Group 72: Ask Jeeves

About this AskJeeves I have found it is also a search engine; it allows one to type questions using normal english language sentences; it also points you several web sites; asks you different questions in different ways …


To find information using yahoo we must also have a deeper knowledge in the subject we are looking for …. We must type the full sentence in full in yahoo and in Askjeeves.


Group 71: Search engines

I recommend Yahoo for the impatient person, because nobody’s time get wasted. Google works almost the same as Yahoo. Your keywords must be precise and accurate…



Group 54: Search Engines

AskJeeves searches information using keywords, however, searches are really very frustrating and without good results if your question is not brief and to the point. Yahoo, on the other hand, uses keywords also, but once your keywords are well chosen and well defined you can be certain of the answer.

ˇ        Social interaction postings

A fair proportion of postings are of a social nature, not necessarily related to the activity tasks.  This type of interaction could contribute positively to the social cohesion of the group. These interactions range from providing motivational support to sharing personal and professional information:


Group 110:

How are you guys coping? Tomorrow I will have a Cricket Workshop for the next three days …


Hi guys.

A very cold day in Oudtshoorn. Fingers are numb, but activity has to be done…


Hi Guys

I know that we are doing a module on finding information, but I would like us to discuss something different - the way our youth dresses. Personally I feel that we need to educate our youth on how to dress ….


Group 71

Hi group,

What an experience! The internet is really exciting, but surely can become addictive.


Group 88 indicates a social interactions around a number of topics:

How was the week-end?? To me it was a very busy one, I was attending a Lifeskills Workshop based on HIV-AIDS since Friday, with six learners from each of six schools…


On a professional note:

My biggest problem is that as a centre manager one is never really available for oneself. Workload plus the responsibility of managing a centre …


In Group 88 an interesting social interaction occurred around gender in the group that stimulated a number of responses:


Participant A posts:

Hi Group 88, Guys, do you realise that I am the only female in our group?


The mentor responds;

Is this true - are there only TWO females in this group? I am female!


Participant B then posts:

I am also female even though I ride a bike!


At the end of the module Participant A reflects on this interchange:

Everytime I received an e-mail from one of you I tried to form a picture in my mind of you, like when I thought that Bernie is a man.




Participant postings are in the main activity submissions with very little dialogue between group members. There is evidence of participants contributing to knowledge of other group members through structuring their responses in a manner that supports others learning. Social interaction postings are common within the groups and are an important mechanism for social cohesion.

The Group Mentors

In Groups 88 and 72 the mentors have a strong presence, posting a total of 37 messages, compared to seven for Group 54, thirteen for Group 71 and seventeen for Group 110. These are indicated in the table below:




Group 54


Group 71


Group 72


Group 88


Group 110



In groups 72 and 88 the mentor plays the role of initiating discussion, stimulating debate, providing direction, teaching, summarising, providing feedback, helping participants to move through the materials coherently.


At the beginning of the module, the mentor of Group 88 sets the tone by sharing personal details and clarifying her role:


 21 Apri:

My name is …., and I am your mentor for this course. This means that I get the chance to work alongside you and guide you! ….. Remember that I am here to help, so please don’t hesitate to mail me if you have any problems.


Throughout the module, the mentor reminds participants of her helping role and urges them to make use of this:


22 April: Please don’t hesitate to ask for help


In addition she urges participants to assist each other, pointing out the benefits of doing so:

 25 Apr

The part I enjoy most is getting to “know” new people. Maybe because I am away from South Africa, it is even more special for me, but do remember that we are a group and that contact with each other is what makes this so worthwhile. So please don’t hesitate to chat to each other via the mail and share ideas with the group.


On the suggestion of a participant, the mentor then circulates a list of the group members’ email addresses with a note:

Dimitrio came up with a great suggestion: that of having a list of everyone in our Group.

I think it is a great idea to know who is in the group - you will have received individual messages of introduction, which include your email addresses etc. but it might be easier to access a list like this. Sharing with the group is what these modules are all about!


From the beginning of the module, the mentor highlights the importance of managing time by providing the group with a pacing programme. She qualifies this pacing programme by reminding participants that this is a suggestion only ….

It is entirely up to you how you plan to work through the activities. I have suggested some milestones below, but you might like to alter this to suit your work load… My only advice is that you take some time to schedule; I know how many commitments we have as educators and how busy you all are!


In Group 110 the trend is similar. The mentor introduces herself, giving personal information and asks for participants to introduce themselves as,

“The idea is that we work together as a community sharing our experiences and ideas, and I’m sure we’ll find this much easier if we know something about each other.”


She provides a pacing programme for participants with a request for comments and a qualification that participants,

 “may work faster than this, but remember that it is useful to share ideas and experiences with the group as we go along, so working at the same pace as the group is very helpful.”.


She also reminds participants to check their email regularly and urges participants to inform her of any technical difficulties they may experience.


The Group 72 mentor introduces himself, giving some personal information and urges participants to introduce themselves and share ideas. To get participants started he posts a message detailing his progress in the module as if he is a fellow participant, and in so doing establishes a less threatening rapport and environment.

I hope you have started on the CD. I have chosen my topic and made a few questions I want to try to answer. Have you?

I am going to Ask Jeeves tonight about Nelson Mandela. I think you should be working on your first search too.

As the term end nears, he posts a schedule, assisting participants “to avoid rushing activities towards the end of term..”


Concluding Comment

All group mentors initiate their contact through introducing themselves, and thus create a nurturing environment for communication, motivate the group to collaborate and assist the group to manage their time. The Group 88 mentor, in addition, clarifies her role as a mentor.


Group 88 mentor adopts a range of strategies for assisting participants in moving coherently through the courseware and developing the competencies.


She provides a brief orientation to activities:


25 April: Activity 1

You should be starting on Activity 1: Your First Search

Take a look at your CD and follow the instructions. In short you are going to be using the AskJeeves search engine to find information on Nelson Mandela.


13 May: Activity 2

Activity 2 revolves around using Yahoo, which is a subject directory. This information  is on your CD and an example of how to use the categories in Yahoo. I would encourage you all to take the time to read through it carefully.


The mentor also pre-empts possible difficulties by providing unsolicited advice at crucial intervals in the module such as providing direction on how to go about selecting a topic and structuring questions, in addition to the following examples:

24 April: Explains how participants can copy a URL

13 May: Explains the importance of the e diary and gives steps on how to use the e-diary


Consistent behaviours displayed by this mentor are her prompt and highly informative responses to participants postings as reflected by the following examples:


On Google

 29 May

The results I obtained in Google were pretty much the same as those I got on Yahoo. What I cannot understand is that AskJeeves did not give me the same results. Lynne how do you explain that?


Mentor: 29 May

Hi …

AskJeeves has a different technique to search for information. AskJeeves is a natural language search that looks through a knowledge ……


Activity 3-33

20 May

…… when I clicked on the TOWNSHIP link I got a page that says Prism Internet Access and a message that said that the page is not available and “If you feel this page should exist contact the webmaster.”


Mentor response 21 May

Nothing worries me more than this comment “If you feel this page should exist contact the webmaster.” If the site is to be trusted it should always be available!


In addition to the mentor playing the role of teacher, a significant technique adopted by this mentor is her use of participant experiences as a resource for teaching other group members. This may assist group members with developing competency, but further has the effect of making participants feel more part of a group. 


Using Yahoo and the importance of keywords:

15 May

In an e-diary she says:

“ Now that I know how to use Yahoo I actually enjoyed working on the internet because it doesn’t take so long to find what I am looking for.”

Exactly how I felt when I was first taught ……. I think Bernie gives a great explanation below of how she went about using keywords to find information on District 6. Do take the time to read through her explanation!


Activity on Bias

Mentor 28 May

Hello Everyone

I wanted to share my comments with you all!

This is an excellent response from …. She has really explained so well that we have to be really careful when we evaluate information on the internet. The point about who has written the information and why they have published it is very important.


Do read through ….’s letter - if you have not done so already! It is well worth it.


The mentor adds new information to deepen the debate:


On Activity 7: Copying ideas, a participant writes:


 6 June

 … Just between you and me - Why the devil do they make copiers and double-track cassette players or music centres? Isn’t that made for “being a bit skelm”?

…. So when you copy works just include a notice of acknowleding the source of material. Eg a Bibliography and / or quotation marks. Without this, copying works will be regarded as stealing ideas …


The mentor shares this with the group, extends the debate and raises how it can be applied to the classroom context:


6 June

I would like to draw your attention to the activity that Felicity has been working on. It has to do with COPYRIGHT.


I would encourage you all to read the article on the CD about copyright. Felicity is right - we have access to all sorts of equipment that makes copying easy! But we need to be aware (and to teach our learners) that there are very strict laws controlling what we can copy ….

Also encourage your learners to submit work with clear references as Felicity recommends …..


She empathises with and supports participants who feel anxious:


Mentor 24 April

… one of the most frustrating aspects of the internet is as … comments: “It could be time consuming if you don’t know exactly what you are looking for” As we work through the different search engines we will come back again to this problem - and find some ways to deal with it.


Mentor 6 May : Message to late-starter

Hello and welcome

I am so delighted to hear from you! You no doubt have picked up a whole lot of messages and are wondering where to start, but don’t worry - there are quite a few members of the group who are still working on activity 1, so please don’t stress.


