Inveneo School Archives

Connecting Schools in Micronesia Using Long-Distance WiFi

  1. Posted by Inveneo on May 8, 2013 in the categories: News

Mevaly Tokyo, 10, and Lima Souneng, 16, at the UFO school on Fefan. Photo: Prairie Summer/Inveneo
Mevaly Tokyo, 10, and Lima Souneng, 16, at the UFO school on Fefan. Photo: Prairie Summer/Inveneo

The tropical islands of Chuuk, part of the Federated States of Micronesia, remain largely disconnected from the Internet. More than an hour flight from Guam and over 3,400 miles (5,400 km) from Hawaii, most of the islands in Chuuk are isolated in a way that is hard to envision. While the main island of Weno (pronounced Wena) has a population of almost 14,000 and basic Internet access, most of the surrounding islands have only 350 to 4,000 people per island, limited cell phone service and are accessible only by boat. Students on the islands may have seen people use computers and the Internet on television but most of them have never actually touched one or been online.

“A few [students], maybe 1%, have ever used computers, but most have not seen them,” one teacher on the island of Eot said.

“We often work in areas with limited internet access, but the environment in Chuuk poses very unique challenges to improving connectivity,” said Andris Bjornson, Inveneo’s CTO. “I’ve rarely seen anything like it.”

In late March Bjornson travelled with Bruce Baikie and Prairie Summer to Chuuk to conduct a site survey and local partner training as part of phase two of the Pacific Islands Schools, Connectivity, Education, and Solar (PISCES) Project. PISCES is a multi-stakeholder initiative to demonstrate how low cost wireless networking and solar-powered computing infrastructure can be scaled to serve educational professionals and students across the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and similar remote island settings. PISCES I, the first phase of the project, was implemented in 2012 and demonstrated that alternative, low-cost wireless networking and solar-powered computing infrastructure offer reliable and affordable computing and connectivity options for many remote and off-grid schools.

The goal of this second phase (PISCES II) is to identify, connect and equip at least three schools on these remote islands, strengthen the local ICT capacity and increase digital literacy among teachers.

K-8 School on Tsis, which has 87 kids, 5 teachers and no computers or internet access. Photo: Prairie Summer/Inveneo
K-8 School on Tsis, which has 87 kids, 5 teachers and no computers or internet access. Photo: Prairie Summer/Inveneo

For this project Inveneo’s team focused in on building the capacity of our local partner iSolutions and members of the local telecom to conduct site surveys, design wireless networks and install long-distance wireless links. Dr. Laura Hosman from Inveneo partner Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) was also present, following up on the 6 low-power, ruggedized computers that were deployed in PISCES I on the island of Udot and assessing lessons learned during the first phase. Dr. Hosman also gathered data to inform the design of trainings for teachers on computer skills and the deployment of additional computers in the new locations.

Chuuk Lagoon with pins showing survey locations. The pieced-together nature of Google’s area maps highlights the remote nature of the islands.
Chuuk Lagoon with pins showing survey locations. The pieced-together nature of Google’s area maps highlights the remote nature of the islands.

With the ambitious goal of conducting site survey training, six site surveys on six islands and installing one point-to-point link, the week was packed and the team was at the mercy of the weather. The heat, humidity, heavy rainfall (almost 200 inches per year) and unique challenges of making long-distance wireless links work over water make this equatorial island nation a difficult environment. Most of the smaller islands have no electricity and the vegetation is thick.

Operations began with Bjornson conducting a full day of training with three iSolutions staff and two members of FSM Telecom followed by guided site surveys. These guided surveys allowed trainees to test their new skills while gathering valuable data necessary to design the wireless links.

The training started with an in-depth session on the connection between tower equipment and a computer lab. Classroom time was balanced by hands-on training and exercises with the team conducting test surveys at various locations on Weno. In addition to learning many of the standard survey tools (including GPS and compass basics), the team also tested Inveneo’s new Smartphone-based Android application for conducting site surveys. The group of workshop participants from both iSolutions and Telcom FSM are the first worldwide to use this new tool, integrating survey-specific GPS, camera, and note-taking capabilities into one convenient handheld device. Previously an engineer needed to bring an individual compass, GPS unit, camera, paper and pencil to collect all of the data. These Google-donated Android phones use a combination of services including Formhub and odkcollect to make site surveys faster and more accurate.

