Zambia…the end of Holiday
Holiday is over in Zambia. After a couple of weeks in which Zambian teachers had the chance to join in on a variety of different ICT workshops throughout the country it is now time to go back to their pupils and overwhelm them with all the new knowledge and skills they have learned. The last couple of weeks I have been so fortunate to be invited at a couple of computer workshops from different organisations for teachers living in different regions in the country. In this post I want to share my observations so far. Sorry for the long post….When you have fast internet….use it.
The first Workshop I visited was a IICD (international Institute of Comunication and Development) workshop at Mplembe Secondary School in the Copperbelt in Kitwe. This school is the “headquarter” for the ENEDCO (Enhancing the visual presentation of education content) project so it is no surprise that the workshops where about how to enrich your teaching with visuals. The workshops where organized by IICD and IT specialists from Atos Origin. The two main topics of the workshops were movie-editing and creating your own animations. Although I missed out on the first day of the workshop in which all the teachers were introduced and on the last day in which most of the final products where presented by the teachers I still had the chance to work with the participants on their projects for 4 days. A couple of weeks before the workshop started participants where already given the opportunity to exchange information or present themselves online in a specially designed d-group. The participants joining the workgroup mostly came from the Schools joining the Enedco project, although there where also people from Esnet, CYP (Chawama Youth Project) and other schools.
The workshop on animation was given by Atos Origin’s Berno van Soest who taught the 23 Zambian teachers all about using the animation tool Scratch. Scratch is a animation tool by MIT and although it’s fairly basic to use it is a great introduction into the world of animation. After Berno showed a rain animation he has made himself most of the participants were really anxious to get at it themselves. One of the main things I have seen during my observations is that the will to learn and the enthusiasm is enormous. Half an hour into the workshop the teachers are already trying out all the different options. From the way the teachers are looking at and using the examples it becomes clear that most of them don’t have a lot of experience using a computer. A game of Pong, (that serves as a scratch example) was being closely examined by a group of teachers for at least 15 minutes. Four of them where watching while one was playing the game.(pong linkje voor de liefhebber) However, what began as a game of clicking laughing and looking at the examples is slowly moving towards an interest in the possibilities to create their own animations. The different skill levels however are really obvious during this workshops. Some of the teachers are picking up the material pretty quick while others are still figuring out the precise way a scroll-bar works. Some of the participants are running in to some basic problems while for instance running the installation wizard and they tend to stop trying to figure it out on their own quite quick. They are expecting Berno or me to figure it out for them. Although Berno is trying to encourage and trigger own initiative from the participants some of them are still so unfamiliar with the computer that they tend to keep a safe distance. Although some have their difficulties and are progressing slowly others really start exploring the possibilities together: “You can make your own adjustments you see”…”yes, I see it, now it makes sence”…”can you also drag this”…”now,what about this stuff?”…”Can you make him do that”….”look, this makes it move around”…”Now…let’s get into, remember, where did you get them”.
Apart from practical hands on teaching there is also room reserved in the workshop for some basic explanations on storyboarding. Atos Origin’s Fabiana De Boer is doing a presentation about the importance of having a good storyboard. During the presentation she asks the teachers for tips and tricks of presenting and making a movie or animation. The things the participants come up with vary from: “if you want stability during filming you can use one hand butt maybe you can use the other to hold the stability. I don’t know how to phrase it” to “You should choose appropriate scenes for your film. You should choose a scene that is appropriate to what you say” Although these tips al seem pretty obvious to me personally the group is discussing them exhaustively. I think this pretty much shows the basic levels on which the participants are starting. One of the participants, in a part of the workshop about moviemaking asked:
“The digestive system, how do I film that?”
After a short explanation that this would pretty hard to film Fabiana explained that it would be possible “reconstructing” the system by using an animation.
At the end of the workshops most people had learned the basics of either Scratch or moviemaker and presented what they had made. Although some of the teachers had made some fairly simple movies with low educational value other have made beautiful animations of the spreading of the HIV virus or movies about the computer basics of hardware for their computer studies class. I personally was most impressed by the work of Douglas Mazimba, a Biology teacher from Ibenga Girls High School who made impressive and educational animations of biological processes. Within a couple of days he had really mastered Scratch and made usable and educational animations. After the presentations all the teachers where rewarded with a certificate.
COMPUTERS FOR ZAMBIAN SCHOOLS WORKSHOP
After the workshop with IICD I also visited a Computers for Zambian Schools workshop. Com4Zam Schools is an NGO that hands out second hand computers to schools in Zambia and also provides basic training in the use of computers. Their aim is to provide the schools that receive the computers with a beginner and later on an advanced course in the use of IT’s. Since 2002 6000 computers have been given away to more then 800 teachers. The workshop I observed in Kitwe was a beginner course and took 5 days. In these five days the participants where invited to discover basic Microsoft programs such as Word, Powerpoint and Excel as well as learning looking at hardware, doing some problem shooting and getting a basic explanation in browsing the internet. Most of the participant where from the Central Province (around Kabwe) in Zambia.
Compared to the IICD workshop I’ve visited last week this one is at a an even more beginner level, when presenter Chester asked what the teachers know about computers half of them state that they have “no computer knowledge”. The other half “knows” programs like word, “Microsoft” and excel. The workshop therefore starts of with the basic question: “What is a computer?” After giving basic definitions of terms such as: Computer, Hardware, windows, microsoft and Software one of the participant comes up with the following question:
“I have a question…The windows itself, it comes into an environment. It is software that is planted in. What is the name of that environment? I mean: Windows is a system that requires a system….What is that system?”
