BY the end of October, all elementary and secondary schools in Slovakia will have at least one fully equipped computer room, thanks to the "Computers for schools" project, which is now in its final stage.
The project's history goes back to July 2002, when the Education Ministry and Slovak Telecom signed a cooperation agreement to establish "e-Slovakia," a programme to spread information technologies throughout the country. Both sides agreed to equip elementary and secondary schools with internet access before the end of 2004.
"Our project faced a critical barrier in that the technology we had to work with at the various schools was outdated, insufficient, or non-existent. More than half of the schools did not have a single computer," Radoslav Bielka, the spokesman for Slovak Telecom, told The Slovak Spectator.
Thus German Deutsche Telekom, the majority shareholder of Slovak Telecom, decided in January 2004 to donate the necessary infrastructure to schools. The donation amounted to Sk1 billion (€20 million) in computers and peripherals.
Each of 3,500-plus schools registered at the Education Ministry, including special schools for disabled children, was targeted for the addition of a computer room and internet connection. For many schools, mainly in poorer Slovak regions, this was the only chance to access equipment so that students could learn or improve their computer skills.
According to Slovak Telecom, before the project started, the ratio of computers to students was 1:130. In the EU15 countries, it is about 1:20, and this number should decrease to 1:15 by 2005. "Computers for schools" is expected to bring the Slovakia ratio down to 1:30.
The project is running ahead of schedule. The original completion date was set for the end of 2004.
As a minority shareholder of Slovak Telecom, the Transportation, Post and Telecommunications Ministry helped coordinate of the project.
"I welcome the activity of Deutsche Telekom and Slovak Telecom in securing the development of information technologies in Slovakia. We support this project because investment in students will provide returns many times over," Transportation and Telecommunications Minister Pavol Prokopovič told the press.
Each school is equipped with six IBM computers (five for students and one for teachers), a network hub, and one printer, scanner and drawing tablet. The computers run Microsoft Windows XP Professional SK and Microsoft Office 2003 SK.
Altogether, more than 22,000 computers will be deployed. HT Computers managed the hardware procurement, which was carried out by international tender. Slovak Telecom is securing internet access, and the Education Ministry is paying for the connection fee. Each school had only one duty: reserve a special room for the purpose of computer training, and ensure that it was secure against theft. In some cases, bars were installed across windows.
Slovak Telecom and HT Computers coordinated delivery and installation of the equipment and network service according to a specific timetable. The first shipments took place in April 2004. Since then, 200 schools per week have been equipped.
Slovak Telecom says that the project did not aim to provide schools with a complete set of information technologies. Rather, the project was to offer all schools an equal base for learning.
According to the company's press release: "It is a one-time support project, a gift that will help each school to make the initial step, which is the most important one as well as the most difficult one. Upgrading technology is a time-consuming and costly process that requires support from the government and state."
Slovak Telecom announced that it would host competitions for schools in which students would demonstrate their new skills. Categories include the best student e-magazine and the most inventive school report card.