Guest post: A Pi lab in rural Ghana

Liz: This post comes from Heather and Trevor Grant, who work with a student-led charity called The Best of Both, based at the British School of Brussels. Thanks both! 

For the past five years The Best of Both initiative has worked with state-sector rural schools around Bolgatanga in the Upper East of Ghana to help improve access to water, food – through school gardens – and educational resources (books and access to ICT).  Last year, computer labs based on NComputing technology were installed at two schools. This year a Raspberry Pi solution has been installed at Dachio Primary and JHS Schools.

Three weeks ago the intended computer room looked like this:

After meeting with the headmasters, parents association and Regional Assembly representatives, the room was rapidly transformed with electricity being installed, walls plastered and painted, and desks and chairs promised for the computer lab.  Before the new computer desks arrived the teachers gave up their desks so that an initial installation of the system could take place.

6 Raspberry Pi’s have been installed and networked via a switch to a wireless router.  One of the Raspberry Pi’s is a dedicated RACHEL educational server. [Liz: you can learn more about RACHEL, World Possible’s Remote Area Community Hotspots for Education and Learning, here. World Possible are using Pis as servers for materials like textbooks, Khan Academy videos, health guides, world literature e-books, encyclopaedias and much more – we’ve been very excited to learn about what they’re doing.]

The initial feedback from both teachers and pupils on the RACHEL material has been great. They can see that they have access (on the Raspberry Pis, on Android tablets and even on the headmaster’s smart phone!) to a huge amount of content without having to rely on poor and expensive internet connectivity. Also attached to the switch is a Windows 7 desktop which will be used eventually as a gateway to 3G internet access as performance improves. The Raspberry Pi clients are using DVI monitors purchased in Accra together with HDMI to DVI cables, keyboards and mice.  The monitors were not easy to find and further additions will probably be based on HDMI to VGA converters so that locally sourced cheap screens can be used.

All the Cat5 cable crimping, keyboard configuration and user security set-up was done by Genesis Abaa, a young guy from Bolgatanga who spent every Sunday with me learning together about Raspberry Pis.  Genesis is now looking for more projects where he can help install Raspberry Pis, RACHEL servers, and network with the Raspberry Pi community.

The new ICT lab is all about access in a practical way that will work at this rural state school. Children can experience use of the computers whilst others watch until it is their turn. Parental support to help fund ongoing maintenance (electricity, light bulbs etc) is important and being able to get a group of parents in the room is important.

The parents were amazed at the handover ceremony when they were shown the Raspberry Pi.

A RACHEL Pi  server has also been installed at the Bolgatanga Ghana Education Service so that other teachers can see what is possible and make use of RACHEL as a resource.  A further RACHEL Pi server has been installed at TRAX, a local NGO that provides local support to the British School of Brussels. Trax is focused on rural community development, and it will be interesting to see how the healthcare material included with RACHEL can be used.

Thanks to Norberto Mujica and Jeremy Schwartz for their help with RACHEL.  Thanks to the Raspberry Pi Forum.  Through this amazing support resource I made contact with Luis Jose Marmisa Gazo.  Without the help and guidance from Luis we would probably have never found a way to get the Raspberry Pis onto the internet in Ghana using an XP laptop and 3g dongle.  Thanks to Geert Maertens for sharing the learning from his team working with St Marcellin Comprehensive College in the Cameroon.  Thanks to our friend Ben Laryea who showed us most of the ICT shops in Accra as we went in search of monitors.  Thanks to Genesis Abaa for his help in setting up the system – building local capability to install, support and train is even more important than the physical provision of the computers.  Thanks to Vincent Subbey from TRAX for allowing us to turn part of his house into a test lab before we installed at the school. Thanks to Nick Lavender and the students and staff from the British School of Brussels for their support throughout the project.

43 comments

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More power to the children in this world. Reach for the stars. But, don’t hack the planet.

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The Raspberry Pi story just keeps getting better!

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Totally Awesome!

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So when climate change wrecks agriculture in the next few years, the subsequent famine wipes out cities and consequently the Internet goes down, there will still be solar-powered repositories of knowledge around the place, frozen in time.

Perhaps we are not in the future’s dark ages after all.

:-)

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Remember where Asimov’s First and Second Foundations were located in anticipation of the collapse of the Empire, ” … at opposite ends of the galaxy … ” ;)

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There is no Second Foundation… ;)

Excllent project this. I’ve been thinking that the Pi is pretty well suited to working in less than optimal environments (low power, generates little heat, lack of whirring parts, easy to case in IP65 or better to keep out dust and humidity, etc). Well done to the people involved.

