Zambia. An overview

On: July 14, 2008
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About Rikus Wegman
Rikus is a student New Media on the university of Amsterdam. He has a bachelor degree in Social Science and a broad interest in the social and cultural implications of New Media. Rikus is interested in the development of New Media in Africa. He has a minor in cultural studies with a broad interest in youth culture.


For my master thesis I spend 3 months in Zambia to look at the way ICT was used in Secondary Schools. In this following text I will an overview of the organisations that I’ve visited, the teacher training programs I have seen, the workshops I have given and I will in short describe my personal experiences.

After arriving in Zambia# I spend some days at UNZA (the biggest University of Zambia in Lusaka). Where I spoke to fellow students about how they use computers in their study and what in general the role of ICT’s in education in Zambia was. The first thing I noticed in these different conversations was both the huge interest in computers and (especially) the internet and the awareness of the importance of computers. The students showed me some of their personal school assignments in which the focus lied on the positive influence that ICT’s could have on different sectors of Zambian society. Most of the higher educated people in Zambia seem to realize the impact that computers could have on their lives and are really aware of the impact that the computer has made in developed countries around the globe. Although this big interest really excited me at first, when I saw that most of the papers that where made by the students (even the papers about ICT’s in Zambia) where still handwritten I realized that there was still a long way to go before computers would be part of the standard curriculum in all Zambian schools.

After three days of hanging out at UNZA and collecting locally produced information for my thesis I took the bus to the north of Zambia to Kitwe. During this bus trip my bag with my two laptops and some more valuable goods was stolen. To make a long story short…this was not the best way to start with your research. The first week in Kitwe I spend a lot of my time tracking my bag and talking to police and people who might have some information about my bag. These efforts eventually paid off because after a week I found back my two laptops. Although this first week in the Copperbelt did not go as planned I did (in the time I was not looking for my bag) get to help out and observe people from The Hague based organisation IICD and their trainers from Atos Origin during their workshop. The IICD workshop basically was about learning Zambian teachers how to enhance their learning material by using visuals. The movie editing tool MovieMaker and the animation tool Scratch (MIT…) where shown and explained to the teachers who then got the chance to create their own educational content using these tools. It was quite an interesting experience to see not only how the teachers picked up on these tools and what content they created but also to see how the workshops where structured and organized. The cultural differences between how Dutch people and Zambian people look at education where pretty obvious, surprising and fascinating. In my conversations with the Zambian Teachers I learned that Zambian teaching was still far more teacher focussed as the style of teaching that I’m used to. The role that the computer can have in Zambian Schools therefore sometimes maybe frightens the teachers a little bit because computers as educational tools are often more focussed on a student or class centred approach.

After the people from IICD and Atos Origin left Mpelembe Secondary School and I found back my macbook there was a new workshop organized on the same premises by the organisation Computers For Zambian Schools (CFZS). Because of the good IT facilities Mpelembe Secondary School is often used as a training ground by different organisations in the field of ICT4E. This particular 5 day workshop was about basic computer appreciation and explained basic Microsoft tools like Word, Excell and Powerpoint. CFZS is an organisation that focuses on donating second-hand computers to schools. Since 2002 6000 computers have been given away to more then 800 teachers. Once a school gets computers the teachers of these schools also get training in how to use these computers. The level of skill between the participants is pretty big. There is a small group that already has an e-mail account and uses the computer every now and then but there is also a big group that have never touched a mouse in their lives. This leads to pretty hilarious scenes of people moving the mouse through the air and people discovering the use of a scroll bar. The workshop is given in such a way that participants begin from scratch learning the basics of ‘what is a keyboard’ before being explained the different Microsoft programmes. The idea of the workshop is that the teachers learn the basics so they can begin to work with their new computers in schools. After 6 months there is supposed to be a second more advanced course that teaches the teachers some more in depth information about these Microsoft tools and the Internet. At the end of the workshop there was a “getting to know the internet” class that showed how to operate an internet browser. This was by most of the teachers seen as the highlight of the workshops. Until late in the night the teachers used the internet finding information for their classes, information on their favourite English Football team, information about their hometown or they spend their time just looking at funny pictures or videos.

During these workshops I handed out a short questionnaire to learn about their computer use. I returned home with around 130 filled out forms which I am going to use to sketch a picture of why, when and how Zambian teachers are using the computer. In the questionnaire I also had some open questions asking the teachers how they saw the role of ICT in education. This resolved in some nice insights that I can present in my thesis.