I will send another message outlining what you need to do to get started …..


She motivates and acknowledges responses and input, further reinforcing a nurturing environment:


…. came up with a great suggestion …

…If you read ….’s notes you will find she raises two very important points …

… I like your comment that ….

Thanks for your wonderful input

I thought this was a very insightful reply to the ….

I thought I must share a comment with you from D’s excellent response to activity 1 …

This is an excellent response from …..

She exploits opportunities that lend themselves for discussion, debate, generation of interest - gender, advertisements


Of the seventeen mentor postings available to us from Group 110, seven deal with direct feedback to individual participant postings. The remaining postings were mainly to the group and dealt with the following issues:


ˇ      Introduction (1 posting)

ˇ      First steps - (1 posting)

ˇ      Schedule of activities (1 posting)

ˇ      Reminder to check email regularly and report technical difficulties (1 posting)

ˇ      Time Management reminders / Activity submissions (4 postings)

ˇ      Drawing group attention to a participants response (1 posting)

ˇ      Notification of mentor email shut down (1 posting)


The group mentor gets participants started by referring them to the CD and asking them to begin reading information regarding the course framework and requirements. In addition she requests them to choose their topic and questions. Her next message urges participants to speed up their pace as “according to our original schedule we should be half-way through activity 3 by now, and no-one has got beyond activity 1.” 

She diffuses any panic that this may create: “I don’t want anyone to panic about this …..” and acknowledges that ” … the first activity always takes a while as everyone gets used to the whole process.”  She highlights that participants have not completed the first activity as they did not select a topic and thus could not complete the 2nd part of the activity. She, however, provides a strategy for them to rectify this without compromising their current progress: “If I sent you a message about doing the second part of activity 1, don’t worry about doing it, just go straight on with activity 2. However if you haven’t yet chosen a topic please think about it and when you have chosen one let me know. This shouldn’t get in the way of proceeding with the activities - you can do both at the same time.”


In her responses to individual postings, the mentor plays the role of acknowledging input:


20 May

I was very interested to hear of your experiences using Yahoo …


27 May

Your analysis was well done…

Once again well done!

That was very neatly put … I am sending this reply to the whole group again to show how easy this actually is!

Once again a very fair assessment of bias.

Thanks for this - you are on the right track …


She provides new information or clarifies misunderstandings:


Mentor 20 May

… That is main difference between a subject directory search engine and a keyword search engine. They are useful for different purposes…


3 June

You are on the right track, but your findings should be filled in on a table provided and then forwarded to the group. Please do this and send the activity again. I am sending this reply to the whole group as it seems to be quite a common misunderstanding.


Of the thirty seven group mentor postings in Group 72, 79% are pedagogical and the remaining administrative and technical, as indicated in the table below






Total postings






% of total






This group mentor’s pedagogical role falls mainly in the categories of acknowledging responses, confirming receipt of activities, and providing some feedback. It should be noted here that that email from mentors directly to individual participants is not logged or recorded, so the breakdown of support types and pedagogical roles refers to mentor postings to the group only.


Examples of the pedagogical behaviours:


Acknowledging responses and confirming receipt of submissions:


Hi, your comments on credibility safely received. What do other members feel about checking credibility?


Hi! Thank you for sharing with the group your thoughts on determining how credible a web site is. You are going strong. You put reliance on the credibility of the author in the web site.


Hi !

Your comments on Activity 3b received safetly. They are brief, but very much on target. You seem to have taken good advantage of the holiday to catch up. Well done.


Of the activities available to us, only two mentor responses dealt with more detailed participant feedback on activities:


.. Your question is sound. Do go ahead with your searches. I would add that I think you will find you need to tighten up and add somethings when you do the searches E.g. In Business Economics, factors of production will give you a very wide spread of results. When you type in “stabilising the economy” you might find this too vague and need to add +AND South African Rand for example.


… I’m a little surprised at your findings re the search engines. Surely you need to narrow down the keyword search to get a much smaller number of relevant hits, rather than 5000.


There is evidence of the mentor probing further, by asking a question, however we could find only one example of this:


What makes you say the information is accurate about our country?

Please answer, because you must have a reason, and we need to know.


His administrative role deals with issues around time management and adhering to the end of course requirements (module evaluations)


Examples of postings to individual participants:

Hi…… !

Your comments on Assignment 3d received safely. Once again they get to the heart of the matter. Well Done. Do you think you can manage to complete Activities 4 & 5 in time ? Hope so - after your flurry of effort.



Your comments on Activity 3d received safely.

You are working well and are doing good in terms of the overall timing for the module.


Examples of postings to the group:


Below is a suggested schedule I sent out on 26 February to try to help you track your progress. I send it again so you can judge how much you still have to do.

As I am sure you know, term ends in five provinces on 20 March.

This is a friendly reminder to realise that time is limited to do the activities and also share ideas with other members. You have to fill in the self-assessment forms to complete the module.


The end of term looms near. (Do I hear cheers and sighs of relief?) If this has been your first module in the programme, and you are near completion, you can choose another module for next term…..




Mentors in each group play varied roles such as setting the tone for participation, reminding participants of submission dates and end of module requirements, providing feedback, encouraging and motivating participants.


As participation among group members is the main teaching and learning strategy, skilful mentoring is crucial to the mediation of learning. The mentors in the sample groups play varied roles, in varying degrees, such as: setting the tone for a non-threatening atmosphere, addressing participants concerns and anxieties, providing feedback, encouraging and motivating participants.


We did not analyse in-depth the mentor postings in Group 54 as they were to few to provide conclusions. The Group mentor in Group 88 plays additional roles such as providing scaffolds to enable participants to move through the courseware, pre-empts possible difficulties participants may experience in doing activities, and using participant experiences as a resource to support the learning of other group members.


What has emerged from this chapter is that in terms of group member collaboration, interaction was low. However there are indications of collaborative behaviour such as the seeking of feedback, structuring submissions in a way that they could be used as learning tools by others and postings of a social interactive nature. The absence of challenging one anothers’ input may well be as a result of participants unfamiliarity with each other. Perhaps it would help to encourage more social interactions as a way of overcoming this. However, there are indications that participants do interface with other members’ submissions on a private level. This exposure to others’ submissions contributes to an individual’s of knowledge in the module.


Our findings are contextualised and limited by the fact that we have focused on only one module of the EDN programme. In a review of other modules we may well find groups that have developed a better aptitude for collaboration.


We further wish to note that our analysis of email postings is restricted to those available on the EDN database. Emails sent directly from one participant to another, or from participant to mentor, using personal email addresses are excluded from this study. In addition we did not look at attachments sent by group members. These attachments contain a members activity submission. We believe that a study of these attachments, and submissions, may have enhanced the quality of our findings, in particular it may further support our belief that such submissions contributed to an individual’s knowledge construction.


Chapter 4:

Perceptions of Effectiveness


This Chapter draws from interviews and observations and presents perceptions about the extent to which the project has met its objectives. The chapter captures perception about the project in general looking specifically at whether stakeholders understood the purpose of the project, the role of SchoolNet SA, the technical support that SchoolNet SA provided to schools, and the technical and introductory training that SchoolNet provided to educators. The chapter also looks at use of the computers in schools and whether the computers have made any difference in schools.

IS there a common understanding of the purpose of the projects?

We found that although participants, ranging from project managers to principals and computer centre managers do not express their understanding of the purpose, aims and objectives of the projects in similar words, generally, they understand what the projects want to do. Key informants from SchoolNet assert their understanding of the project as follows,

To ensure that they impacted on education in the country by introducing ICTs to disadvantaged schools. They intended to close the gap between rich and poor schools. (Prakash Morar, Project Manager)


Contribute to fulfilling social responsibility obligations by equipping schools with computers and Internet access, providing educator training and technical support to schools (Stephen Marquard, Programme Director)


This is not different from how principals and computer centre managers in schools understand the purpose of the project. This is what some of them said,

The purpose of the project is to bridge the gap. We are living in times of computers. We are living in rural areas and there do not have adequate access to computers. The projects wants to help us join the boat. Every where we go computer knowledge is important (Deputy Principal, Mbuyane Secondary School).


The purpose of the project is to develop the community through computer literacy, to keep the school in contact with other schools through use of Internet and email. The idea is also that we should use the computers to do the administrative duties of the school, (Computer Centre Administrator, Mbuyane Secondary School).


The purpose is to provide technology and Internet facilities to disadvantaged communities to enable schools in these communities to link up with other schools. This is an introduction of future classrooms. We anticipate that in future there won’t be any chalkboard. (Computer Centre Administrator, Chief Jerry Secondary School)



To make computers accessible to everybody – members of the community, children, parents and workers - so that many of our children can be computer literate and be able to compete globally through the technological resources. To equip educators with computer and Internet skills which is a valuable resource. As educators have access to these resources they will be able to access educational resources such as worksheets etc. (Principal, William Pescod)


to make people computer literate. To bring IT to people especially for use in rural areas and we have to make it available to the broader community” (Principal, Pescodia Secondary School).


Empower educators to use computers firstly and then learners. We must also help the community. Later, learners will be able to access the Internet and this will become a research centre once they are able to use the computers correctly” (Principal, Oranje-diamant Primary School)


Although it might not be clear from these quotes, we found from interviews that schools participating in the projects understand that it is expected of them to allow neighbouring schools and community members access to the centres. All the schools that were visited accept this and are prepared to give such access. However the common way through which schools are aiming to give communities access to the centres is through providing computer courses at a cost. Schools see this as a way of raising funds to maintain the computers and sustain the centres. This issues is explored further under project sustainability.

