Mpumalanga set to benefit from Digital Doorway ICT project


Computer literacy in Barberton, Mpumalanga, is set to improve even further with the opening of another Information and Communication Technology (ICT) facility at eMjindini Public Library.

Deputy Minister of Science and Technology, Derek Hanekom, is to open the Digital Doorway project there.

The public library already boasts a digital village with 17 computers linked to the Internet. Adding a component such as the Digital Doorway is envisioned to boost computer literacy there.

The Digital Doorway is a joint initiative between the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the Meraka Institute and is aimed at making a fundamental difference to computer literacy across the country.

The Meraka Institute - a national research centre managed by the CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) - has been responsible for the early development and implementation of this DST-funded project.

The project seeks to improve computer awareness and literacy, enable end-users to interact with technology on their own terms and transfer learning to communities.

Project leader at the Meraka Institute, Ronel Smith, says the installation of this facility in Barberton is part of the second phase of rolling out 100 Digital Doorways across the country by the end of March.

The first phase saw some 100 seats installed in various areas, with the first Digital Doorway introduced in Cwili in the Eastern Cape in 2002.

Users have indicated a high level of satisfaction, with both the facility and content and have requested particular material including that for specific age groups.

Countrywide, 50 Digital Doorways have been earmarked for deployment by DST at community centres, schools, Further Education and Training (FET) colleges and even in shops.

Four have already been installed at FabLabs throughout South Africa, says Ms Smith.

A further 50 will be installed in the Eastern Cape in the OR Tambo municipal district and in Limpopo in the Sekhukhune district.

These will be installed in schools as hubs from where a wireless mesh network will provide free broadband connectivity to surrounding communities.

The digital doorway kiosk uses open source technology and has a modular, ergonomic design, allowing easy reconfiguration and assembly.

It consists of a freestanding multimedia computer terminal with a keyboard and touchpad embedded in a robust kiosk accessible to the public 24 hours a day.

It is equipped with a satellite receiver and General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) cellular data technology for updating content and real-time monitoring and user feedback.

Digital Doorways' content includes Open Office suite, educational games and programmes, an introduction to computer terminology scientific software, 10 000 books from project Gutenberg, a snapshot of Wikipedia, Mindset health and curriculum-based educational videos, interactive science simulations and other applications.

Ms Smith added that research by the Meraka Institute will, over the next three years, focus on exploring a sustainable model for the DigitalDoorway, as well as expanding its functionality.

The institute uses the services of a BEE company to install Digital Doorways and satellite dishes, which has resulted in skills transfer and training to nine previously unemployed young adults.

Among industry partners are SMMEs responsible for component production; and support from a big corporate company is envisaged in the future.

Within the Meraka Institute, the project has provided a useful training ground for three interns, two of whom will be dedicated to the project from 1 March 2007.