Next to workshops I also visited some conferences and meetings with ICT4E related organisations in the field. I visited a conference organized by IICD and E-brain where one of the most important points was that it is time to stop talking about Digital Divide as West vs. South. The different organisations should not talk about this big picture but focus on the Divide within Zambia. To address this divide it is important for the different Zambian organisations to join forces. The knowledge sharing community should go beyond personal development into national development. As long as there is an interest of information and communication technologies everyone should be welcome to join. The situation in Zambia is that although there is interest in the use of computers and teachers are more and more seeing the benefits of the new possible tools there is still a long way to go to completely integrate the computer in the standard curriculum. There are a lot of constraints and it is hard to start a successful project and make it sustainable without donor support.

My nest stop was visiting a workshop in the Eastern Provence of Zambia. This is one of the less developed areas of the country when it comes to the use of computers and connectivity. This workshop was organized by Schoolnet Zambia. In a conference former head of E-brain and director of Schoolnet Zambia Moses Mwale announced that that this workshop would get into administrational tools Zambian schools could use. When I arrived at Chassa Secondary School in Sinda I found out that there where a lot of problems with connectivity and electricity. Like most of the Zambian schools there where a lot of problems with the connectivity and every day there where power black outs. The workshop resembled the CFZS workshop I visited a while earlier in Copperbelt in this sense that the focus again was on the learning the basics of tools like Word, Powerpoint and Excell. During my time in Sinda I spend my time observing the workshop and talking to the people from Schoolnet. I also did an interview with Moses Mwale, Head of Schoolnet Zambia and Assistant Director Information Technology at the Examinations council of Zambia. He told me about Schoolnet’s goals and ambitions and the big interest that Zambian teachers are showing in these new tools and possibilitys. He also expressed his hope for a successful implementation of the national ICT policy.

The last weeks of my trip I spend visiting different schools and looking at different projects in progress. I visited most of the schools connected to the ENEDCO project. This project focuses providing schools with a computer, a printer and a projector to encourage teachers to visualize their teaching materials in new ways. In these schools I did a presentation about different ways to use ICT’s in Education. As an example I used my personal studies at the university of Amsterdam and the way how we as MOM use the computer on all different layers of education. I also explained some of the basic internet tools teachers could use in their searches for information and lesson materials. Giving these presentations was really challenging to do because it was really hard to guess the level of skill of the group of teachers in front of you. At some schools the ICT literacy was quite high but in other schools a lot of the information I was presenting seemed to be completely new material. Trying to explain at a comprehendible level was, although hard, really fascinating. During the presentations I tried to discuss with the teachers a lot and I gave them a lot of room to ask questions. This led to some interesting insights for my thesis.

One of the sites I explained how to use in my presentation was the I-school website. This website is set up by ISP AfriConnect in Zambia to offer ‘a window for Zambian teachers into the internet’. It provides a lot of sites that or of particular interest to Zambian teachers at all different levels. I spoke to Anne Johnson, assistant director of Ischool, about their goals and challenges. I-school is trying to provide Zambian teachers and students with an easy accessible first step to a useful educational use of the internet. I found this project really fascinating because it tries to focus on creating locally produced content by encouraging teachers to post presentations and lesson plans on the internet and it also tries to make the world wide web comprehendible and usable for Zambian teachers.

Anne Johnson also introduced me to Heidi Neff, who works for the Zambia Pacific Trust and is involved in organizing different computer programs in Zambian Government Schools and trying to make them sustainable. She explained me the challenges she was facing in organizing these programs and the progress they have made in the last years. I visited one of the schools supported by Zambian Pacific Trust called Munali Secondary School. At Munali (wikimapia) there was a computer room filled with laptops and a lot of children where using these laptops after school hours. During the day these computer rooms where used to give classes and after a certain time the students where free to use the facilities for their other classes. This process was monitored by students that where appointed to computer monitor and wore a computer monitor badge on their shirt. All the students where using the computer and I was amazed by the skills some of the students where showing. This is what it is all about. African students getting the chance to use the same teaching materials and tools that their western fellow students are using. Smart kids need smart education and although there is still a long way ahead I have seen some amazing projects booking amazing results.

#I arrived in Holland about a month ago but because of Holliday and my mac being fixed this is a little bit of a late post…sorry

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