How is SchoolNet’s involvement in the projects perceived?

As indicated in Chapter 1, SchoolNet is responsible for implementing and managing the two projects. According to Stephen Marquard, SchoolNet has been involved in the projects and has helped in ensuring that the ‘projects were soundly conceptualised’. According to Renee Kirkland, Corporate Citizenship Committee Member at Thintana (SBC –1) they chose SchoolNet to manage and implement the Thintana project because, ‘from those that responded to the tender, SchoolNet was the most qualified and were estimated to provide the best delivery for the proposed expenses’. Indications are that Telkom Foundation chose SchoolNet to assist in implementing the project because of SchoolNet’s successful involvement with the Telkom 1000 Schools Internet Project implemented between 1998 and 2000.

Do informants understand SchoolNet’s role?

We found this question important to include in the questionnaire because participants often confuse SchoolNet SA with funders. The specific outputs that SchoolNet has to meet are clearly articulated in the project description in Chapter 2 of this document. There is no doubt about the fact that project managers at SchoolNet clearly understand these. In his response to our question about what SchoolNet intended to achieve in the projects, Stephen Marquard articulated the following as SchoolNet’s important goals in the projects,


ˇ          To ensure that the projects were soundly conceptualised, and that funders’ resources were appropriately allocated to achieve the most educational impact

ˇ          To design and run a school selection process to identify schools where the project was most likely to be successful, i.e. the equipment would be well used and managed, leading to educational benefits for educators and learners

ˇ          To design and implement an effective training and support programme for educators, so that they could get most benefit from the equipment and Internet access

ˇ          To provide effective technical and operational support to schools, directly and through subcontractors


Many informants including project funders, principals and computer centre managers describe SchoolNet’s involvement in the projects positively and think that in general, the organisation has had a positive effect on the projects. These are typical responses,

They (SchoolNet) coordinated the project including evaluation of schools’ applications, working with the provincial bodies to obtain buy-in regarding schools’ selection, delivering PCs and other equipment, developing and providing training and giving technical support (Renee Kirkland, Corporate Citizenship Committee Member, Thintana (SBC-1)


“the role of SchoolNet   is to give us a kick start like a mummy feeding a baby – so that we can learn and be independent to go on our own later.” (Principal, Oranje-diamant Primary)


“SchoolNet administer the whole thing. If you need help then you have to go through them. We got them to thank for our computers. They also have a help desk. They are really organised because any time you phone you will find someone to assist you” (Computer Centre Administrator, Tetlanyo Secondary)


“SchoolNet are our technical supporters. From time to time if we encounter problems those are the people we phone. (Computer Centre Administrator, Chief Jerry Secondary School)


As shown through these quotes, principals and computer centre managers who we interviewed during our visit to schools said that they understand the role of SchoolNet in the project. In fact of the 81 the computer centre managers who responded to our questionnaire 84% claimed that their schools understand the role of SchoolNet in the project. Interestingly, when asked if they thought SchoolNet sponsored the projects, 79% of the computer centre managers agreed that in their knowledge SchoolNet sponsored the projects. This suggests that schools are unable to differentiate between SchoolNet and funders. This confusion could emanate from the fact that when schools have technical problems or need any information relating to the project, they phone SchoolNet’s helpdesk


In general schools know that SchoolNet is responsible for providing technical support, training educators and providing general guidance on how to use the computers.


How is SchoolNet’s Provision of Technical Support Perceived?

Many schools involved in the projects have experienced technical problems. Of the 81 computer centre managers who responded to our questionnaire, 5% said that they did not experience any technical problems. The table below captures some of the technical problems which schools that we visited experienced at the time of the visit:






Mbuyane Sec


1.      Printer did not print graphics.


2.      Server was faulty and 11 refurbished PCs could not work because they depended to the server

1.      Problem had not yet been reported.


2.       The problem had been reported several times. SchoolNet promised to send a technician but that had not yet happened

Insika Sec


1.      One motherboard was faulty.


2.      One screen was faulty


3.      One modem was faulty

1.      Technician was unable to detect the problem


2.      It had not been reported


3.      It had been reported the previous day

Chief Jerry Sec


1. Three PCs not working

1.      Problem reported but not attended to.


Vondlo Primary



All problems sorted out

Qhakaza Sec


1.       Server had been faulty since October 2001 and 10 refurbished PCs could not work because they depended on the server. 

2.       Three of the other 5 new PCs were not working

1.            Problems had been reported to SchoolNet several times with no response



2.            Problems had been reported but had not yet been attended to.

Qantayi Sec


1.      Server or configuration   problems which affected the network hence 9 refurbished computers could not work


1.      Problem reported several times to SchoolNet but had not been attended to.





All problems sorted out

Tetlanyo Sec











1.      Three PCs freeze when being shut down.

2.      Mouse not working in one PC.




3.      Two PCs could not read from server.

1.      Not reported


2.      Helpdesk advised the centre coordinator to clean the mouse. This has not helped.


3.      Problem not yet reported. Centre manager still trying to sort out the problem.


Willam Pescod



All problems had been sorted out



1.      One educator’s email box could not open

2.      One PC not working

3.      Five PCs freeze constantly when in use.

1.      Problem not reported


2.      Problem not reported

3.      Problem not reported


It is clear from this table that of the ten schools that we visited Qhakaza Secondary School, Qantayi Secondary School (both in KZN) and Mbuyane Secondary School (in Mpumalanga), which participate in the Thintana i-Learn project experienced many technical problems. At the time of our visit their networks were out of order. These schools were completely disillusioned and feeling that SchoolNet has deserted them. Their frustration and anger is understandable given that even at the time of our visit (between May and June 2002) their technical problems, which reportedly started late in 2001 had not been attended to and as one computer centre administrator asserted,

I am happy but get very frustrated, as computers are not working as they are. What frustrates me even more is that we continue paying insurance premiums and night watchmen for equipment that we are not using. If SchoolNet was responding on them it would be better. (Computer Centre Administrator, Qantayi Secondary School)

The feeling among computer centre managers and principals in the three schools is that SchoolNet has been too slow to respond to their technical problems.


The table suggests that it is mostly schools that participate in the Thintana i-Learn project that experience major technical problems. Of the ten schools that we visited only one Telkom SuperCentres school complained of SchoolNet being slow to send a technician to install and connect their computers. According to the Science HoD at the school because of the delay, the situation nearly got out of hand at the school when learners threatened to beat the computer educator for continuing to teach them computer theory and not working practically on the computers. They were starting to demand practical lessons more so because their parents have been asked to pay extra money for the computers. In a closer scrutiny of the latter case we found that it was partly the school’s fault that installation took longer to be done. The Science HoD admitted that when computers were delivered at the school, the school had not finished installing electricity as per requirements so technicians could not install the computers. By the time the school had finished installing electricity as per requirements and desperately looking for SchoolNet to install the computers, technicians were already occupied in other schools and as a result they had to wait longer.

A number of reasons could be given to explain why it is mainly Thintana schools that experienced major technical problems. Firstly, as indicated earlier, the company Thintana Communications LLc does not have regional offices that can provide technical support to schools whereas on the other hand Telkom’s regional offices do play an important role providing support to Telkom Schools. Secondly, we observed that of the 15 computers that schools participating in the Thintana project received about 10 computers in each school were refurbished computers used as thin-client terminals, depending heavily on the server. If the server is down nothing can be done with those computers. On the contrary all schools participating in the Telkom SuperCentres project each received 21 new Pentium III computers. An explanation that SchoolNet has provided for technical problems in the Thintana project is that they contracted Sourcecom to procure equipment, deliver and install the equipment in Thintana schools. In turn, Sourcecom sub-contracted other smaller service providers to provide equipment and maintenance services. Unfortunately one of the sub-contractors, SDD, liquidated in October 2001 when the project was halfway with the roll out of computers. According to Prakash Morar, the Project Manager, this problem delayed the Thintana project by at least 6 months.

How helpful is the helpdesk?

Schools know and appreciate the fact that SchoolNet has established a helpdesk, which they can phone anytime they experience problems. Sixty-four percent (64%) of computer centre managers who responded to our questionnaire said that they found the helpdesk, very useful while another 28% said they found it helpful. Only 1% of respondents said that the helpdesk is not so helpful. Some computer centre managers said that they like the fact that the helpdesk often phones them just to check if everything is in order. Computer centre managers in the schools that we visited said that the helpdesk is able to assist them solve minor technical problems over the phone.


The main concern raised though is that in some cases school telephone control measures require educators to make calls from the principals’ office only. This was despite the fact that SchoolNet had initially requested schools to make sure that they have a telephone in the computer centre. Calling from the principals’ office makes the work of the centre managers difficult because whenever they phone the helpdesk in Cape Town, they have to have a computer in front of them so that the person at the helpdesk can assist in solving the problem telephonically. SchoolNet has also noted that there are cases where centre managers end up using their cellphones. In such cases technical support is made unnecessarily complicated and expensive. 

How helpful are technical educators?

