Teaching online from a developing country.
By Grant Botha
Amazingly, super-fast Internet has reached even the most remote of towns and countries around the globe and this has given those of us living in these places tremendous opportunity to benefit off this great tool called the Internet. We can now cancel our very expensive satellite television services (bye bye DSTV) and subscribe to online broadcasting services such as Netflix or Showmax at a fraction of the cost. We can skype family and friends living abroad with actual live video not just audio. We can now even use this to earn an income and take further benefit by bringing in valuable currencies like the Pound Sterling and United States Dollar giving us huge buying power once converted to our local weaker currencies. So life is good, or is it that simple?
The answer is no it’s not! There is one huge obstacle in our way, brought on by living in a developing environment and that is: we live in a developing environment! So why is that a problem, I mean here in South Africa we can buy a can of coke for less than R10 so with our Pounds we can buy a whole truck load of the stuff if we have nothing better to do with our easy earned money. Well there is no such thing as “easy earned money” and here is the problem with a developing country: You can reply on it being, totally unreliable! Now that includes the infrastructure enabling us to earn those, now, hard earned Pounds.
Look at my situation for example. I got into online teaching, set myself up, got a good fast data connection, invested in a good secondhand PC and was good to go. I applied with IQBAR, got through the interview, sailed through the classroom training and Wechat training and booked my mock sessions. I prepared for them and was ready. I booked them fairly early in the day and was excited and anxious to get the last part of my initial training completed so that I could earn money. Fantastic? No, that’s when the wheels fell off and the infrastructure that made it all possible, proved to be reliably unreliable and I had no power, resulting in me not being able to do my mock sessions. Luckily I could rebook them and here we are today but it taught me a lesson – have a back-up plan.
In South Africa, you really can count on the fact that our electricity provider, Eskom, will not be able to deliver you electricity 100% of the time, and that fact is probably true throughout the world. Eskom are currently unable to produce enough electricity to supply the country’s needs, especially when workers leave unused bolts lying in power generators and then turn them on. They often have to carry out what is called “load shedding” where they will literally cut off power to areas for hours at a time before moving onto the next area and rotate through the suburbs always having a few without electricity at any one time. They try to organize this properly and publish schedules so that you can know when your area will have electricity and when it won’t but, as the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing, even that proves to be unreliable. Well that’s an easy obstacle to overcome, use some of our pay to invest in a back-up power supply – A U.P.S. This can be in the form of a battery powered unit or a generator or both. I have started with a battery powered unit and the standby time of these can easily be increased by adding additional batteries connected in parallel to the existing one.
So how do we choose a UPS? Well at the risk of making this blog really boring, I will skip out the details and simply say that to power a desktop pc, monitor, router and an average desk lamp, you will need around a 1.2KVA ups. Typically a store bought unit will give you power at that draw for around 10 -15 min which in our situation does not cut it. To solve this, what I did was simply add a car battery to the system connected in parallel to the UPS battery and I now have around 2 hours of back up time, I plan to add an additional battery soon to double that, you can add additional power sources such as solar panels or wind generators with regulators to guarantee you a fully uninterruptable power supply. So I could get on and do my mock classes. Is that it, can we work now?
Back up Wifi
Well no! Not so simple, have you not heard of Telkom? No matter how you connect to the internet, whether it be Wi-Fi (not recommended due to high jitter) or ADSL or Fiber optic cable. At some point, at some time, this will let you down and you will once again be left in the dark, well not really because your ups will be supplying you light but you will be cut off from the outside world and won’t be able to give your class. The chances in South Africa are good that at some point, some guy in his earth moving digger is going to dig up the fiber optic cable leading to your house because the fiber service is not shown on his server line services drawing that he got from a friend who got it from a friend who used to work at the town planning department three years ago ( or a shark will eat the undersea cable). So we need back up data! How often do we see on the “buddy IT Help” group that someone has had a data failure and please can her class be given to someone else. This should not happen! So I have a primary data connection which is a 20 MB/s minimum uncapped wireless to fiber (not Wi-Fi) service.
A few weeks ago a router somewhere on the route failed and I was without data for about 10 hours while the technicians replaced it. I was able to use my phone as a hotspot and use its LTE connection to Cell C as my data point. Yes, the jitter increased but I could carry out my classes without a problem. A simple solution and I always try keep at least 1 gig worth of data available on my phone as a back-up. I hope to actually get an LTE router soon which I can connect to via a network cable as a more permanent solution.
Wherever you live or work from, whether in Howick in South Africa or in the center of London, no utility company supplying you with electricity or data or anything else for that matter is 100% reliable, at some point they all will let you down. For us in rural areas and developing countries, this happens more often, but it happens for all of us. We need to have as much redundancy in place as a back-up as we can. Being part of the IQBAR team means we need to be available when we say we are available and so we need to have plans in place to do this. I know someone who even has a back-up PC doing nothing in his house in case his laptop packs in at the last minute. He can switch over in less than a minute. Investing in back up equipment may ensure your long term employment at IQBAR. Continued failures without may do the opposite.
Should you want more information on choosing a UPS suitable for your requirements, you can contact me in that regard or look at many online calculators which can help you. I do recommend using a qualified expert to help install this, especially if you are adding additional batteries and solar panels and so on, there are many things to consider when doing so such as cable thickness and so on. So do it and have happy, stable, teaching!