Bjornson leads the classroom portion of our local partner training program. Photo: Prairie Summer / Inveneo
Bjornson leads the classroom portion of our local partner training program. Photo: Laura Hosman

Bjornson training local engineers to perform site surveys. Photos: Prairie Summer / Inveneo
Bjornson training local engineers to perform site surveys. Photos: Laura Hosman

With the training complete the team headed out to the surrounding islands to begin the site surveys. Heavy rain poured during the first three days, but not enough to stop the team from boating out to surveying the first three islands. When the rains let up the sun emerged giving the Inveneo team the opportunity to experience the full spectrum of weather challenges. From torrential rains to blazing sun, each day added to the understanding of what networks need to endure to function in Chuuk. Site visits to Romanum, Udot and Eot islands were completed via boat in one day despite constant rainfall. The islands of Fefan, Tsis and Tonoas were surveyed on the following day.

Left: Andris Bjornson and Bruce Balkie from Inveneo, Dr. Laura Hosman from IIT, and the trainees from iSolutions and FSM Telecom boarding the boat on Udot. Photo: Prairie Summer/Inveneo Right: Andris and TR from local partner iSolutions conducting a site survey on Romanum. Photo: Prairie Summer/Inveneo
Left: Bjornson, Balkie, Dr. Laura Hosman from IIT and the trainees from iSolutions and FSM Telecom boarding the boat on Udot. Photo: Prairie Summer/Inveneo Right: Bjornson and TR from local partner iSolutions conducting a site survey on Romanum. Photo: Prairie Summer/Inveneo

Left: Site sketch in Andris’ notebook of Romanum. Photo: Andris Bjornson / Inveneo Right: GR from iSolutions taking measurements at Romanum. Photo: Prairie Summer / Inveneo
Left: Site sketch in Bjornson’s notebook of Romanum. Photo: Andris Bjornson / Inveneo Right: GR from iSolutions taking measurements at Romanum. Photo: Prairie Summer / Inveneo

Bruce Baike surveys a potential computer lab site at Romanum School. Photo: Laura Hosman
Baikie surveys a potential computer lab site at Romanum School. Photo: Laura Hosman

Bjornson, Summer and Baike discover a few of the different ways that getting around in Micronesia can be a wet affair. Photos: Laura Hosman
Bjornson, Summer and Baikie discover a few of the different ways that getting around in Micronesia can be a wet affair. Photos: Laura Hosman

While each school and site has unique assets and challenges, all six of the locations surveyed are viable potential link locations. Many of the schools are conveniently located on the edge of the islands, clear of the dense vegetation that covers most of the islands, and even at the schools farther inland feasible locations were identified. This is exciting news for the PISCES team and the schools who will benefit from the link when it’s established.

“What we are doing now is we are trying to improve our students’ performance, and it would be good to search what other schools are doing…on the curriculum and find ways to improve our teaching,” Nancy Seymour, principal and 1st-2nd grade teacher on Eot said. Her school does not have enough books and resources and she believes having Internet access could make all the difference – providing her and the other teachers a source for new lesson plans and ideas and introducing the students to new and foreign things.

Nancy Seymour, principal and 1st-2nd grade teacher on Eot. Photo: Prairie Summer/Inveneo
Nancy Seymour, principal and 1st-2nd grade teacher on Eot. Photo: Prairie Summer/Inveneo

At every school the team visited there was a keen interest in connectivity and a universal belief that technology would make an impact on the quality of education. In addition to the academic potential, every single student and teacher indicated that they had family living either on other islands or abroad, and there was a great deal of excitement around the potential for communication with loved ones.

With the site surveys completed, the next focus was to establish a long distance wireless link from the main island of Weno to the school on Udot. This link, temporarily established during PISCES I, needed to be moved to a more permanent location and the team had received permission from FSM Telecom to place the link on the telecom’s existing tower.