Besides establishing a helpdesk in Cape Town, SchoolNet organised and provided technical training for two educators in each school. The training was conducted by NDS using a set of training materials agreed with SchoolNet. After technical training had been conducted in some provinces, SchoolNet redeveloped the training materials with NDS to make them more contextually based and pitched at a more appropriate level. Most of these educators went on to become the computer centre managers and are expected to attend to and solve minor technical problems, manage the network and help register educators on the distance education programme.


As indicated earlier SchoolNet outsourced provision of technical training to NDS. Computer centre managers have mixed feelings about the technical training that they received. More than 80% of the 81 centre managers who responded to the questionnaire described the training positively (65% very helpful and 21% helpful). Four percent (4%) said the training was not so useful while 2% said it was a complete waste of time. However the manner in which those who were not happy about the training expressed their feelings about the training makes it impossible for them to be ignored. For example this is what some them said:

I would like to reiterate the following: The technical training for the 2 educators was pathetic, as the lecturers themselves were not sure of what they were doing. The Training given was not technical but more on computer literacy. When I asked for example, how does one load an image or create an image, they were dumbfound. Nothing technical I believe was gained by any of the educators present…” (Computer Centre Manager from Bishop Lavis Secondary School)


Regarding the “technical training”, the two day course that was offered to us was completely a waste of time. It was never informative as I was expecting. For instance, day 1 was spent showing educators how to save on MS Word. I would be grateful if some extensive training can be given to us … should another technical training be organised, at least, it must be hands on” (Computer Centre Manager, Sinethemba Senior Secondary School)


The training was good, it was too short…its was not a technical training. I need that technical training (Computer Centre Manager, Ukhanyo Sec School)


Those who were happy about the training said that it has enabled them to provide assistance to other educators and to solve most of the minor problems relating to the computers and the network.


Generally, educators that we spoke said that they to found the technical educators very helpful. The main concern though was that technical educators like other educators also have other responsibilities. This in many ways limits their availability to provide adequate support to educators.

How responsive are the technicians?

As indicated earlier schools that experienced protracted technical problems remained unimpressed with SchoolNet’s provision of technical support. This is what some centre managers said,


I am still sitting of a problem of my internet cable thatlead to one comuter is not functioning at all.This has been reported but no response. 4 of my computers donot link with the server and the server seem to freeze when all the computers are in progress (Centre Manager, Sakhile High School)


May SchoolNet persuade Technicians to speedily attend to problems. Time allocated to projects done by schools to be extended. Projects are so invaluable that teachers cannot just be partially trained


Notwithstanding the negative perceptions about SchoolNet provision of technical support, we found that of the 81 computer centre managers who responded to our questionnaire, 73% indicated that technicians responded to their technical problems within a week after reporting. It is worth noting however that of the 81 computer centre managers who responded to the questionnaire, 51 came from schools participating in the Telkom SuperCentres Project while 30 came from Thintana iLearn. This is itself an interesting issue because it is despite the fact that in total Telkom has fewer schools, 100, as compared to Thintana’s 200 school. It also points to a significant difference in the two projects in that the responsibility for onsite technical support for SuperCentres schools rests with Telkom ITX. SchoolNet’s role in this is to be the first line of call via the helpdesk, assist the schools telephonically if possible, and if not log the call and log a call with Telkom ITX on the school’s behalf. Telkom ITX would then attend to the problem onsite. For Thintana schools, the process was the same except that onsite support calls were logged with CS Holdings, which then sent technicians to the schools. Thintana support was complicated by the liquidation issue which affected the supply of warranty replacement parts. In addition, Telkom ITX was contracted by Telkom to provide a greater level of technical support, including regular visits to schools. Centre managers from SuperCentres schools participating in the project confirmed that they received regular visits from Telkom technicians, a resource which Thintana schools did not have. This means that Telkom schools were more likely to receive technical support much quicker than the Thintana schools.

How is SchoolNet’s Educator Development Network Perceived?

The EDN contains various modules provided through distance education methods. Chapters 4 of this report provide a review of the EDN with specific focus on the module Finding Information. Most of the educators that we spoke to, who had completed one or two of the modules were excited about the programme.

What did educators think of the face to face introductory training?

Generally, educators that were interviewed during our school visits were positive about the face to face introductory training which was provided to them before they registered for various modules. Ninety four percent (94%) of the 81 computer centre managers who completed our questionnaire felt positively about the training with 64% describing it as very useful while 30% described it as useful. However, there were cases where computer centre managers and educators felt that the training was not sufficient to enable them to work independently. One centre manager asserted, ‘the trainer did little work then I as a technical teacher have to sit hear with teachers complaining that they know nothing about computers’.

What did educators think of the modules?

Many educators that we observed and/or interviewed informally at the time of our visit to schools indicated that the various modules they had either completed or were registered for were very useful. Many of these educators admitted that they did not know anything about computers prior to the training programme. As indicated earlier 73% of the computer centre managers who responded to our questionnaire said that less than a quarter of educators in their schools knew how to use a computer prior to SchoolNet’s intervention.


Many educators that were interviewed informally during our visit to schools claimed that through participating in various modules of the EDN, they have learned computer skills and this has built their confidence. Many of them also said that they found various modules very useful. Ninety five (95%) of the computer centre managers who responded to our questionnaire also said that they found the distance training useful. Some educators that we interviewed at the time of our visit to schools claimed that they have started using some of the knowledge gained from the modules in their lessons. Some of them asserted,

I have learned to type my own work. I have learned all the basic skills such as inserting footers and headers etc. I was afraid to sit in front of a computer but now I feel confident. Doing the module (Word Processing for Educators) has helped me personally and in my teaching. I am able to prepare activities for my lessons and write letters as well. (Educator, Oranje-diamant Primary School)


I will comment on the recent module, which is spreadsheet. I have learned how to use the spreadsheet as a learning tool. E.g. The learners use the spreadsheet for classroom budget, surveys using graphs and etc. I also use spreadsheet for registration and mark schedules and use it for my personal purposes (i.e. monthly budget, gym timetable). It has made a big difference…” (Educator, Vondlo Primary School)


The module (Questioning Skills) was very challenging but helped me a lot with the types of questioning that included closed and open questions. We seldom ask open questions. Through this module I came to realise that I was keeping my learners behind with the kind of questions I was asking. I am using the skills I have learned from the module in class. My questioning has changed. (Educator, Oranje-diamant Primary)


Even educators who were knowledgeable about computers but had decided to register for modules such as Word Processing and Spreadsheet found the modules useful as some asserted,

I learned a lot. In fact I could say I picked up a whole new world. I was not aware that there were so many things to do with a computer. I fell in love with it. In fact it is a little higher in my list of priorities. (Educator, Oranje-diamant Primary)


When I started, I was already competent with computers because I have my own computer. I could do things like opening and closing. From the module I learned how to use it for my administration work and for streamlining my work – how to create worksheets for learners. (Educator, Oranje-diamant Primary)

What did educators feel about their mentors?

All educators that we interviewed, including those who for various reasons could not complete their modules mentioned that their mentors were very helpful, supportive, encouraging and motivating. Some of the educators said that their mentors provided them with moral support when they experienced family crises.

My mentor responded to all the activities I made and encouraged me in each activity completed (Educator, Vondlo Primary School)


Our mentor was very motivating. He kept sending me compliments on the activities I had completed. He had also asked me to send my activities to the rest of the group but I could not. I thought I would do it but I have actually never done it because at some point I lost my sister and I was really struggling with some of the activities because my mind did not function properly. My mentor understood my grief and he encouraged me to complete the module. (Educator, Oranje-diamant Primary School)

What did educators feel about working with groups?

Educators had mixed feelings about working in groups. Some of the groups were functional while others were not. Educators whose groups were functional said that they enjoyed working in the groups and that they learned a lot from group members.

Our group was functional I received a lot of comments and examples of activities from the group members. (Educator, Oranje-diamant Primary School)


I found it interesting to work in groups. Communication in the group was excellent. I learned a lot especially because there was someone in our group who had very interesting questioning skills. I also think that as a group we got to know each other because at the beginning were asked to introduce ourselves to other learners from other provinces. I think learning through groups served its purpose in fact it was the best thing to happen. If we worked on our own or with the mentor alone it would not have been the same. (Educator, Oranje- diamant Primary School)


Some of the educators said that their groups did not function well. However, even in such cases, educators said that the mentors remained supportive,

The group did not work for me. I never got any responses from the group. I think they had problems. When I tried to go into their files to see what they had done I could not find anything. (Educator, Pescodia Secondary School)


We did not have a lot of interaction from group members however we interacted a lot with the mentor. The mentor was very constructive and was always prepared to help me when asked for help. I managed to complete the module and to register for Questioning and Thinking skills module. (Educator, Oranje-diamant Primary School)

What did educators feel about learning through distance?

Many educators whom we interviewed during visits said that they enjoyed learning through supported distance methods and through computers. Close to 96% of the computer centre managers who responded to our questionnaire agreed that the distance training provided by SchoolNet is useful. Some of the educators that we interviewed claimed that learning through distance enabled them to do activities at their own pace. Most educators also said that given a chance they would continue learning through distance with support.

