Kiwi school leads world with NC use

Clover Park Middle School in Otara may seem an unusual place to find a world-leading network computer (NC) development, but for Sharon Hayes of software development company ESD it's the perfect venue. She says schools are no longer interested in computers for their own sake. Today, children are being taught to use the computer as a means, rather than an end.

Clover Park Middle School in Otara may seem an unusual place to find a world-leading network computer (NC) development, but for Sharon Hayes of software development company ESD it’s the perfect venue.

The driving factors for schools implementing NCs are familiar to anyone running a network.

“Schools are highly motivated by initial cost, on-going cost and ease of use,” says Hayes, who has installed NCs at a number of schools around New Zealand. She says schools are no longer interested in computers for their own sake. Today, children are being taught to use the computer as a means, rather than an end.

“All too often computers are used as baby-sitters. The NC enables teachers to expand beyond that and have the kids using the computer rather than learning about one particular type of computer.” Clover Park has six terminals set up in its library offering Internet access in a controlled environment, email and word processing, but Hayes says what is offered is limited only by the availability of software.

“We run education software locally. Acorn software isn’t memory-hungry, so we run the applications on the machine.” Hayes believes that Java will help push NCs into other vertical markets. “If someone takes off with HTML-based intranet accounting software that would really open the door for us.”

Hayes became interested in NCs after working in the education software industry for many years. “To me it doesn’t matter how big or fast your machine is, it’s the software that matters.” Hayes says anything that runs on an Acorn or Windows NT can run on an NC, an idea that appeals to educators.

ESD began life a year ago as an importer of Acorn educational software but has evolved into playing a support role working with schools and their overall IT structure. NCs seemed the logical choice for these cash-strapped institutions.

“We can work with existing servers or put in a new one. We can work with NT, Acorn, whatever. Unix is our preferred choice because software is cheaper and it’s easy to use.”

The cost to a school is around $4000 for a server with two hard drives and a UPS supporting up to 10 users. Each additional terminal costs around $1300, making it an extremely attractive proposition for schools.

“We supply a server that is all ready to plug in and go.” ESD spends time learning about the school’s needs and what software it wants to run, which helps with any teething troubles.

Hayes is amazed no one else is doing this.

“The technology we’re using now was around three years ago,” she says. Hayes believes ESD has a six-month head start on the competition in NCs and hopes to see much more in the way of software become available in that time.

“We can run word processors, spread-sheets and education software because we know how the operating system works. We have the technology,” says Hayes with a laugh.

If she has her way, soon everyone will have the technology.

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