Rural Island Power: Solar Computer Lab and Long-distance WiFi Installed at Remote School

An innovative, solar-powered turnkey Computer-Lab-in-a-Box and a long-distance, solar-powered wireless internet connection were set up at a primary school on the island of Udot within Chuuk, one of the Federated States of Micronesia, in early August 2012. The system was installed by members of the Pacific Island Schools Connectivity, Education, and Solar (PISCES) Project, with assistance from numerous local community members. This technology deployment provided an in-field training opportunity for the PISCES project, which is a multi-partnered endeavor emphasizing hands-on training in solar-powered technology for Pacific Islanders. The previous week, the PISCES team had led a workshop on Solar-powered long-distance WiFi technology at the University of Guam.

The Internet connection for the Udot School originated from Chuuk’s main Island, Weno, 19 km from Udot. The hardware installed in Weno was mounted on the 3rd story roof of the Truk Stop Hotel, which provided the height necessary for line-of-sight to provide connectivity across the Chuuk Lagoon to Udot Island. The single-level school on Udot required a 30-foot pole on which to mount the antenna. Local community members joined in to help when the heft of the pole proved too heavy for the PISCES team to raise alone. With team members on each island, the antennas were lined up and connected to each other. The network was then routed through a local Wi-Fi network to provide connectivity to the school, and for the local community.

The Solar-Computer-Lab-in-a-Box, developed by students at Illinois Institute of Technology, was also installed at the school. This turnkey computer lab is designed to be as close to plug-and-play as possible for off-grid environments. It includes six Intel Classmate laptops, solar panels and mounting gear, a charge controller, wiring, and laptop security equipment, all contained within a uniquely-designed and ready-to-ship box that straightforwardly transforms into the computer lab’s table. During the deployment, the PISCES team received further assistance from community members who, needing no formal instruction, assisted with the ~20 minute construction of the lab table. The principal and several teachers were present for a directed overview of the computers and basic computer functions.

While the PISCES team was in Chuuk, additional project partnerships were formed and/or strengthened. One key partnership is with PREL (Pacific Resources for Education and Learning), a Honolulu-based organization serving the educational community across the Pacific Islands with programs, services, and products developed to promote educational excellence. PREL is currently piloting a Dual-Language Arts (DLA) program in Chuuk that utilizes technology in the classroom. However, lack of technology in Chuuk’s schools has limited the number of schools able to participate. Thanks to the new technology installed in Udot, this school will be able to join and participate in the DLA program, which will provide ongoing technology training and support to Udot school’s teachers.

Another key partnership is with Chuuk’s Department of Education, and the team was fortunate to be on-island during a Summer Institute for teacher training sponsored by the DoE. The PISCES team presented to the group of 400 teachers about their project, led multiple discussion sessions with smaller groups of teachers, and administered a baseline survey to gauge teachers’ attitudes towards and usage of technology-in-the-schools.  

The PISCES Project received funding support from Google, the Pacific Telecommunications Council, and the Internet Society. In addition to the Partners mentioned above, PISCES Project partners include: the University of Guam, Illinois Institute of Technology, Green WiFi, Inveneo, the International Centre for Theoretical Physics, and the University of California, Berkeley’s TIER research group.

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Laura Hosman is Assistant Professor of Political Science in the Department of Social Sciences at Illinois Institute of Technology. Prior to IIT, Professor Hosman held postdoctoral research fellow positions at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Southern California (USC). She graduated with a PhD in Political Economy and Public Policy from USC. Her current research focuses on the role for information and communications technology (ICT) in developing countries, particularly in terms of its potential effects on socio-cultural factors, human development, and economic growth. Her work focuses on two main areas: Public-Private Partnerships and ICT-in-education, both with a focus on the developing world. Her blog, giving insights on her fieldwork experiences, is at and the website detailing her current project in Haiti is at .

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