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Thanks, Colin. It’s still new and in testing phases but we have had a somewhat higher than expected SD card failure rate in some locations. It’ll be great to continue to get feedback on RACHEL deployments!

Best,
Jeremy

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Does South-West Wales count as the opposite end of the galaxy? We’ve just moved from flakey 3G dongle to wireless point-to-point (which doesn’t work in fog). I’ll start saving for a 32GB SD card for the dark days…

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Hope you mean literal dark days! The RACHEL Pi is great for back-up resources on those down internet days. I keep one in my car attached to a small rechargeable battery just for kicks (sure I’m biased). They can also get powered from cigarette lighter micro usb chargers. Totally off topic, but you know, we’re just excited about the possibilities!

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so those kids are probably already running rings around their equivalent age group back here in the UK.

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Great improvement, except now they have to stand! What happened to the chairs?

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That’s economics for you. The Pi’s cost less than chairs, so the next thing the donors will have to save for will be wooden chairs so they can sit at their computers.

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8 solid wooden chairs and desks with drawers were provided by the Regional Assembly. These arrived on the day of the handover ceremony and so do not figure in the photos. But you raise a real issue. Getting desks and chairs is not easy. In the Primary School years 1, 2 and 3 (with class sizes of 60 – 70) the children have no desks or chairs.

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This makes me really excited to see! I’ve just started work on a children’s home in Sophiatown in Johannesburg (Where I live). The obstacles we face are far less, as there is already electricity and a landline that can be upgraded to an ADSL line. I’m hoping to install Raspberry Pi workstations, both to help the kids at the home, as well as to act as a case study to see how it can be used in other underpriveleged areas.

I’ve registered a domain, piforthepeople.org, where I’ll post updates as I have them!

Great work, The Best of Both! A real inspiration!

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Best of luck! Let us know if we can be helpful providing back-up RACHEL servers there! We have some deployments just south of you in Cape Town we can connect you with also!

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That’s AMAZING! at last a low cost project to allow ICT to enter rural remote areas.
Thank You Pi.
RACHEL ; hats off!

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Thank you! Feel free to join our mailing list and spread the word! World Possible and RACHEL is funded entirely by $2/month donations from people like the folks here!

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Love it! Projects like this reveal all the possibilities of the raspberry pi as an educational platform.

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Genesis Abaa or anyone:

Can you share with us the total cost to set up the 6 Raspberry Pi, cable and the router etc. cost? Thanks

Dula
.

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Costs (in £) were:
7 RPi’s (one spare in box) 210
Cyntech cases with SD covers 54
6 8Gb SD cards (one spare) 48
1 32GB SD card for RACHEL 35
6 chargers (1 spare) 42
5 keyboards 65
5 mice 50
TP-Link router 35
TP-Link switch 9
5 HDMI-DVI cables 20
5 DVI 20″ screen (sourced in Accra) 600
Cat5 cable (30 mtrs sourced in Accra) 20
RJ45 connectors & covers 10
TOTAL 1198

Need to manage down these costs. Next time VGA screens + HDMI/VGA adapters (these are expensive but less than the DVI screens + cables). Other peripherals could be sourced a bit cheaper.

Hope this helps.

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Did you implement sound on your workstations either via separate speakers or did the monitors have speakers?

Could you have got by with a switch with more ports or are you relying on the router to hand out IP addresses rather than the Rachel server?

Great stuff! I have extended family in some villages in Nepal. This would make a great project.

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can you give me your contact info
E-Mail and phone #?
We are thinking to same thing in Nepal and we are going to Nepal next month from USA to Nepal

So we can share this project in Nepal

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We’re launching a forum on WorldPossible.org this week as a place to congregate for these discussions. Could be invaluable to share best practices there! Please feel free to join our mailing list for forum updates, but it should easily come this week!

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Are the EU prices that much more expensive then US prices?

I bought my 8gb microsd card with sd adapter for 2$ and my 32gb microsd + adapter for 15$

chargers are around 2-5$ each.

mouse + keyboard combo is like 7-10$

20 monitor is around 115$ with hdmi (probably much cheaper on a deal) and hdmi cables go for 1.50$ each.

