"Javelin is the most logical and cost-effective way Africa can solve its problem of students' access to digital and re-usable content to enhance education in our lower level schools. It certainly provides a level playing field and guarantees equity and inclusiveness for hinterland schools with network and power infrastructural challenges." Rev. E. K. Dadebo, Co-ordinator, ICT in Education Programmes, Ghana; Country Coordinator, The GLOBE Programme.
Project Objective: Primary and secondary schools in Africa to access educational resources on the Internet and digital textbooks in spite of cost and poor telecommunication infrastructure.
Technology: Open source software mirrors and creates a library of educational websites on a school’s server, provides local e-mail access as well as stored scanned textbooks. Long range narrowband UHF and VHF Data radios deployed for slow update of mirrored sites and e-mail handling.
Brief Summary: Javelin is a free open source software suite. It provides access to a library of educational Web sites, e-mail and stored scanned textbooks for primary and secondary schools in Africa.
More than 90% of schools in Ghana have no link to the Internet. This is because connections are too expensive, or are simply not available. [This situation is quite consistent in several other African countries]. As a result, students are excluded from the educational resources available online. Required textbooks for the students are also mostly unavailable.
Rather than waiting for high-speed lines to become practical and textbooks to be acquired, Arrow Network Systems developed Javelin, a low-cost system to save Web sites and scanned textbooks on local servers at each school. The servers give quick, easy access to information. Meanwhile, slower data radios connect students and teachers to e-mail, and periodically refresh these educational resources. Schools with no connectivity at all may still refresh the resources in other schools or Internet kiosks.
Teledensity in Ghana has increased by 1200% over the period 2001-2006. The voice mobile phone industry is however responsible for almost 100% of this growth. While overall teledensity is estimated as 20%, the teledensity of fixed-line phones (the main Internet access medium), is about 3%.
The cost of a 2mbps (million bits per second) Internet access is over $4,000 per month. The investment cost for installing VSAT to connect a remote location to the Internet is about $20,000 with a monthly charge exceeding $600 for 64kbps.
The effect of the unavailability of telecommunication infrastructure and connectivity cost is that over 90% of schools in Ghana have no regular connection to the Internet. Students and teachers therefore have no easy access to educational resources on the Internet. Textbooks are also on short supply or simply unavailable.
While waiting for these challenges to be solved, Arrow Network Systems has developed the Javelin solution. Its main objective is to enable primary and secondary schools in Africa to have access to mirrored educational websites, scanned textbooks and e-mail on local servers in their schools. Javelin is open-source software and made available for free. Arrow has combined Javelin with wide-reach wireless narrowband technology (up to 192kbps) from Racom (www.racom.eu) to enable schools in remote locations have access to e-mails and to get the educational on-line resources occasionally refreshed.
Through this approach, it is practically possible to enable any school anywhere in Africa have access to the educational resources available on-line at minimal cost. Schools with no means of connecting to the Internet for the occasional refresh may transport their server to nearby schools or other centers for a refresh.
1. Key web sites needed by schools to train students are available to teachers and students on
their LAN (local area network). Scarce textbooks are available in digital re-usable forms.
2. Restricts students from using school resources to access unauthorized web sites.
3. Schools without any form of telecommunication solution may still access educational sites
4. May be used with any telecommunication link.
5. Use of wide reach UHF radios makes it possible for email/Internet access to be granted to
any school, anywhere.
6. Cost of connectivity and maintenance is very low as students are involved in the
maintenance for skill training.
7. May be used as an e-mail only solution for large corporations located in remote areas.
8. E-mail access only mode may be used to conduct searches on the Internet and resulting
sites returned via e-mail to be browsed on a local drive.
1. A local area network with as many computers as may be afforded.
2. A server running the Javelin™engine doing mirroring and caching of web sites, and fetching
user mails from various sources into one consolidated mail box on the LAN.
3. Long range UHF wireless narrowband radio to create WAN (wide area network) connectivity to
nearest Internet point-of-presence.
4. In the absence of a WAN connectivity, Javelin server may be transported to another location
to refresh sites and send/receive e-mails.
Javelin: Frequently Asked Questions
- What is Javelin?
Javelin is a free software suite written with open source Linux tools and routines. Its prime purpose is to mirror and create a library of educational websites on a school’s server so that students and teachers located in poor areas with little or no access to the Internet can access hundreds of selected websites needed for education, and can also send and receive e-mails, even if delayed. Textbooks in short supply are scanned and stored on the Javelin server for student and staff use.
- What’s its origin?
Javelin was originally proposed and designed by Kwaku Boadu, CEO of Arrow Network Systems, Ghana, in 2001; development work was done by staff of Arrow Network Systems (Ghana) and Racom s.r.o. (Czech Republic).
- Why the name Javelin? Any special meaning?