I think it is a good way of teaching people. You had people to contact and interact with. It was fruitful for me. We learned at our own pace without feeling like someone is looking over you. Even if you made a mistake you could go back and rectify. (Educator, Oranje-diamant Primary School)


I think is has worked well. You came to meet some people through computers – people who are different from you- people from other provinces and we learned from each other. I could even talk to my mentor on personal matters. I am glad we did this. (Educator Oranje-diamant Primary School)


As indicated earlier, mentors played a significant role in providing pedagogical assistance and motivation to educator-learners through email. It also emerged the computer centre managers play an important role providing educators with technical and moral support as some of the educator-learners pointed out,

I have no words to describe it. It was astonishing.  I had no computer knowledge when I started but now I can do most of the things on my own. I am even planning to buy mine. I can only say thanks to SchoolNet, the principal and Mr. Gorrah (the computer laboratory administrator). They have opened our eyes and ears and made it possible for us to learn. (Educator, Oranje-diamant Primary School)


We’re thankful that we have this distance learning, although it is not like having someone next to you whom you can ask now and then when you do not understand. I think it is difficult when in your school there’s no one who is computer literate. In my school we’re lucky because we have an administrator (Buhle) who is good in computers. She helps us a lot. We find that it is easier because we ask her from time to time. That’s why we understand our activities easier. (Educator, Vondlo Primary School).

What were the major challenges and how did educator-learners over come these?

We found that while most of the educator-learners that we spoke to had either completed one or two modules and were keen to continue in the programme there were those who initially showed interest to register in the programme but failed to complete one module. These educators cited various reasons relating to lack of adequate computer skills, insufficient support and lack of sufficient time as causes for their inability to complete modules.

What made me stop was that I did not seem to progress. Due dates were catching up with me. I decided I was not going to finish so I stopped. I also did not have anyone helping me. Kevin (Computer Centre Coordinator) did also not have enough time to help us all. I think the Introductory course should have been given more time to show us how to use email. The gentleman who provided the training did it only for two hours after he had arrived late on the Friday and that was not enough. (Educator, Pescodia Secondary School)


I thought that the module (Web Design) would be more basic but the module was actually heavy and complicated especially with the time frames given. The problem is that children dismiss at 13h30. We have between then and 14h30 to do the work otherwise we have to convince the computer lab administrator to stay longer. On other days for example on Mondays and Wednesday there are Moremogolo computer classes running in the centre. So, I only had Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. We had also planned to come over weekends but never did. I got up to activity 5 and had a problem with activity 6 which had some document in Winzip I did not know what to do so I got stuck. (Educator, Pescodia Secondary School)


Based on what educators that we interviewed said about time constraints, one could have easily concluded time allocated for modules was not enough. Some of the educators we interviewed who had managed to complete more than one module also acknowledged time as the main challenge. They also felt that more time allocation has to be built into the program because educators had many other responsibilities such as extra-curricular activities which competed for the time they should be putting into the programme. Those who managed to complete the modules said that they had to put in extra time to be able to complete the modules as some said,


I agree I also experienced problems with time – especially because we have extra-curricular work - sometimes it is difficult to complete activities in the given time frame. I was fortunate because I had some experience with computers but I would imagine that people without experience found it difficult. Maybe time should be extended a bit. (Educator, Oranje-diamant Primary School)


I worked a lot after school hours. I also used to print out the activities, take them home and look at them by the time I came to the computer centre, I had thought about them. (Educator, Oranje-diamant Primary School).


Interestingly the computer centre managers who completed our questionnaire thought differently about the issue of time. Thirty-five percent (35%) of the 81 centre managers said that from their knowledge more than half educators felt that time allocated for completion of various modules is not enough. Fifteen percent (15%) said that only between a quarter and half of educators thought so. Twenty one percent (21%) of the centre managers said from their observation very few educators felt so while twenty five percent (25%) of the 81 centre managers said that no educator that they knew felt that time allocated for the completion of various modules was not enough.


Forty-two (42%) percent of centre managers who completed the questionnaire identified too many commitments as the reason why some educators were unable to complete even one module. On the other hand thirty one percent (31%) indicated that technical problems were the main cause.

How is SchoolNet’s Communication with Schools Perceived?

It should be noted that this was not among issues that we set out to assess. However it emerged as an important issue. The key question here is, do schools get informed and updated when there are delays in the services that they should get from SchoolNet. Forty six percent (46%) of the computer centre managers who responded to the questionnaire said that they were informed about reasons for delays and kept updated about, 16% said that they were informed about the delay but not updated, 21% said that they were informed of the delays when they inquired, 5% said they did not know reasons for delays at all while 12% said that they did not experience any delays. These percentages suggest that while SchoolNet does communicate with schools whenever there are problems, this area needs to be improved.


According to Renee Kirkland, Corporate Citizenship Committee Member at Thintana Communication LLc, the project funders, knew about the problem of liquidation and were happy to go with the plan that SchoolNet had to resolve the matter. This suggests that SchoolNet dealt with the matter in a professional manner by informing stakeholders about the problems and assuring them that the matter will be resolved.

Are the computers being used?

All schools that we visited were using the computers. Even in schools where for example the network was out of order they still used the individual PCs for various purposes. The following observations provide some evidence of general use of the computers for various purposes,


Some educators use the computers for personal purpose while other use them for administration as in the following cases,

There are two female educators in the computer centre. One is typing minutes of a church meeting. The other educator is assisting the computer centre administrator type mark schedules for the grade 12 learners. (Observed at Mbuyane Secondary School)


10h45:   Two educators enter the computer centre, one is Mr. Nkosi a Mathematics educator at the school. He goes and switches on a computer and opens Excel. He has a list of names of learners and I notice that it’s a mark schedule. Meanwhile the other educator had opened PowerPoint and into Clipart looking for a picture to insert in his document then he opens Solitaire and starts playing the game. (Observed at Chief Jerry secondary School)


They use computers to type tests and memoranda and preparing worksheets,

10h00    : There are four people in the computer centre including the school’s administration clerk, the computer educator and two other educators. The clerk is typing tests for some educators. The other two educators have each opened computers and are typing some documents. One is typing a Seswati memorandum while other one has opened a calculator. (Observed at Insika Secondary School).


10h30: Two learners come into the centre and go and whisper something to the computer educators. They each go and open computers both opening a spreadsheet and start typing. I ask them what are they doing with the computers. They tell me that they are typing class lists for their educators.


They use computers to practise typing skills,

10h35: Another educator comes in, switches on a computer and opens Word. He has a Business Economics textbook open in front of him and he is typing while reading from the book. I ask him what he is doing and he tells me that he is practising typing skills. (Observed at Insika Secondary School)


They use computers to learners basic computer skills,

11h45: A group of learners come for their computer lessons. I am told it’s a Grade 9C group. They all put their books on other tables away from computers.


11h50: The computer educator instructs them to sit down. They sit two learners per computer. The educator reminds them of the steps to open a computer and to get into the Microsoft Word programme.  He asks them to switch on their computers and to type in the password, to move to start, go to programmes and go to Microsoft Word. He then instructs them to type anything they want to type. Learners start typing, some typing their documents in IsiSwati. I ask the educator why he is not giving them the same document to type so that they will be able to use the same document to learn other skills such as cutting and pasting, bolding etc. He tells me that he will be doing that later for now he wants them to learn keyboard skills. Learners continue typing for the remaining part of the period while the educator is walking about attending to those who want assistance. (Observed at Insika Secondary School)


We also observed that educators, particularly those registered and active in SchoolNet’s distance education programme, use the computers to complete various activities and use email to communicate with their mentor and other group members.


While there is evidence to suggest that educators and learners used the computers, we found that most schools were not using the Internet. Where connectivity has been established reasons for not using the Internet varied. The common reason though was that educators and learners were being introduced to computers so they did not possess the necessary skills to use the Internet. Some schools said that they wanted to first develop a policy for Internet use before they allowed educators and learners to use the Internet.


Besides evidence of use as provided above, we observed that while the computer centres remained open during school hours in schools that we visited, few educators came to the computer centre. The most common reason provided was that educators were only allowed to use the computers after school hours. This was done in fear that educators could end up leaving their classes unattended while they are busy on computers. In most cases the same policy applied to learners. They only used the computers when they had computer lessons. In some schools both learners and educators could use the computers during school hours if they could prove that they had free periods and had got permission from the centre administrator.

What difference have the computers made in the schools?

The general feeling among key informants and interviewees in school is that the projects have brought about changes in various aspects particularly in rural areas. Prakash Morar, the project manager at SchoolNet summed it nicely when he said,

the projects managed to deliver to rural schools. They have empowered lots of rural schools in ways that no one could. The projects have opened up a whole new world for the schools and have moved to closing the digital divide.


