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Refurbishing office computers for schools and the community

KAWM computers upgraded in East Cape (May 2007)

Te Wairama, a year-eight student at Nuhaka School, researching information for a class project.

In 2001, a crash programme to increase numbers of computers in schools started off in the East Cape region, under the umbrella title of Kaupapa Ara Whakawhiti Matauranga, generally known as KAWM. Penetration of computer technology into the region’s schools was low at the time, and KAWM aimed to fast-track schools into a computer:student: ratio of 1:3 or 1:4 – at that time well above the national average.

The goal was achieved after more than 2000 refurbished ex-government computers were installed. Some were networked into thin-client systems that allowed the relatively slow Pentium-I 75-100 Mhz computers to perform well with the programs typically used in schools at that time.

More recently, school abilities, expectations and software design have moved ahead of the capabilities of the original KAWM computers. They could still handle traditional ‘bulk’ classroom activities with program suites like Microsoft Office, but all of a sudden the education world had turned multi-media and the computers could only do part of the job.

There were five ‘clusters’ in the original KAWM roll-out and one of these was the Wairoa region, extending from about 45 minutes north of Napier to 45 minutes south of Gisborne. Leon Symes, the contracted maintenance technician for the cluster, has been looking after the computers and now he’s rolling out about 400 replacements for the 12 schools involved, which range from the 12-student Ohuka primary school near the Urewera National Park, to Wairoa College.

About 330 replacement machines are refurbished desktops formerly leased by commercial businesses. They are relatively new Pentium-IV-2.8Ghz machines, supplied by CANZ-accredited refurbisher Remarkit Solutions. Two schools, with a further 80 computers, decided they could afford to buy new.

“The original machines and thin client networks handled the work they were required to do, but school computing is now more than simple desktop publishing, Microsoft Office and basic internet stuff,” says Symes.

“They’re doing low-end multimedia work as well now, and some of the programs, and a fair bit of the online learning media, use Flash graphics. The thin client architecture can’t handle that and the networks tend to shut down.”
While the original KAWM computers became too slow, they had been a cost-effective solution at the time and they had been reliable.

“They ran on the smell of an oily rag,” Symes said. “If they needed any parts they were cheap and there were always plenty around.”


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