This new position, higher on the island, allows for a stronger connection and will be the point that all six of the surveyed islands will link to when the project is completed. To install this long-distance link half of the team went to the tower on Weno and the other half to the site on Udot, coordinating via radios and cell phones. First the Udot team installed a small link on the side of the school. On Weno, the team put together a small dish, then mounted it on the tower and pointed it toward Udot. The positioning is critical and must be painstakingly adjusted to the most accurate position possible. Access to the tower was provided by FSM Telecom, which has a strong relationship with iSolutions. Inveneo has found through past experience that strong collaboration with the local telecommunications provider can be a powerful tool in creating sustainable projects.

Mangoki Shirai assembles dish for the long-distance link from Weno to Udot, then climbs the FSM Telecom tower on Weno to install the link. Photos: Prairie Summer/Inveneo
Mangoki Shirai assembles dish for the long-distance link from Weno to Udot, then climbs the FSM Telecom tower on Weno to install the link. Photos: Prairie Summer/Inveneo

View of Udot from the base of the tower on Weno. Photo: Prairie Summer/Inveneo
View of Udot from the base of the tower on Weno. Photo: Prairie Summer/Inveneo

Left: Team putting together the dish on Udot for the link to Weno. Photo: Laura Hosman/IIT Right: Installing the link on top of the school on Udot. Photo: Laura Hosman/IIT
Left: Team putting together the dish on Udot for the link to Weno. Photo: Laura Hosman/IIT Right: Installing the link on top of the school on Udot. Photo: Laura Hosman/IIT

The team on Udot then adjusted the link on their end and the connection was established! Both the FSM Telecom and iSolutions teams did an incredible job.

With the training completed and the first link established, and data gathered for five additional sites to be linked as soon as the funding is secured, PISCES II has the potential to provide unprecedented levels of connectivity and access to schools and communities throughout Chuuk. The project has also gained support and interest from the FSM Department of Education.

In addition to improving the educational resources and access to information, every single student, teacher and administrator the team met on this trip said they have family on other islands or in other countries. With this long-distance wireless network in place they will all have new ways to communicate with their loved ones in other places, and that may be the best motivation to learn of all.

If additional support for this project can be secured, the Inveneo team plans to return and install links to the remaining five sites in the summer of 2013.

Left:  View of the tower on Weno from the boat. Photo: Prairie Summer/Inveneo Right: View of the boat on Tsis. Photo: Prairie Summer/Inveneo
Left: View of the tower on Weno from the boat. Photo: Prairie Summer/Inveneo Right: View of the boat on Tsis. Photo: Prairie Summer/Inveneo

The PISCES Project has received funding support from Google, the Pacific Telecommunications Council, and the Internet Society. PISCES Project partners include: Inveneo, the University of Guam, Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), Pacific Resources for Education and Learning (PREL) Organization, Green WiFi, iSolutions, the International Centre for Theoretical Physics, the University of California, Berkeley’s TIER research group, FSM Department of Education, FSM DTC&I.

How Schools in Haiti Surprise Us

  1. Posted by Inveneo on August 22, 2012 in the categories: Education, News, Projects

In June, the Inveneo team in Haiti, Sybille Fleischmann, Michelet Guerrier, and Ronald Benjamin took a trip to Ouanaminthe to visit two schools where we deployed computer labs and trained teachers. This initiative was sponsored by Digicel Foundation and Kellogg Foundation.

One of these two schools, Ecole Nationale Ti Laurier, was a concern for us. I am Michelet Guerrier, project manager for the Haiti Connected Schools Program, and I worried about the management of the computer lab, but I was happily relieved. When Ronald and I went to Ecole Nationale Ti Laurier, our visit intended to surprise them, but they surprised us. When I looked at the door and the walls of the lab, there were lots of decorations made by the teachers posted almost everywhere. It was clear to any visitor that it is a well-operated computer lab.

We found Arold Phanord, one of the teachers we had trained in February, deep in a teaching context. Students were being guided and each student in the lab was working on a different program on the computers. A 20-year old 6th grader was on Google searching for information about Jean-Jacques Dessalines and when I interviewed him, he said:

“I did not even know the word ‘òdinatè‘ (‘computer’ in French Creole) before the school received these computers. But now, I have learned so many things in two months, I think I will be smarter from day to day.”

A lot more positive things can be expected from this school. And I hope we can use it as a model to inspire other schools, like those in the Haiti Connected Schools Program.