We only thought the next thing after an ‘Arrow’ was a ‘Javelin’ - just having fun with names; no special meaning. Then when we had to explain what Javelin meant we organized a staff contest and succeeded in forging it is an acronym for “Just Another Very Easy Link Into the ‘Net”.
- Who is Arrow Network Systems (www.arrownetworks.net)
Arrow Network Systems is a private data telecommunication company in Ghana started in Nov 2000. Our primary goal is to use wireless narrowband technologies to provide data connectivity in Ghana and export proven data telecom solutions to the rest of Africa. Our telecommunication links are mainly used for financial transactions e.g. interconnecting Bank branches for ATMs and on-line banking. Our clients include Banks and Government on-line border post clearing. Arrow also assembles wireless modems in Ghana for both local sales and export to other African countries.
- Who is Racom s.r.o. (www.racom.eu)
Racom is a wireless device manufacturer in Czech Republic and Arrow’s foreign partner in the deployment of wireless technology in Ghana and Africa. Racom assists Arrow with technology, technical support and training. Arrow has so far used Racom’s flagship product, the U/VHF Radio called Morse® Radio to install long range radio links to provide schools with Internet access using Javelin.
- Who may use Javelin?
Primary and Secondary schools in Africa may find Javelin most useful. Why? These are the poorest schools in Africa, most likely to be left out in funding for Internet connectivity, and moreover they have better use for static websites. Bigger schools and universities mostly need dynamic websites and are also more likely to be successful in raising funds to establish expensive Internet connections on their campuses. These are also schools that cannot afford libraries hence lack essential textbooks on campus.
- How does it work?
The Javelin engine is delivered to a school on CD with hundreds of educational websites already installed on it (mirrored). Javelin occasionally visits the original sites, if a telecom link exists, to check whether a site has changed. Any difference is downloaded, including incoming and outgoing e-mails for as long as the link is available. Otherwise, Javelin waits until it senses a connection to the Internet. Schools that have no way of connecting to the Internet may therefore occasionally carry their Javelin server and plug it onto a LAN in another school or Internet café. The content delivered to the schools included scanned textbooks.
- How much does it cost for a school to have Javelin? How does that compare with other known solutions for establishing Internet connection for remote locations?
Javelin is supplied free on CD to the school and may be used without a permanent or reliable telecommunication link in the school.
However, it has typically cost Arrow about $5,000 in hardware costs alone to establish up to 150km point-to-point link to connect a school. [Cost may increase if a repeater has to be built to overcome a major landscape barrier.] This one-time cost compares favorably with an estimated $20,000 needed to provide a VSAT link to remote locations. While monthly recurring and maintenance fee for VSAT is higher than $300 per month, we estimate a monthly expenditure of about $10 to maintain a Javelin link. Maintenance is much lower if the school chooses not to have a telecommunication link but rather depend on another school for occasional updates of the server data – e-mails and websites.
For a period of 10 years, we estimate that a primary or secondary school shall require about US$26,200 in direct assistance to install a Javelin-based Internet access using a narrowband link and modestly sized local area network. Maintenance of a Javelin-based Internet access is estimated as US$120 per annum. This directly impacts the lives of over 3,000 children over the period per school, without counting the impact on the school's community.
- Does Arrow or Racom depend on Javelin for revenue?
No, Javelin was developed with the sole intention of making it freely available. All internal costs for developing Javelin are borne by Arrow and Racom.
However, hardware costs for installing Javelin need to be recovered. Schools that have links already or wish to use Javelin without a link therefore spend no money.
We have also collaborated with institutions like the World Computer Exchange, Hull, MA, to obtain free, slightly used up-to-date computers for the schools we install Javelin for.
- Does Arrow or Racom intend to own and control Javelin?
No, it is our intention to make Javelin an open source project. In fact, we look forward to students continuing the development process and plug holes that we have not had time to fill or at least get rid of our bugs.
- Why did Arrow use Racom’s Morse® technology? Can Javelin be used with other telecom solutions?
Racom’s Morse® technology is the greatest technology in the world (no kidding!) for building very long range, absolutely reliable, narrowband data links - mainly used for telemetry and point-of-sale/payment system networks. We used it for our first contract - building a telecommunication platform for Ghana’s Department of Lotteries (Simnet) in 2001. We have continued to find this technology the ideal solution for difficult terrain and poor infrastructure areas. Racom has also been kind to Arrow and offered us technology and training at very reasonable demands with clear long term objectives. Racom contributed software routines into Javelin. I believe you can see why we have stuck with Racom.
Javelin was however written with no specific telecom technology in mind. It only senses for a link to the Internet and uses it, irrespective of the technology behind the link. You don't have to use Racom's Morse®.
