Plockton and Pretoria may seem unlikely bedfellows, but pupils from a Ross-shire school initiated a project to equip 10 new African information technology centres with 143 computers. As winners of the first IT Innovation Awards competition, sponsored by the Royal Bank of Scotland, five students from Plockton High School took their slogan - Making a difference - to heart. Their entry proposed to set up an IT centre in Africa using recycled computers and software. One year later, the results speak for themselves.
The students and a teacher, Terry Heaviside, collected hardware and software from donors, including Glasgow's College of Nautical Studies and Huddersfield University. Then last June the students set off with two teachers to deliver training and technology to schools in Africa.
Terry Heaviside says: "The people in these communities had so little compared to us, yet they put out the red carpet and treated us like royalty. It was amazing."
The group set up one IT centre in Malawi, eight in South Africa and one in Kenya. In the Meru School in Kenya, 100 people built a room for the computers. Now the Kenyan government is introducing a computer syllabus to the curriculum.
What of the future? The original group of students has now moved on to university and a group of seven fifth-year students has taken their place. They are applying for charitable status and have set up a steering group involving students, teachers and members of the local community. They have made new contacts in Kenya, Namibia and Lesotho and plan to set up another seven IT centres next summer.
The Computers for Africa group is also working with Northern College to develop a distance-learning course to train African teachers. The group is appealing for old computers, software, training materials and cash.
Terry Heaviside is delighted with the results: "The aim of the project was to show that a group of youngsters could make a real difference in a world where it seems increasingly difficult for individuals to have an effect. Computers became a tool for something much bigger than we ever imagined, not only in the scale of the venture but in the community links and international friendships established."
One South African headteacher has no doubts: "Education gives hope, and a way for our young people to improve themselves. Computers are part of modern education and we want our students to compete with the best."
Schools from Scotland have entered this year's contest. Plockton High School is bidding for glory again with a team developing software for a student at the school who is unable to speak. The finals will be held at SCET this month.
* BETT CONNECTIONS
SCET stand 164 * Computers for Africa, Plockton High School, Plockton, Ross-shire.Tel 01599 544300