Inveneo Buyers Guide to Sustainable ICT Infrastructure in Low Resource Settings

  1. Posted by Inveneo on January 18, 2012 in the categories: News, Publications

The Inveneo Buyers Guide to Sustainable ICT Infrastructure in Low Resource Settings is intended to serve as a planning tool for deploying information and communications technologies (ICTs) in low resource settings – i.e., communities lacking basic support infrastructure, such as grid power and broadband connectivity, and where computer skills among users and facilities managers are often limited.

It highlights the most important considerations in the selection, design, deployment and support of general facilities, ICT tools and supporting power systems. We have intentionally not addressed the complicated issue of mobile computing devices, opting instead to focus on the challenges facing those planning to deploy and operate shared access computing facilities such as school computer labs, community knowledge centers (CKCs), process outsourcing facilities, etc.

The ICT Buyers Guide is divided into two sections. Part 1 covers the key factors to consider in selecting major infrastructure components, from buildings and facilities to computers, peripherals, software and connectivity. Part 2 discusses infrastructure support and logistical issues around deployment.

Because there are many topics to cover, and to keep this resource as short and accessible as possible, each section starts with a brief introduction, followed, where appropriate, by a simple bullet list of key points to consider.

We invite you to provide your feedback on this document and ideas for improving it via email at info@inveneo.org.

The community of Saut d’Eau is proud to have its own computer lab

  1. Posted by Inveneo on June 17, 2011 in the categories: Education, News, Projects

Three years ago, the Digicel Foundation rebuilt a school in Saut D’Eau, Haiti, replacing a simple shack with a real school building. This effort was one of many projects by Digicel Foundation to build communities and the community spirit in Haiti.

The Digicel Foundation has built 37 schools in Haiti since 2007 with a further 22 schools under construction. The Digicel Foundation aims to complete 50 schools in time for the new school year in September.

The children of the Saut D’Eau school are also building their own education, with technology. Inveneo and Digicel Foundation installed a modern computer lab with Inveneo High Performance Computing Stations and Internet access through a donation from the friends and family of Digicel colleague Jean- Marc Le Hir who died on 12 January 2010.

The computer lab has changed the lives of the 300 students at the school and their community. The school director says:

“The community of Saut d’Eau is proud to have its own computer lab. Indeed, it is the only one that exists throughout the area. Also, we offer the opportunity, not only to our students, but also to the youth from other schools of Saut d’Eau to benefit from this facility.

Our students used to see computers in the books; some directors did not even know how to open a computer. But thanks to the Digicel Foundation they can actually see, touch, learn to use it and do research. This is an important step in improving the quality of education in Saut d’Eau.”

This computer lab is also another step in Inveneo’s efforts to build Haiti back better. We are working with organizations like Digicel Foundation to increase the educational experience of Haiti’s children, arguably some of the most underserved in the Western Hemisphere.

The community of Saut d'Eau is proud to have its own computer lab

  1. Posted by sguser on June 17, 2011 in the categories: Education, News, Projects

Three years ago, the Digicel Foundation rebuilt a school in Saut D’Eau, Haiti, replacing a simple shack with a real school building. This effort was one of many projects by Digicel Foundation to build communities and the community spirit in Haiti.

The Digicel Foundation has built 37 schools in Haiti since 2007 with a further 22 schools under construction. The Digicel Foundation aims to complete 50 schools in time for the new school year in September.

The children of the Saut D’Eau school are also building their own education, with technology. Inveneo and Digicel Foundation installed a modern computer lab with Inveneo High Performance Computing Stations and Internet access through a donation from the friends and family of Digicel colleague Jean- Marc Le Hir who died on 12 January 2010.

The computer lab has changed the lives of the 300 students at the school and their community. The school director says:

“The community of Saut d’Eau is proud to have its own computer lab. Indeed, it is the only one that exists throughout the area. Also, we offer the opportunity, not only to our students, but also to the youth from other schools of Saut d’Eau to benefit from this facility.

Our students used to see computers in the books; some directors did not even know how to open a computer. But thanks to the Digicel Foundation they can actually see, touch, learn to use it and do research. This is an important step in improving the quality of education in Saut d’Eau.”

This computer lab is also another step in Inveneo’s efforts to build Haiti back better. We are working with organizations like Digicel Foundation to increase the educational experience of Haiti’s children, arguably some of the most underserved in the Western Hemisphere.