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Are computer labs in schools public telecenters?*
As schools around the world begin to establish computer labs that provide
Internet connectivity, policymakers are faced with the question of whether
to open the centers to the local community. There are many issues on both
sides of this question. First, schools are often responsible for the upkeep
and security of the computers. Sometimes when the labs are opened to the public,
they are damaged and the local school must then pay the costs of repair or
lose the ability to use the damaged machines or systems. In addition, there
are often legal issues complicating a school’s ability to receive revenue
from an outside source. Sometimes, clients don’t pay after they have used
the school’s facilities. The fundamental premise that access to education
and the educational services of school must be provided free of cost is a
central principal for educational systems. The system must decide how this
also applies to the services it provides to the community at large. Finally,
computer centers in schools that are opened to the public may compete with
other commercial or government ventures for clientele.
On the other hand, the educational systems need to find a way to make the centers sustainable. In all cases, buy-in from the local community is essential to sustain the center and to guarantee its maximum use. In addition, the centers must be financially sustainable and able to pay for regular maintenance and for upgrading and replacement of equipment. An income stream from the local community can contribute to these costs and schools generally operate during the morning hours, precisely a low-demand period for commercial service to the public. Finally, in remote and rural communities in particular, these centers could be a significant resource for all members of the community. They could provide agricultural information for local farmers and links for the larger community to information and government services and serve as a communication tool. The money invested in the significant cost of the infrastructure, equipment and training would be used to its greatest capacity when the center is opened to the larger community.?
*The ideas, thoughts, and opinions expressed are not necessarily of the OAS nor of its member states. The opinions expressed are the responsibility of the authors.
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