Tshwane Mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa shares a lighter moment with Ishmael Sepato, headboy of J Kekana Secondary School in Mamelodi, after handing the Grade 12 pupil a tablet as part of a digitalisation drive in Gauteng.

Pretoria - There had been “huge appetite” for the free internet use provided by the Tshwane metro at numerous Wi-Fi hotspots across Pretoria, Mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa said on Tuesday.

“For us to move from a developing to a developed country, technology is going to be indispensable. Its penetration and reach is indispensible,” Ramokgopa said in Mamelodi, east of Pretoria.

“One of the downsides of being a first-mover is that there is a great chance that you are going to receive a barrage of critics. That was the case when we launched the free Wi-Fi. You get that when you are initiating something that people have not been accustomed to.”

He said so far, there had been more than 600 000 users of the municipality’s free Wi-Fi service accessible at centres including the Union Buildings lawns area, the Church Square, numerous schools and university campuses and parks in Pretoria.

“We have the more than 600 000 unique users who have had more than 12 million sessions on that service. There is a huge uptake of that service. There is great appetite,” said Ramokgopa.

He said plans were in the pipeline to extend the free Wi-Fi service across the capital city.

“We have no regrets. That is one of our flagship projects on the African continent. We are looking at expanding it further,” said Ramokgopa.

At the Union Buildings, hordes of Pretoria residents gather daily using laptops and phones to connect to the internet via free Wi-Fi.

University student, Alicia Matemba said using Tshwane Wi-Fi was part of her daily routine these days.

“I am here (at the Union Buildings) every day, for the past year. As a student, I do not have sufficient funds for data bundles, which have become very expensive. The free Wi-Fi service makes Pretoria the best city to live in,” she said.

Some school pupils, on their way home, said they stopped at free Wi-Fi hotspots for research on their homework.

“My parents cannot afford to buy me data, but I know I can get it free. I cannot imagine my life without the free internet services,” said Nhlanhla Matebula, 17.

Ramokgopa switched on the Church Square Wi-Fi hotspot at the city centre in 2013, which was one of the first five venues. At the Wi-Fi hotspots, users get a maximum of 250 megabytes per day.

On Tuesday morning, Ramokgopa and several Gauteng education officials also handed over the “paperless classroom” laptops for teachers and tablets to Grade 12 learners in Mamelodi. Screams of excitement echoed at J Kekana Secondary School as pupils were excited to join other Gauteng schools which have migrated from the use of traditional chalk boards to the digitalised giant LED screens (e-boards) in classrooms.

Grade 12 learner Boitumelo Skosana, who is also the school’s head girl, said her chances of passing matric examinations had received a significant boost.

“We were facing many challenges before we received these tablets. Some learners were often complaining about the dust from the chalkboards. If a learner is absent, they can catch up on the lessons or homework,” said Skosana.

“We expect an improvement in our results. We are confident in ourselves. We are going to push and we think a 100 percent pass rate is possible. Nothing is impossible.”

The school’s headboy, Ishmael Sepato, said his school would not disappoint in this year’s matric results.

“We have been waiting for this all our lives. Using chalkboards, sometime learners can’t see properly when they are at the back. Our classes are full. Some of the students have problems related to sinuses and so on,” said Sepato.

Charles Tabane, the school’s principal, said the learning experience for his school’s 135 Grade 12 pupils would never be the same from now onwards.

Ramokgopa urged the school to jealously protect the equipment and deliver top grades in examinations. Each tablet has a tracking device installed in it, to track their whereabouts should one go missing or be stolen.

Gauteng’s education department has purchased over 17,000 tablets for Grade 12 learners and 1,800 3D LED interactive boards that are currently being installed in matric classrooms at schools across the province. This is the second phase of the department’s ICT roll-out to create “paperless classrooms” throughout Gauteng.

The province’s pilot project for “paperless classrooms” began in February this year. At the same time as learners at J Kekana Secondary School in Mamelodi received their tablets and LED interactive boards, Gauteng MEC for Education Panyaza Lesufi was leading the launch of the “paperless classrooms” programme in Soweto on Tuesday morning.