This statement suggests that through the projects rural educators and learners, who did not know anything about computers got to know computers and how they work. The HoD for Mathematics at Chief Jerry Secondary concurred with the statement when he asserted,

…Some of us only saw computers at the banks and we thought they were bank machines until Thintana gave us these. Then we became aware that this is something that we can use to do our work and find information, we are thankful to Thintana (Educator, Chief Jerry Secondary School)


The project has created excitement, interest and willingness among educators and learners to want to learn the skills of using a computer, as shown below,

It is unfortunate because today its Friday and month end. Most of them (educators) will be rushing to town. You should see them during normal days. When it is time for computers they literally run to the computer centre. Everyone wants to sit in front of a computer. (HOD for Science, Insika Sec School) 



They (learners) need not to be reminded when it is a period for computer lessons. They even complain bitterly when Mr. Nkosi is not available because it means they will not attend computer lessons. Yet they don’t mind dodging to attend other subjects and they don’t complain that much when other educators are not there” (Centre Coordinator, Chief Jerry Secondary School)


Through the projects most educators in participating schools have since learned basic computer skills and were excited about it. Some felt that this had increased their confidence and self-esteem as in the following cases:

I have learned to type my own work. I have learned all the basic skills such as inserting footers and headers etc. I was afraid to sit in front of a computer but now I feel confident…(Educator, Oranje-diamant Primary School)


Others educators expressed their appreciation metaphorically,

I just want to say that I have learned to catch and hold a mouse. (Educator, Oranje-diamant Primary School)


Some educators said they were using computers to prepare worksheets lessons, type tests and examinations and prepare memoranda as indicated below,

The computers have made a difference. I never thought I could use a computer. I thought they were meant for certain people. When they were brought to our school my eyes were opened. I am able to do most of the work on my own. All my examination papers are in the computer and in future I will be able to just retrieve the exam and modify where needs be. (Educator from Tetlanyo Sec School)


If I had it my way I could spent more time in the computer centre. I use a computer for assessment, to do class lists, create worksheets and activities for learners. As you can see I am busy with assessment work. (Educator, Oranje-diamant Primary School)


The centres were not created for schools’ administration purposes. However educators were using these to do their administrative work thus reducing the burden of the administrative staff as the Principal of Chief Jerry Secondary Schools argued,

In the past we used to rely on the administration clerk to type our tests and other materials for teaching. Now educators simply do some of the typing themselves. Some even assist in doing mark schedules. There’s no longer an overload on the administration clerk….


Schools have found that when they use computers to do some of their administrative duties, they required fewer staff members to do the work that normally requires a group of educators, as the computer centre administrator at Mbuyane maintained,

Even in mark schedules, we no longer have to have all grade 12 educators working on the mark schedule. We easily allocate two educators to work on the mark schedules on the computers and let others continue teaching (Computer Centre Coordinator ) 


While what we have presented in this section shows some use of the computers, it is equally clear that it will take time and support for schools to be able to use the computers in the way that is expected of them. What we found is that the use of computers is still limited to using MS Word and Excel. Use of Internet has virtually not started and the main reason given is that educators and learners are still learning basic computer skills.

How are schools going to sustain the Computer Centres

Schools are aware that they need to put in place mechanisms to ensure that they are able to sustain the computer centres when support from Telkom and Thintana comes to an end. The most common plan for sustainability among schools is that of offering computer lessons at a cost for community members. However many had not started putting the plan into practice. Of the ten schools that we visited only one school had started putting such a plan into action. The school is offering an N4 computer course in collaboration with Moremogolo Technical College. At the time of the visit, there were forty learners registered in the course and they had been divided into two groups of 20. Both groups attended on Mondays and Wednesdays with the first group attending from 16h00 to 18h00 and the second group from 18h00 to 20h00. This initiative needs to be followed up to see if it has helped the school.


In some schools educators and learners pay a certain amount if they want to use the Internet. For example at William Pescod Secondary School, both educators and learners had to pay R5 per fifteen minutes or R20 per hour for using the Internet. According to the computer centre administrator, this was done in order to inculcate the culture of payment so that even when the sponsorship has ended – for example Telkom no longer provides the R300 rebates, the school will have money to maintain the computers and sustain the centre. People using the computers for anything other than email and Internet were not required to pay anything other than for printing which costs 50c per page. According to the computer centre managers these fees ensured that people did not abuse the resources in the computer centre. He also pointed out that neither educators nor learners had a problem with paying.


Some schools said that they were planning to open an Internet Café to be used by the community on weekends as a way of raising funds for maintenance of the computers. It is not clear, however, if they clearly understand the concept of Internet Café and how it operates in practice. In the next chapter we consolidate the key findings and draw conclusion.


 Chapter 5:

Consolidation and Conclusion


In this chapter we consolidate issues and make suggestions for areas of improvement based on findings presented in the previous chapters of this evaluation report. We have structured the chapter to respond to a number of questions such as: How was the project conceptualised? How was the project implemented? What are the perceptions of the effect of the project? We also present a summary of key lessons emerging from the projects.

How were the projects conceptualised?

The conceptualisation of Telkom SuperCentres and Thintana i-Learn projects seems to have drawn heavily from lessons learnt from evaluation of the Telkom 1000 Internet Schools Project implemented between 1998 and 2000. In general terms Telkom and Thintana sought to contribute to fulfilling social responsibility obligations by equipping schools with computers and Internet access, providing teacher training and technical support to schools. For Telkom in particular, the SuperCentres Projects has two more explicit goals which are:

ˇ        To improve perceptions of the Telkom 1000 Schools Project by successfully expanding he project in 100 selected schools; and

ˇ        Promote Telkom’s image as a corporate investing in education.


Notwithstanding the technical problems that some schools experienced as indicated elsewhere in this report, generally schools are appreciative of the investment the two companies have put in them. Some of the school based informants asserted:

Thintana has helped us a lot. We are grateful although we have technical problems still, but Rome was not built in one day and perseverance is the mother of success. (Computer Centre Manager, Phendukani High School)


The Telkom SuperCentres Project provided the whole schools with a once in a lifetime opportunity. We are now able to do a number of administrative tasks in a short amount of time. (Computre Centre Manager, Oranje-diamant Primary School)


This evaluation has not set out to compare Telkom 1000 Schools Internet Project with the SuperCentres Projects. However, the perceptions of effect presented in Chapter 4 of this report suggest that if there were any negative perceptions about the former project, the SuperCentres Project has managed to improve these. As indicated earlier, the technical support which the company provides to schools through its regional offices is valuable and has by and large ensured that SuperCentres schools experienced minimal problems. 


The involvement of SchoolNet SA as an experienced implementing agency in the conceptualisation of the Telkom SuperCentres and Thintana i- Learn Projects should be commended because it helped in ensuring that from the onset SchoolNet was clear on what that the projects wanted to achieve. Such a model of partnership should be encouraged to avoid a situation where companies or funders put computers into schools without any clear plan in terms of what they want to computers to be used for and who is going to provide training and technical support to the schools. Involving SchoolNet in the conceptualisation of the projects afforded the organisation the opportunity to advise the funders and to shape the project in terms of what would be possible to do within a given timeframe. The roles of different partners are clearly articulated. The outputs that the projects intend to achieve in terms of the number of schools to be involved, number of computers to be distributed, number of educators to undergo technical training and number of educators to be trained through the distance education programme are clearly spelt out.

Selection of Schools

In conceptualising the projects, it is clear that the issue of context was taken seriously. In order for the projects to yield positive results, this would not only depend on the commitment of Telkom, Thintana and SchoolNet but largely on the commitment of schools. The rigorous school selection process that the project team embarked on was worthwhile. Of particularly importance was inviting schools to submit proposals to show how they intended using the computers, maintaining them and giving access to their communities. This was necessary in order to avoid giving computers to schools that did not demonstrate that they needed them and that did not have any plans to use the equipment. Subsequent to the process it could be said that the project is being implemented in schools that have shown commitment and clear vision to use ICTs. As indicated in our analysis of the context of schools participating in the project (see Chapter 1) we found that many of the schools participating in the projects, for example had functioning management and governance structures in place. Most of them have other technological resources such as overhead projectors and photocopiers which could support use of the computers. While many of them did not have educators with ICT skills, they nevertheless had an ICT policy or plan in place. As indicated in Chapter 1, these are some of the factors that according to Passey can determine the success or failure of an ICT project in schools.

Provision of Technical Support to Schools

Technical support or lack of it, is one of the critical factors that can determine the success of failure of an ICT project. The ways through which SchoolNet has thought of providing support to schools could ensure availability of long-term cost effective support to schools. For example SchoolNet has provided technical training to two educators in each school and has established a helpdesk which the technical educators can phone and be assisted if they have problems before they call technicians. Provision of support through the school-based educator and through a helpdesk which can be phoned or emailed suggests that onsite support, which can be very costly, becomes a last option. This is particularly important in rural areas where there is limited access to IT technicians.   


According to the Project Manager, SchoolNet has arranged to provide schools with technical support until the training of educators has been completed. Schools were made aware before they started participating in the project that this would cost them about R1000 a month as they would have to pay for maintenance of the equipment, security, Internet access and insurance. The idea of informing schools about costs prior to committing themselves to the project was good as it confirmed that only schools committed to use of ICTs would want to be involved. Although this sounds good, we wonder how many of the schools will in reality be able to maintain the computers by themselves and for how long will they be able to do so. While SchoolNet could continue providing support through the helpdesk, the problem will be in cases where a technician is needed and the school has to pay.


Suggested area of improvements:

ˇ        The idea of providing technical training to two educators is good. Perhaps SchoolNet should consider including at least two learners in the technical training who will work hand in hand with the educators.


ˇ        As indicated in Chapter 4, some of the technical educators that we spoke to indicated the training that they received was short. We are aware that in some cases SchoolNet has organised follow-up training sessions for technical educators. These were conducted after our visit to schools, hence we are unable to comment on them. However the idea of providing follow-up training should be commended. We would suggest that there should be more of these so that technical educators are well empowered and are able to provide adequate support to other educators. As Benzie (in Watson 1999: 256) argues, “teachers also need support in a number of ways. They will from time to time need technical help and if this is not forthcoming things will rapidly grind to a halt.”[47] Empowering school-based educators with technical skills can only ensure that educators get the support. 


