In a transformative event that resonated with both technological progress and community empowerment, Ilitha Telecoms, in collaboration with The Cookhouse Wind Farm Community Trust (CWFCT), unveiled groundbreaking internet connectivity in the serene town of Cookhouse on August 31, 2023. This momentous occasion marked a visionary initiative aimed at connecting not only Cookhouse but also the surrounding communities of Adelaide, Bedford, and Somerset East. Ilitha Telecoms’ commitment to fostering digital inclusion and propelling technological advancement shone brightly during this historic unveiling. The project was officially piloted at Cookhouse Secondary School, as well as Msobomvu, Visrivier, Cookhouse, and Lushof primary schools.
The Cookhouse Wind Farm Community Trust, a testament to community-driven enterprise, stands as a prominent community-owned entity with vested interests in wind energy. Operating within the Eastern Cape province, this trust serves as a conduit through which community interests are channelled, allowing the local residents to actively participate in and benefit from the Trust’s diverse initiatives. The partnership between Ilitha Telecoms and CWFCT underscores the power of collaboration between the private sector and community-based organisations. The Chairperson of the Cookhouse Wind Farm Community Trust, Ms Fezeka Mkile emphasised:
“Our trust holds values such as integrity at the forefront of our operations, coupled with a strong commitment to sustainable development within the town.”
Mkile expressed gratitude on behalf of the trust, stating,
“We are truly appreciative to have Ilitha as our partner in this endeavour.”
She emphasised the significance of collaboration, remarking, “Collaboration is essential, especially considering that the trust lacks the financial resources required for such initiatives.” Regarding the internet connectivity project initially designed for five schools, Mkile added,
“The scope has been broadened by Ilitha to encompass community members as well. Education extends beyond the confines of the classroom; it necessitates the involvement of parents, hence the expansion to include the broader community.”
The unveiling event was held in conjunction with the trust annual general meeting, where Ms. Phindiwe Mtyobo, an esteemed independent member of the trustee, took centre stage to address the assembled community members. She eloquently articulated the pivotal role of education in bridging societal gaps, emphasising the transformative potential of online learning platforms, which the installation of fibre would make accessible. Ms. Mtyobo underscored the significance of language skills in enabling children to effectively convey their thoughts and emotions, asserting that literacy is not just about reading but also encompasses the adept use of ICT resources. Miss Mtyobo referenced a study that unveiled a concerning statistic, stating that 81% of grade 4 pupils in South Africa cannot read for meaning. A revelation that emerged from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) report released by the Department of Basic Education in Pretoria.
One of the poignant challenges highlighted during Ms. Mtyobo’s address was the struggle faced by schools in accessing educational materials due to limited data availability. Cookhouse, like many communities, also grapples with a shortage of teachers, impacting the overall quality of education. Ms. Mtyobo passionately advocated for the usage of digital networks, enabling students to access online classes and utilise telematics, thereby potentially improving the pass rate, which currently stands at 70%. The unveiling of connectivity in Cookhouse is a pioneering pilot project, promising transformative outcomes for both the region and the Trust.
Similarly,Mr Gandi Roxo, principal of Cookhouse’s Secondary school lent his voice to the event, emphasising the paramount importance of providing students with a secure and real-time source of information within the bounds of safer spaces. He underscored the indispensable role of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in keeping pace with technological advancements. Ilitha Telecoms’ CEO, Vuyani Jarana, provided insightful advice on infrastructure safety, which Roxo expressed heartfelt gratitude for, committing to the protection and seamless integration of technology within the school. Furthermore, he revealed plans for ongoing training programs designed to equip teachers with digital competency, ensuring that digital devices serve the best interests of the children.
A striking example of the positive impact of connectivity emerged when Roxo highlighted the journey scholars had to undertake – a 25.4-kilometer trek to Somerset East – simply to scan documents for university applications. With the advent of connectivity in Cookhouse, such burdens would be alleviated, streamlining essential tasks for the local youth. Roxo also acknowledged the prevailing challenges of computer illiteracy, reiterating how the newfound connectivity would be a catalyst for change.
The significance of this connectivity initiative extends far beyond the convenience it offers. It represents an earnest endeavour to enhance the quality of education and rectify prevailing inequalities, said Mr Vuyani Jarana, CEO of Ilitha Telecoms. The development of ICT infrastructure creates equitable access to learning opportunities, empowering individuals with the digital competence needed for the modern age. Ilitha Telecoms’ commitment to the community’s development through connectivity is a testament to our company’s dedication to fostering digital inclusion.Jarana delved into the profound implications of connectivity for education, particularly in terms of affordability and accessibility to e-learning platforms.
Jarana addressed the emergent form of inequality stemming from a lack of internet access and emphasised the critical need to ensure that everyone is included in the digital domain.
“You cannot leave the children of the poor outside of quality education and condemn them into generational poverty because they cannot afford it”.
“One can say that the affordability of quality education remains a challenge when employing traditional teaching methods and curriculum delivery. However, by undertaking a comprehensive transformation and strategic investment in the digitalisation of educational delivery systems, the potential for enhanced affordability emerges. Upon closer examination of digital education platforms, it becomes apparent that the cost of administering education to an individual student can potentially decrease to negligible levels”
In closing, Mkile conveyed a powerful message to the Cookhouse community. She emphasised that Ilitha Telecoms was not just bringing the world to Cookhouse but also instigating change within the community. Ms. Mtyile passionately asserted that for change to occur, it must originate from a collective desire for growth within the community, underlining the crucial role that the community itself plays in shaping its future. The unveiling of internet connectivity in Cookhouse stands as a beacon of progress, digital inclusion, and community-driven transformation. Ilitha Telecoms, through its partnership with CWFCT, has illuminated the path towards a more connected, informed, and empowered Cookhouse and neighbouring communities, heralding a brighter and more equitable future for all.