The Open Source Initiative’s first African Affiliate Member, Powering Potential Inc. (PPI), is pleased to announce the launch of their award-winning solar-powered Raspberry Pi computer labs in Peru. The pilot program builds on PPI's successes already enhancing education throughout rural Tanzania, Africa.
Over the past 13 years, PPI has installed 29 solar-powered systems, and 203 computers with servers, in 29 secondary schools across Tanzania. As a result, more than 23,000 students and teachers have been provided with direct access to educational materials and technology-training with minimal impact to the environment.
PPI created their Solar-Powered Access to Raspberry Computing (SPARC) installation model using Raspberry Pi computers loaded with an abundance of open source software, such as RACHEL from WorldPossible.org, and Kolibri from Learning Equality. Educational resources include Khan Academy videos, UNESCO textbooks, and Project Gutenberg literature with health and medical information.
A basic SPARC lab installation consists of five Raspberry Pi computers, two 85-watt panels, three 108Ah batteries, a 15 amp charge controller, a 350 watt inverter, and a lightning arrester system. A SPARC+ installation includes 15 more computers, additional solar panels, six new batteries, and a new charge controller. PPI also uses local vendors to work with school districts to provide solar power and additional equipment.
After installation, school district-selected teachers having a familiarity with technology are given a specialized three week “Train-the-Trainer” course. PPI prepares them to instruct tech literacy classes by learning networking, hardware, word-processing, database, file management, RACHEL maintenance, and email basics.
Currently, PPI’s pilot project is placing a SPARC lab in the Amazon region at the San Francisco Rio Itaya School, located in a low-income district of Iquitos, Peru. Leading this effort is Dana Rensi, PPI Regional Director, Latin America. She is a recipient of a Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching and an Educational Media Specialist in Ashland, Oregon. After being a Fulbright exchange teacher in Iquitos for a year, Rensi began working with V. Ena Haines from the PPI Management Team and is currently scheduled to be on site for five weeks this summer to establish the pilot. If successful, SPARC labs may also be expanded to other villages along the Amazon River.
The geographic isolation of this region in Peru is similar to rural Tanzania in terms of educational hurdles like a high turnover rate for teachers, limited resources and a lack of electricity. Iquitos, for example, is known as the largest city in the world that is accessible only by river or air, which makes technological progress challenging. The pilot installation is on the outskirts of Iquitos in Belén, one of thirteen districts of Peru’s Maynas Province known as “The Floating City.” Other villages along the Amazon River face the same accessibility problems coupled with regular seasonal flooding that has grown worse in some areas from climate change.
Rensi believes the SPARC lab installation could alter the game entirely for students there. “I came from teenage parents and a poor background. Education was my way out,” she explained during a recent interview. “They [the students] deserve an opportunity to learn no matter what circumstances they are born under or where.”
For this reason and more, PPI is actively seeking volunteers and sponsors for the pilot program in Peru alongside their continued efforts in Tanzania. They will also host a spring fundraiser celebrating their 10-year partnership with the Segal Family Foundation on Wednesday, June 5th from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at 39 West 29th Street in New York City to raise money for a major computer lab upgrade for the 800-student Sazira Secondary School near Lake Victoria in rural Tanzania.
To learn more or find out how you can help, visit Poweringpotential.org.