ˇ        It is widely acknowledged that one or two day workshops are often not sufficient to help people learn. In the same way as various modules are offered through distance education where educators are supported through email, SchoolNet should consider providing a module covering more technical issues. The helpdesk should have records of frequently reported technical issues. For a start a module could be developed based on these issues.

The Educator Development Network

During the Telkom 1000 Schools Internet Project, SchoolNet’s teacher training strategy depended largely on face to face workshops which were not sufficient to provide teachers with the necessary skills. The workshops applied a blanket approach wherein educators with varying competencies in computers attended same workshops and there was no ongoing support built into the organisation’s training strategy.


In this phase, SchoolNet has come up with a differently conceptualised teacher development programme, the Educator Development Network. This new programme comprises various CD based modules relevant for teachers. Ongoing support has been built into the programme in the form of mentors who use email to provide support to teachers registered in various modules. Attempts have been made to create communities of learning by assigning teachers to groups comprised of educators from different schools and provinces. Educators are meant to work together in these groups to share ideas and knowledge using email for communication.   Instead of a one or two day workshop, teachers now have an opportunity to learn a particular module over six to seven weeks. This model is largely regarded as an innovative way of developing teachers from schools participating in the project and has potential to be used widely in South Africa. Its strength lies in the fact that it caters for different needs of educators. For example, educators who are new in the use of computers can register for a module on Word Processing which takes them through the basics of how to use a Word Processor to prepare worksheets. Experienced computer users can either engage with higher levels of using Word Processor or skip this module and register for Finding Information. As indicated in Chapter 4 of this report most educators are happy with what they have learned from the modules and some of them claimed that they are using in their lessons the knowledge they have gained through participating in the various modules. Educators who have participated in the programme are particularly appreciative of the support that mentors provide.   


While there seems to be enough evidence to suggest that the EDN works perfectly, there are various aspects relating to this programme which could be improved. These include the following:


Issue 1: While educators are generally happy with the face to face introductory training that precedes registration into various modules, there are indications that in some cases educators find the training too short to develop in them the skills that they need to participate effectively in the programme. Where such teachers can not get sufficient support from the school-based technical educator, they struggle to complete the activities and then drop out. 


Suggested area of improvement:

ˇ        In the first option SchoolNet should consider organising follow-up sessions soon after the initially introductory course. This will assist in deal with uncertainties which teachers might have and build their confidence. This would be costly.


ˇ        In the second option it is necessary to create space for technical educators to provide adequate support to other educators. This could mean relieving technical educators of some of their responsibilities in the school by, for example, giving them fewer classes to teach. Indications are that where the technical educator has time to provide adequate support to educators, they find it easy to go through the modules. Obviously the decision to relieve the technical educator of some of their responsibilities is beyond the power of SchoolNet. The best SchoolNet can do is engage education officials, the principals and the school management team on this matter. As Benzie (in Watson, 1999: 256) would argue relieving the technical educator might depending on the “attitude” of the principal.[48] He argues that,


the attitude of the principal towards innovation is the single most important factor in determining adoption. For this reason it is imperative that designers of innovation programmes seek to win over this critical group. 


Issue 2: The idea of creating communities of learning and encouraging collaboration by assigning educators to groups is good. However while some educators have indicated that their groups have been effective there are those who have said that their groups have not been functional. There are a number of reasons why educators are not participating in groups as expected. The main issues that some have complained about is time. They argue that they have many other responsibilities and therefore are unable find time to comment on other colleagues’ activities. Those who sent activities to the group get discouraged because they do not get feedback and then they stop sending activities around.


The problems that have prevented SchoolNet’s distance learner-educators from participating fully in online group discussions are not unique to them. Creanor (2002) found that other factors that prevent full participation in online discussion include the fact that students often find when they are in the programme that they under-estimated the among of time that would be required to complete activities and participate meaningfully in group discussion. Students often get little support, if any, from employers and other colleagues. In some cases students tend to prioritise personal or work related responsibilities instead of participating in group discussions. She suggest that online tutors or mentors in the case of SchoolNet should play a bigger role in terms of instigating discussions.[49]


Suggested area of improvement:

ˇ           Many people seem to still believe in formalised programmes leading to qualifications. SchoolNet should consider getting the modules to be accredited by the South African Qualifications Authority. This would motivate learner-educators to take the programme seriously with all its requirements.


We make this suggestion within a clear understanding that participation in an online course could be, as Creanor (2002) noted, very unpredictable. This means that the fact that the course leads to qualifications does not automatically mean that there will be active participation in group discussions. However, in her comparison of participation in a formal online course leading to qualification and an online course that did not lead to qualifications Creanor (2002) found that there was 95% participation in the former and 17% participation in the latter. Creanor was comparing a MSc in Lifelong Learning offered by the Glasgow Caledonian University and a European Trade Union Distance (ETUDE) Education course, trade union course co-ordinated by various institutions in Europe. Her findings were despite the fact that participants in ETUDE had had an opportunity to meet one another in an initial face to face workshop which orientated them into the programme whereas on the contrary, most of the participants in the MSc LL had never met one another.[50] 


ˇ           Notwithstanding the advantages of creating online communities of learning we suggest that SchoolNet consider[S3]  starting with pairs of people, particularly from same geographical background to work together and use this as stepping stone towards building larger communities of learning. This could help in systematically desensitising learner educators so that they are open to working in groups and sharing ideas.


As indicated in our analysis of participation in the module Finding Information, indications are that learners-educators found it difficult to participate at the beginning but once they break the ground they are able to maintain their participation. Creanor (2002: 59) found that this is because ‘their peers are unknown to them at this stage and they are unsure of the level of contribution required.’ She also found that language was one of the main factors that prevented ETUDE learners from participating to the maximum. Although these people could speak English, Creanor argues that some of the students in ETUDE were reluctant to express themselves publicly in written form and that they did not have the written language skills or technical vocabulary to allow them to express their views in any depth.[51]


This evaluation did not look into possibilities of language as a barrier to learner-educator participation. However this is an issue that should not be ruled out and should be taken cognisance. It was also not a brief of this evaluation to compare completion rates in the EDN’s distance modules with completion rates in other programmes in South Africa. However, we think that it is an area worth looking at.

How have the projects been implemented?

How projects are being implemented is usually informed by how they have been conceptualised. Most of the technical issues that needed to be done have been done. Schools have been selected, all kinds of training have happened including training of trainers, technical educators and mentors. SchoolNet continues to provide the distance education programme which had been delayed by technical problems.


It has emerged though that in the implementation phase the roll out of equipment in particular has not been easy. There have had to be changes and new additions because some of the schools that had been initially selected could no longer participate in the projects. There have also been thefts of equipment. The Thintana i-Learn  report shows that equipment was stolen in eight schools. There is nothing that SchoolNet or schools themselves could have done to stop theft of equipment. The best that a school can do is install burglar guards, tie up the computers with security cables, install security system and hire night watchmen. These however do not provide any guarantee that equipment will not be stolen. SchoolNet did enough to advise schools that had been selected to put in proper security systems and insure the computers. Hence schools that had insured their computers had them replaced by the insurance companies.


It was thoughtful on the part of SchoolNet [SCM4] to outsource the technical aspect of the project to Sourcecom to procure, deliver and install the equipment in schools. Sourcecom in turn subcontracted other smaller service providers to provide other equipment and technical support. One of these companies, SDD, liquidated. According to the Thintana i-Learn Project Manager, SchoolNet’s decision to outsource to Sourcecom worked well in this case, because when SDD liquidated, Sourcecom assumed the risk and had the resources and capacity to deal with the problem.


The liquidation of SDD is probably the single blow that resulted in protracted technical problems in the Thintana schools. This resulted in delays in the provision of training for technical educators and provision of the distance education programme.[SCM5]  The liquidation of the company is another factor which SchoolNet could not have had any control over. The best that Schoolnet could do was to make sure that all affected schools were informed of the problem and kept updated. Most schools and the project funders agreed that this was the case. However there are also schools that indicated that they were only informed after they enquired and were not kept updated of developments.


While the liquidation of SDD brought about serious problems for Thintana schools, Telkom Supercentres schools ran efficiently by and large. Telkom procured the equipment themselves and delivered in schools. The involvement of Telkom regional offices in the provision of technical support to schools seems to be the single most important factor that has enabled Telkom SuperCentres schools to function more efficiently. This is notwithstanding the fact that the project equipped the centres with new equipment as compared to Thintana project that used refurbished computers as well.


However a general feeling within SchoolNet project managers is that from a management point of view, it was easier to manage the Thintana project than it was to deal with the Telkom Project. This is because as indicated earlier in terms of contractual agreements SchoolNet had overall control of the management and implementation of the Thintana project. This made it possible for SchoolNet to take decisions where appropriate. On the contrary, with the Supercentres project SchoolNet did not really have powers to take decisions.[SCM6] 


Clearly some of the implementation issues that have not gone according to SchoolNet’s plan, are largely issues that were outside of SchoolNet’s control.

What have the projects achieved?

It is clear from Chapter 4 that although a majority of schools participating in the projects claim to understand the role of SchoolNet in the project, they tend to confuse SchoolNet with sponsors. This is understandable though because Schools communicate with SchoolNet more often than sponsors. However if SchoolNet strongly feels that it does not want to be confused with sponsors then the organisation needs to find a way of making this clear to school.