So there is definitely room for cutting costs. Though the biggest expense seems to be the monitors. Someone should really work out a project similar to RaspberryPi but to create cheap low power monitors.

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I’m guessing they probably paid a bit more for brand-name products rather than just buying the cheapest products they could find on ebay. When you’re in the middle of rural Ghana, reliability is probably more important than price.

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The products I mention are brand names. SD card was samsung and adata. monitor was Asus.

And I would hardly call TP-Link a brand name.

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i buy your point, but i think it depend on were you are doing the project because Mr Trevor did the project in Ghana so he have to buy the screens in Ghana because he need cut down cost of transportation and duty at the port.

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thanks Mr Trevor for providing the price for me i am grateful.

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We highly recommend SD card speeds of at least 45MB/s also. Just something to keep in mind with multiple users, the SD card appears to be the limiting factor for speed.

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Wow! Kudos to the initiators and Genesis. Ghana is alive! How do I get in touch with Genesis? I would like to be a part and help Genesis out to learn more and work on awesome projects.

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yeah, i am at the north of Ghana upper east region bolga and you can contact me on 0242355659 or 0209380037

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Africa does not want computers they want infrastructure for water and agriculture. They do not want to have their families destroyed by the computer like in the west. They do not need televisions and all the claptrap Westerners think is normal, but it is NOT! All they need is a paper and pen and thus no dependency on electric which will be used to enslave them to vile system run by The Worshipful Company of Mercers and the City of London Corporation. Do not help the transhumanism agenda it is not evolution it is very much the opposite and the destruction of the human.

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I would think that these students might learn how to build the infrastructure for themselves. Knowledge is power.

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Ironically, you used the evil internet and computers to post this. What’s good for you isn’t good for everyone else?

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Craig, what do you want? Leave the people of African uneducated, so that they will continue to provide their agricultural products to the West at prices that are way too low? Ensure that they continue to be an easy prey for malicious companies that seek the big profit?

I share the view of Homer Hazel: Knowledge is Power!

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Hello Trevor and Team,
Great Work.. I was born in Kenya but moved to the US when I was 8 years old.. 25 years Later, I am planning on taking my 1st trip back home July 8th 2013 for a month. I was looking for a project to do when I got there to start in my grandmothers village to give back and your project is exactly what i had in mind.

Initially before reading your story I was thinking about setting up google Chromebooks and finding internet access but I’ve found that net access is very tough in that rural part. Please contact me because I would love to gain any help on how to duplicate this project there as well..

GodBlessThankYou@gmail.com if you and anyone else who would be willing to help me understand a great way to map this out so I can get it done.

I’m only one Man with my wife and my 1 year old son.. This is a project I would like to do for a people in a community that never had the opportunities I did because I almost grew up as they are and I just want to go back and give a blessing any way I can even if it’s with 1 or 2 Pi setups to begin with. My journey is at http://www.ThankYouGodBless.com and I’m looking to set up a non profit soon to go back and forth.

– Stan

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Hi Stan,

We’d love to help. Please e-mail me. Jeremy@worldpossible.org.

Best,
jeremy

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Hi,
I am in Kenya. I just called a contract to do a computer lab for a private primary school (Buruburu) in line with digitization by the government next year. I had initially settled on using thin client technology but after seeing the Rasberry Pi, i have changed that and will be using it for the project. You can contact me when you get to Kenya and we can set up the same at your rural home.

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I am a former Peace Corps volunteer who worked in electric power. How do you power the computer lab? See Scratch electric power grid of NM USA.
http://scratch.mit.edu/projects/718595/
Can you suggest an electric power solution for a rural school computer lab using Raspberry Pi.

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Henry,

We’d love to have you join a discussion on our coming soon forum at WorldPossible.org. We’d like to collect best practices for remote computer labs there.

Best,
Jeremy

jeremy@worldpossible.org

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Thank you all for the support and real work being done by our implementation partners around the world. We’re always looking for people to help us develop RACHEL, please don’t hesitate to get involved with us!

Best,
Jeremy
jeremy@worldpossible.org

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Just wanna say that you guys are doing wonderful job. keep it up.

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Just want to Congratulate you guys on a great project!!. I think Ghana has so much potential and you people are empowering the next generation!

I was Born in Ghana (Accra) and moved to England as a kid. I work as a software engineer. However, I would love to get involved with a project like this. But setting up home with my wife gets in the way!!!

Please keep us updated.
Kwadwo

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