Poor Chester struggles to explain and is relieved when he finally managed to get everyone behind a keyboard. For some of the teachers this is a new experience. This is really strange to see. It seems like such a huge gap between on the one hand being confronted with all these big stories about importance of Computers in their teaching, the huge possibilities, the “new worlds” it will open for their students and so on…and on the other having to listen to Chester who is explaining that “The long key is the space key. It allows you to move one space”.
Throughout the first 3 days word, excel and powerpoint basics are being explained to the teachers. The instructors try to keep everybody in the same pace by constantly asking: “Are we together?” A problem with this kind of basic beginner workshop is that there are a lot of participants who already know the basics and are ready for some more advanced training. This group seems to be bored a little bit. Instead of trying new things they are just follow the instructions that they already seem to know. An important part of organizing workshops such as this one is to make sure that the groups you material you are teaching is in line with the hopes, expectations and needs of the invited target group. Although this (once again) might sound pretty logical this seems to be a big organisational issue in a country like Zambia.
The last day of workshop to most teachers is like the icing on the cake. The last day will be about using the internet. Although most teachers heard stories about the Internet and have a vague idea about what it can do half of them has never used it before. Some of the participants have brought out business cards or other material on which it shows website names or e-mail addresses. They have been carrying them around for quite a while and seem anxious to finally check out what the fuzz is all about. Two participants where really disappointed about the fact that the e-mail addresses they have been carrying along where no addresses to a website. “You can not see anything there when you type it into the browser, You can just send a message or information yourself…sorry.” I think this is one of the many examples that show how sincerely interested and intrigued by the Internet most teachers are. They see websites/e-mail addresses all around but just don’t really know what it is exactly and how they can use it…They seem anxious to learn.
To explain some features of the Internet Chester often uses compares it to a mobile telephone or mobile telephone network. In Zambia there is a big mobile hype going on at the moment. (Everywhere you look you see huge advertisements of providers Celltell, CellZ or MTN and almost everybody (even in the more rural areas) have/has access to a mobile telephone. Ringtones are a big thing and people tend to show off wit their phones in public.) Chester compares mobile phones to the Internet a couple of times for instance by saying that “your e-mail address is like your celtell number. Typing www is the same as 0976, (the beginning code of all celtell numbers).
During the workshop I got the chance to hand out some questionnaires to the teachers. In these short questionnaires I asked them to explain how they personally looked at the use of computers in Zambian education. I also asked them about what kind of users they themselves are and how they envision the role of computers in their own classes in the near future. At the end of the workshop when all the participants get their certificate handed out by Mr. Makondo (the vice principle) one of the instructors called Mapache stated that: “the bal has been thrown in the court now…you can play now.”
For my last workshop visit I traveled to a little town in the Eastern Province of Zambia called Sinda. The Eastern Province is a more rural and poor area of Zambia. The workshop was supposed to be about administrational tools in Zambian Education but after I arrived I discovered that it would basically go into the same Microsoft programs that the Workshop I visited last week was about. A little bit of a disappointment. This is one of the hardest parts about doing research here. Most of the communication is really bad so it’s hard to know what to expect sometimes. I for instance would send a lot of e-mails to ask if it would be alright for me to visit this workshop and what exactly it would be about but I never got an e-mail back from anyone. After deciding just to show up they where welcoming me with open arms. “Yes, we heard that you where coming…thanks for the e-mail messages…” pfffffff
The workshop was organized by Schoolnet Zambia and the readers where provided from other Schoolnet projects from around Africa. Although the readers all looked good I was surprised that in their workshops the presenters themselves didn’t use the computer or projector a lot. They didn’t use any PowerPoint presentations and used a large chalkboard to draw out certain things. During this workshop we experienced a lot of power blackouts. This is a big problem in huge parts of Zambia. Here in the Eastern Provence we would have around 3 blackouts with a duration of at least 2 hours each every day. Because of a lack of power there was a lot of time for wrecking apart computers and looking at the internal hardware. The participants seem to be especially interested in this ‘hands on training’. One of the teachers stated that: “We need to know how to handle the machines that are there. Otherwise every three months you have to get this guy from Lusaka to fix it and give him a lot of money.” The participants really want to learn to be able to fix the machines. This is something I have seen in all the different workshops. The participants, especially in the rural areas, are well aware of the fact that when something breaks there is not always a technician around to fix it.
During this workshop there was no Internet connection. This is a big problem in most parts of Zambia. Internet connection is expensive and a lot of school heads are not convinced about the importance of having an Internet connection. Chassa Secondary School is one of the most ‘ICT-fixated’ schools in the Eastern Province. When there are conferences are workshops about the ICT’s for the Eastern Province these are often held at this school. That was the main reason I was surprised by the lack of Internet connection. Making people ICT literate in the most basic sense (learning them how to type and use a computer) is seen as a first important step but this is still miles away from actually being ‘connected’. Even within the Enedco project, which is based on sharing content, there are a lot of problems with connectivity. Although all the workshops I have visited have put big emphasis on getting connected and the teachers seem really interested in the possibilities the Internet has to offer it still seems a long road to getting everybody connected.
Now that the Schools are starting again I will try to get some visits to different schools done. I will also try to get some more interviews with people from different organisations. I already had an interview with Mr. Mwale from the examinations council in Lusaka that was pretty interesting and I hope to get to talk to more “big-fish” in the near future. Last but not least there is also a big project in the copperbelt where the mines are contributing almost 400 computers to the mining schools that I would like to get some more information about. Lot of observing and interviewing ahead but first meeting up with Piet’s girlfriend tomorrow and trying to convince her to do the bungee jump with me at Vic Falls….