Ingrid Graham - Synergysing People and Technology - 360º UWC Alumni, May – November 2008
Since 2001, the award-winning Khanya Project of the Western Cape Education Department has installed more than 36 000 computers in nearly 1 000 schools – and Ingrid Graham has been there every step of the way.
As the public/private partnership director for the Khanya Project, Graham is behind building relationships with companies and organisations that can provide money and technology to support the project that aims to empower Western Cape schools to use technology.
Having raised many millions through her efforts, Graham has been an important part of the success of the project.
In 2007 she was nominated and finished runner-up as IT Person of the Year from the Western Cape branch of the Computer Society of South Africa.
She sees the value of the project as the difference that technology makes in putting learners without access on an equal footing with schools in wealthier areas, but stresses that installing computer laboratories is not a “box-dropping exercise”.
“It’s about getting community involvement. So this project builds relationships with the community and the management of the school and ensures that teachers get trained so the entire staff will be comfortable with the technology.”
Nor should the exercise be seen solely as a technology project, but rather as a curriculum project. “Every learning area has some kind of technology component so it is essential that technology is used in the school by teachers and learners,” she says.
Graham came to computers relatively late in life, having worked in the wine industry for 22 years before being accepted to the University of the Western Cape (UWC) through a lifelong learning programme that allows for work experience as a criteria for access to university.
On the back of her senior management experience at Stellenbosch Farmers Winery she enrolled in a part time BCom Honours degree in management in 2001, completing the degree in 2004.
Graham, who left school early so she could work to help her single mother, says it wasn’t so much a question of wanting to complete her education because she believes “education is never complete”.
“Education doesn’t stop with school. I really believe education continues throughout life.”
Education has to be functional, she says, and qualifications must be relevant to what is needed at the time, giving the example of her four-year diploma from the Cape Wine Academy which equipped her for work in the wine industry.
Khanya has benefited from her practical experience as well as her academic qualifications. One of the projects she has been working on is how to sustain the programme given the notoriously short lifespan of technology.
This has led to the launch of the Khanya Learnership Programme.
In partnership with business, the programme takes 20 interns from disadvantaged communities and trains them in the skills required to support technology centres at schools. At the end of the year-long programme the interns graduate with NQF level 5 qualifications.
An entrepreneurship component of the course aims to encourage the formation of small businesses around schools, so that the interns build relationships with schools during their internships and therefore have the nucleus of a business once they graduate.
And the Khanya Project continues to break new ground. In August, Khanya launched the first solar-powered computer laboratory in the Western Cape at Bernadino Heights Secondary School in Kraaifontein.
At the event, Graham paid tribute to the range of organisations that contributed to the project and even broke out in song at one stage, inspired by a Bollywood performance from the school’s matrics.
Apart from wine and computers, Graham has indulged in amateur drama and cabaret singing. “It’s all just part of the act, my dear,” she jokes, saying she was interested in drama, acting and singing from a very young age.
“It’s all in the background and is always there should I give up my day job – although I must say if it were my day job I probably wouldn’t enjoy it.”