- What are the benefits of Javelin
i. Students and teachers have access to educational websites and digital reusable
textbooks even without having Internet access in the school.
ii. Students located in remote and poor locations with no access to the Internet get to have
the feel of browsing the Internet and sending/receiving e-mails.
iii. Students are restricted to using the Javelin mirrored sites and therefore blocked from
using school facilities to access unauthorized sites.
iv. Reduced cost for providing Internet access to students.
v. Students can have access to source and get to work on Javelin itself and evolve both
software and hardware solutions for further improvement.
- Can schools with high speed Internet connection also use Javelin?
Yes, it would only mean faster update of sites and e-mail messaging. Such schools may install Javelin for its benefit of controlling students’ access to unauthorized sites.
- What happens when a site needed by students is not found on Javelin?
Javelin has a module which allows students and teachers to complete a form requesting for new sites. When this new request is approved by a designated authority in the school, Javelin commences the job of mirroring the site(s). Mirroring a site may take upto a couple of days over a slow or poor link. Thereafter, this site becomes available locally to all users on the school’s LAN.
- How long does it take to send and receive e-mails on Javelin?
Javelin acts as a store and forward server for e-mails and therefore creates the illusion of instant delivery. Over a slow narrowband link, e-mails without big attachments may be sent or received within a couple of minutes. Schools with no links at all have to wait till someone carries the Javelin server to go and plug onto a LAN in another school or Internet café to have their e-mails delivered and/or received. During this same time, websites which are out of date get updated with new changes to the original site.
- How does Javelin handle web-based mails of its users?
Javelin pops user mails from web-based e-mail addresses like HoTMail, Yahoo and Gmail, if pop is permitted by this e-mail system. This enables Javelin to integrate all of the user’s declared mailboxes into one local mail box.
- How deep does Javelin go to mirror a site?
Javelin can forever dig deeper and deeper into any mirrored site to trace and identify other sites referenced within the site to mirror these sites as well. A parameter may however be set to control how deep it can go, or the size of site it may mirror. Manual interventions have sometimes been used to control the extent of mirroring.
- Is Javelin a completed and matured product?
Not yet. Although Javelin is usable in its present state, some portions require further rigorous testing and fine tuning to fully implement all intended features. This is due to the voluntary and ‘spare time’ approach we have adopted so far. It is therefore our hope that a successful deployment in schools will get a lot more voluntary hands on the product to let it grow faster. We at Arrow and Racom see Javelin as an excellent idea to help schools in Africa and have therefore continued pursuing it, albeit slowly. The matured publicly owned product we are working towards is yet to be realized.
- Has Javelin been deployed on a wide scale anywhere in Africa?
Nop. Javelin is yet to go beyond the first five installations in Ghana. Why? Many schools have learnt of Javelin and would want to use it. However, the problem is, after giving them a free CD for Javelin, they also want Arrow to install a long range link for them for free. And that means at least $5,000 per school in hardware costs for upto 150km. We’ve done only three of such locations. We hope to convince our government to put low cost links into the schools.
- Why can’t I download Javelin from Arrow’s website?
Now you can. Get Javelin files from http://www.arrownetworks.net/Downloadables/Javelin-Source/javelin.tar.gz The schools which really need Javelin don’t have connections to download anyway, so we give Javelin out on CD.
"OLA Training College is the first training college in Ghana to install a computer laboratory with 40 computers connected to the Internet. This was simply made possible by Arrow Networks’ Javelin product. There is no way we could have afforded the cost of establishing the communication link and also to pay for Internet bandwidth. My students and staff have access to educational websites and e-mail [first time for over 90% of students]. I am particularly thrilled by Javelin’s default behavior of preventing students’ access to unauthorized sites. We have now been able to introduce ICT training in our curriculum.” - Rev. Sr. Elizabeth Amoako, Principal, OLA Training College, Cape Coast, Ghana.
"I have personally installed Arrow Networks’ Javelin product for a couple of schools in Ghana. I consider this simple approach of combining mirroring and wireless narrowband technology to provide Internet access to schools a major breakthrough for most schools in Africa. It is indeed a very welcome solution in view of the present state of our telecom infrastructure. Many thanks to Kwaku Boadu for this idea, and many more thanks to Racom for providing a wonderful UHF data radio technology for this project. Double-Thumbs up for Arrow Networks!” - Tony Assan, CEO, e-Techniques & Systems Limited, Ghana.
"Javelin makes a lot of sense for our schools due to the cost and telecommunication infrastructure issues in Africa. I applaud this innovative use of technology for education. We at AITI-KACE have committed ourselves to further testing with Arrow Network Systems towards a successful deployment in schools in Ghana.” – Dorothy K. Gordon, Director General, Advanced Institute for Information Technology Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in ICT, Ghana.
Javelin puts our school on the same level as any school in big cities which have direct Internet access to education sites. It makes available to me all useful sites that I think I shall ever have to visit on the Internet. It gives me access to notes on Mathematics which complement classroom notes in no small way.” – Student, OLA Training College, Ghana.
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