Proyecto Aurora’s community network and distance education

Today we again had an early start into our day as we met up at Montevideo’s Plaza de Independencia at 9AM. The day’s first goal was to meet up with some of the people behind Proyecto Aurora which builds community wireless networks in some of Uruguay’s more rural areas. Already on the bus-ride to the city of Tala I had a very good discussion with David Farning of Activity Central which touched a lot of bases such as long-term sustainability of projects, the need for long-term planning when it comes to software releases, critical issues we need to start addressing, involvement of universities and students, etc.

Once we arrived in Tala we were warmly received by Edison of RAP Conecta. He and Paolo Benini introduced us to the work Sociedad de Formento Rural Tala (SFRT) has been doing in collaboration with RAP Ceibal. To say that their efforts are impressive would be quite an understatement, in fact I would describe what they’re doing as simply mind-boggling and very very inspiring. SFRT is an agricultural cooperative which was created in 1944 and has worked on a very broad set of projects in its history. With the introduction of Plan Ceibal in 2007/2008 it observed the need to also provide a network to the pupils living in its area and its cooperative members. So it set out to build a number of towers with wireless equipment to start connecting the 600 km2 area it is working in.

Now two aspects of Proyecto Aurora which I consider to be key components are:

(1) While it does provide Internet connectivity the project is very much focused on the value it can bring to the community via the “intranet” within the community which the network is enabling.

(2) Beyond just providing the physical network infrastructure SFRT is also requiring the cooperative members who are interested in having access to the network to participate in a number of training sessions. From the sound of it these are very practical. Examples which were mentioned are writing a resume, managing household finances, introductions into how to use search engines, and sessions about online privacy.

With this approach SFRT and RAP Ceibal are addressing what academia likes to call the two levels of the digital divide: lack of access and lack of knowledge about what to do with the access once it‘s available.

After learning all about Proyecto Aurora and lots of enthusiasm and questions by the tour participants we headed to another association club-house. Aside from an impressive antenna installation we were also welcomed with an outstanding asado and drinks. Needless to say a lot of meat was eaten and many great discussions were had.

After that we had initially planned to visit a school to be able to attend the May 1 festivities there as well as get to talk to some teachers. Unfortunately the heavy rain got in the way of these plans as the school festivities were canceled so rather we stopped by at a local May 1 celebration. We were well entertained by a nice band and some great dancing.

Afterwards we went back to the bus where two of the teachers we had planned to meet told us about a very interesting project they’re working on. The short version is that they want to provide secondary school education to adults who didn’t finish it when they were younger via a mixture of online and offline courses. In the rural parts of Uruguay – which account for approximately half the country’s 3.5 million population – relatively few pupils finish secondary school. This is due to a variety of factors with apparently the two biggest ones being (a) the cost of transportation to secondary schools which are often far away and (b) families expecting their children to help in the agricultural business once they finish primary school.

It is not quite clear yet whether the program these teachers are working on will actually enable their students to obtain an accredited secondary school certificate. The discussions with the responsible authorities seem to be – as always in these cases – challenging to say the least. Regardless the teachers are pressing on with their efforts, mostly based on the fact that there are a lot of people who are interested in receiving secondary school level education. It will be very interesting to see how things work out over the coming months so I’ll try and keep an eye on these efforts.

Anyway, seeing that it’s pastt 7:30PM and we’re close to arriving back in Montevideo I think it’s time to press the “publish” button…


P.S. David Farning is writing up his thoughts in daily e-mails he’s sending to Sugar Labs’ IAEP and sugar-devel mailing-lists. You can find today’s summary here.


4 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    To me, the most impressive thing about the Aurora Project was how the Community used collaboration and common sense to cut costs and make the project affordable. Two examples stand out in my mind.

    When they first began, they bought commercially made antennas for costs ranging from $1000 to $1700. Then they decided to try to make their own. Using one they had bought for $1000 as a model and, with the help of a person with the right expertise, they purchased and built five more for what the original one cost. They may not be quite as straight and perfect in appearance, but they work just as well.

    Another example has to do with lightning “rods.” The national commercial internet provider has to put them on their antennas to prevent damage in case of a direct lightning strike. The lightning rod for the antenna costs $1000. The antenna can be repaired for $400. They have decided to do without! Very sensible.

  2. 2

    MJ said,

    Would be great to have some detailed pics of the antenna design/construction for others to replicate..

  3. 3

    […] and communities which are closely involved in many related activities. These include the installation of network access in rural parts of Uruguay, the development of open source education software, the involvement of […]

  4. 4

    […] and communities which are closely involved in many related activities. These include the installation of network access in rural parts of Uruguay, the development of open source education software, the involvement of […]

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