When I traveled to South Africa in the summer of 2011, I knew that my group’s ultimate goal was to have ten local township schools connected to the Internet within three to five years. This process of connecting these schools would take at least that long since each school would require the proper infrastructure, for example point-to-point connectivity with the Nelspruit airport in the case of the first school we would connect. It would take us years to turn our vision into a reality, but in the meantime we could teach the students, teachers, and administrators of the schools the skills they would need to utilize their computer labs. What if we could take our vision one step further, though?
While at dinner in South Africa at Penryn College, one night my fellow technicians and I were discussing how we had brought a copy of Wikipedia and Khan Academy to leave behind. Then suddenly an idea occurred to me: what if we made these resources available to the schools locally on an intranet served by a central computer and accessible from all school computers? We could stream Khan Academy videos with open source media players and could use an open source Content Management System as the basis for a local landing page at each school where administrators could post announcements. I further expanded the idea to include the possibility of local email addresses for students and local class websites for different courses. The prospect of being able to deliver this functionality to the school locally without having to first set up an Internet connection opened new doors for us and changed our approach to setting up the schools.
Once the idea of an intranet as a resource had been formed, I was tasked with implementing it at the first of the South African schools.