The chapter has also shown that by and large all informants ranging from project funders to ordinary educators in schools found the projects worthwhile. Schools have found SchoolNet’s helpdesk particularly helpful. There is also evidence to suggest that computers are being utilised although some schools have said that learners in their schools do not as yet use the computers.


Generally there is acknowledgement that although schools have not yet started using Internet that much, the computers are starting to bring about change in the way educators do their work. Some of them claimed that they use the computers to capture learners’ marks, prepare worksheets, and type tests and memoranda. This is where educators have to start. They can not be expected, having just been introduced to computers to start using the equipment in any sophisticated way. What is of importance though is that schools are able to maintain the computers and ongoing support is provided to educators on how best to use the equipment. There is no doubt that through the Educator Development Network, SchoolNet has already laid a solid foundation and charted the way forward in terms of how teacher development should be done.


The issue of sustainability is of particular concern. Some of the principals that we spoke to have also raised concerns about whether they will be able to sustain the project post Telkom and SchoolNet support. They indicated that there is an  increasing numbers of parents who are unable to pay schools fees for their children. Some of the plans that schools say they have in place to sustain the projects are questionable. For example some schools have said that they want to establish Internet cafés. It is not clear however if they have done any research about the viability of such venture.  Some are making teachers and learners pay for the use of Internet for personal reasons.

Lessons emerging from the projects

The way the projects were conceptualised and ultimately implemented presents a number of lessons. Most of these lessons are more for other project funders and implementing agencies than for Telkom, Thintana and SchoolNet because we think that in these project these partners got most of the basics right. The lessons can be summarised as follows include the following:

ˇ        Ensure proper partnership between project funders, implementers and where possible evaluators in the conceptualisation phase. This will help in ensuring that project purpose and objectives are clear to all parties.

ˇ        Selection of schools that show commitment in an ICT project and building technical capacity within the school is vital. This could increase the life span of a project

ˇ        Provision of technical support through decentralised structures is important as it ensures that problems are attended to much quicker. Its weakness though is that it makes it impossible to monitor service delivery on national scale.

Limitations and Issues for Further Research

There a are aspects of the projects which this evaluation did not follow up in detail. As indicated earlier it was not in the brief of this evaluation research to compare in any detail participation and completion rates in SchoolNet’s distance education modules with those of other institutions. It has emerged that the Thintana iLear and Telkom Supercentres were two projects which although had many similarities, also had differences. Whereas SchoolNet was wholly responsible for management and implementation of the iLearn Project, the arrangement was different with Telkom. The evaluation research did not look at the cost implication of these different arrangements. To some extent the research highlighted concerns in relation to ability of schools to sustain the computer centres. We think that there will need to be another follow up research after two to three years. Such research will help interested parties find out how many schools have been able to sustain their centres. Most important will be to find out methods and strategies that those schools would have used to sustain their centres.

[1] Keohane, R.O., King, G. & Verba, S. 1994. Designing social inquiry - Scientific inference in qualitative research. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

[2] Bryman, A. 1988. Quality and quantity in social research. Boston: Unwin Hyman.

[3] Macun, I. & Posel, D. 1998. ‘Focus Groups: A South African experience and a methodological reflection’. In: African Sociological Review. Vol. 1 no. 2 p. 129.

[4] Bell, J. 1993. Doing your research project. Buckingham: Pen University Press

[5] Ibid page 91

[6] Hartley, J.F. 1994. Case studies in organizational research. In: Cassel, C. and Gillian, S. (eds). Qualitative methods in organizational research - A practical guide. Sage Publications: London

[7] Ibid.

[8] Haralamobos, M. & Holborn, M.  1995. Sociology - Themes and Perspectives. London: Collins Educational

[9] Bell, J. 1993. Doing your research project. Buckingham: Pen University Press

[10] Haralamobos, M. & Holborn, M.  1995. Sociology - Themes and Perspectives. London: Collins Educational

[11] Yin, R.K. (ed). 1982. Case study research. Newbury Park: Sage

[12] Bell, J. 1993. Doing your research project. Buckingham: Pen University Press

[13] Patton, M.Q. 1990. Qualitative Evaluation and Research Methods: 2nd Edition. Newbury Park: Sage Publications, Inc

[14] See minutes of Thintana Internet for Schools Project: Project Steering Committee meeting held on 09th June 2000.

[15] Agreement between Thintana Communications LLc and International Development Research Centres, 18 April 2000

[16] IDRC Invitation to Tenders for the supply, installation and commission of computer equipment for the Thintana I-Learn Project managed by SchoolNet SA, 26 February 2001.

[17] SchoolNet. 2000. Proposal to Telkom Foundation for the Implementation of the Telkom Super Centres Project, 19 September 2000, revised 07/2000

[18] See Annexure A: Deliverables for the Telkom Project, p.3 (No date) and For the Thintana project see Agreement entered into by and between SchoolNet SA and Schools (no date)

[19] Minutes of meeting of the SuperCentres Steering Committee of the 07th December 2000

[20] Annexure C: Service Level Agreement Between Telkom, SchoolNet SA and Dell.

[21] See Tender Description: Thintana I-Learn project – Contract entered into between IDRC and SourceCom Technology Solutions and Agreements between SchoolNet and Schools

[22] See Telkom Internet Project-Phase Two SuperCentres: Report to the Steering Committee, 11th April 2001.

[23] See Telkom Internet Project – Phase 2 SuperCentres: Report to the Project Steering Committee, 05th June 2001.

[24] Email response from Janet Thomson

[25] See minutes of a meeting of the Thintana I-Learn: Project Steering Committee, 04th August 2000

[26] See Selection of Schools for the Telkom SuperCentres Project, no date – This is an example of letters sent out to schools that had been selected.

[27] Annexure C: Service level agreement between Telkom, SchoolNet SA and Dell, no date.

[28] Telkom Internet Project: Phase 2 SuperCentres Project – an example of letters written to schools that had been selected for the projects.

[29] See letters sent to Schools and the attached additional information sheets

[30] See Agreement entered into by and between Telkom SA Limited and Schools and an Agreement entered into by and between SchoolNet SA and Schools

[31] See Thitana I-Learn Project: Project Steering Committee meeting minutes of the 02 November 2001

[32] Service level agreement between Telkom, SchoolNet SA and Dell (no date)

[33] Agreement entered into by and between Thintana Communications LLc and the IDRC, 18 April 2000

[34] Thintana I-Learn Project: Tender Description: Contract signed 29 April 2001

[35] Additional Information Sheet sent to schools

[36]  The additional modules are being produced as an extension of SchoolNet’s collaboration with the SCOPE project in the Department of Education and SAIDE, with funding from the Royal Netherlands Embassy and SCOPE.

[37]  South African Cooperation Programme in the Education Sector

[38] Vincent Tlhoale who ran a workshop at Solomon Mahlangu Secondary School on the 09 February 2002. 28 educators had attended the workshop

[39] Comment from Janet Thomson

[40] Leonard Sidimela who ran a workshop at Amogelang Secondary School on the 28th July 2002. Sixteen educators attended the workshop.

[41] Cara Piterse who ran a work at Itshepeng High on the 01st February 2002. 16 educators attended the workshop

[42] Cara Piterse who ran a workshop at Tong Comprehensive School on 04 August 2001. Seventeen educators attended the workshop.

[43] Mmoni Morapedi who ran a workshop at Eketsang School on the 28th July 2001. Seventeen educators attended the workshop

[44] Yvonne Makhafola – ran a workshop at IR Lesolang High School on the 02 Feb 2002. 33 educators had attended the workshops.

[45] See Letters sent to selected schools: Additional Information Sheet

[46] See Thintana I-Learn project: Report to the Project Steering Committee, 03 November 2000

[47] Benzie, D. 1999. ‘Formative Evaluation: Can models help us to shape innovative programmes?’ in Watson, D.1999. Education and Information Technology 4:3 (1999): 251-262. Dordrcht, Netherlands, Kluwer Academic Publishing.

[48] Ibid

[49] Creanor,  L.2002. ‘A tale of two courses: a comparative study of tutoring online’ in the Journal of Open and Distance Learning vol 17. No: 1, 2002. London, Carfax Publishing

[50] Ibid

[51] Ibid

 [S1]Not reversed – relaxed in exceptional cases where the schools were populated with learners from previously disadvantaged backgrounds

 [SCM2] There was at least one major problem in rolling out infrastructure, viz. the liquidation of SDD and Memtek.

 [S3]We are thinking of one of your earlier suggestions of establishing geographically situated communities of practice before widely distributed ones., especially as many provinces are adopting the cluster systems of computer roll out.

 [SCM4] In fact much of the key technical R&D work relating to the configurations was performed by SchoolNet. SN also worked closely with Telkom ITX and all of the Sourcecom subcontractors to ensure that the supply-chain process operated smoothly, and that subcontractors understood their roles and how to carry them out.

 [SCM5]That statement is far too generalised to be valid.

 [SCM6] This is to general to be valid. SchoolNet deliberately assessed typical problems that could have occurred with refurbished computers, and adopted strategies to avoid them, such as using refurbished PCs as thin-client workstations, ensuring that all of the computers were of no more than 3 different brands, that workstations could be reimaged from servers, and that they were covered by warranty.