Kristan takes CK-12 FlexBooks to Africa
Today's post comes to us from Kristan Bakker. Kristan is presently a consultant in sustainable international development specializing in education, empowerment of girls, and prevention of violence of against women and girls. Kristan has worked on access to educational resources and technology in schools in South Africa, Uganda, and Tanzania. She lives in Deerfield, Massachusetts.
This post is a collection of serveral journal entries from Kristan's trip to Africa.
I am committed to providing access to quality education to marginalized children in the developing world because access to such education can have far reaching effects enabling students to be innovators, job creators, managers, and leaders in their country. Education for girls especially has been shown to delay early marriage, teenage pregnancy, and increase women’s participation in the formal workforce. Once employed, women have fewer children and invest their income in the family which means better nutrition, housing, and education for their children. In essence, I see education as key to ending poverty.
CK-12 digital textbooks can play an important role in breaking the cycle of poverty through providing high quality free digital textbooks to schools that use English for instruction in the developing world. Coupled with training in improved teaching methods, these digital textbooks become a potent force for transforming education in countries like Uganda and Tanzania. What I’ve witnessed in the schools I’ve visited is that there are few if any textbooks and those that exist are usually only in the hands of the teacher. To impart the information from these texts whose content is tied to government tests, teachers write the content on the blackboard often word for word for students to copy into their notebooks. The teachers then review what they’ve written with little additional information. This uses the majority if not all of the class time. At best students memorize and possibly understand the material but higher levels of thinking are not possible. Access to quality textbooks frees up class time allowing better teaching of knowledge and skills that are critical for the development of the workforce of these countries. As the cost of computer tablets, e-readers, and multiple workstations per computer decreases, providing CK-12 digital textbooks becomes more practical. The quality of these texts opens a whole new world to teachers and students in the developing world.
June 18th, 2013 Uganda
I am just finishing my 3rd of 11 weeks at the Allen VR Stanley School in Uganda (AVRS School). The AVRS School is a private boarding school serving Ugandan student-athletes who excel in primary school math scores and athletic prowess.
Its mission is to educate and train student-athletes to qualify them for academic and athletic scholarships here in Uganda and abroad. The school, financed by the non-profit 303 Development Foundation, started its first class this year at the Secondary-1 level, equivalent to 7th grade in the United States. Students attend tuition-free and are exposed to an American curriculum emphasizing STEM, specifically math and science, and may choose between baseball, softball, or football (soccer) for a sport.
Present students attend from 20 of Uganda’s 100 districts. The 51 students received their Galaxy Tablets the day after we (my son Noah and I) arrived. The high quality educational resources I’ve brought are from CK-12 Foundation, World Possible’s RACHEL Initiative, and Khan Academy. Because the school does not have internet access for all intents and purposes, in order to provide access for students and teachers to these resources, I have brought a Local Area Network (LAN) system using a wireless router connected to two Raspberry Pi computers.
The Raspberry Pi’s use SD cards holding up to 64 GB of educational resources including CK-12 FlexBooks. Students use the wireless LAN signal to their Galaxy Tab 2 tablets to read and annotate their CK-12 FlexBooks. Admittedly, these beautiful digital textbooks and especially their images are a bit distracting at first to the students but they serve as an invaluable tool for improving the education of these children.
I have been given some instructional time to help students become familiar with education-related applications like the offline Merriam-Webster Dictionary, reader apps like iAnnotate, and Polaris Office which is Samsung’s Android version of Microsoft Office. The free application iAnnotate is especially helpful in aiding students to annotate their digital textbooks which are in pdf format. I have also introduced them to the keyboard and the word processing program which is a bit awkward with the touch screen. What a riot when they discovered TTS in the middle of class…because the first thing I had them type was “my name is….” So everyone in the class knew who had found the TTS.
BTW the weather here is perfect EVERY day. Low 80’s with a breeze during the day and high 60’s to low 70’s at night.
July 2nd, 2013 Uganda
Week 5 and the students are becoming much more adept at using their tablets. I have gone into the capital city of Kampala to get internet and download apps to supplement their learning in areas where they have the most need including mental math practice and English grammar.
The exciting thing for me is that having digital textbooks makes teaching more efficient and opens the possibility for more student-centered learning. Both the teachers and the students come from a tradition of passive learning necessitated by the lack of textbooks, either digital textbooks or traditional paper textbooks.
Teachers dictate from the one text they might have, in many cases word for word. Students are required to copy down the information, again word for word, without questions.
Here at AVRS School that has now changed. Students can read the content on their tablets in advance of class or after the fact and have a lot more interaction in class with the teacher during lecture.
I am also working with the teachers to modify their lessons from a lecture format to one where students take more responsibility for the learning through group assignments, activities, and presentations. The learning curve is a bit steep but well worth the effort.
July 14, 2013 Tanzania
I am presently in Magu, Tanzania in the Mwaza region visiting an orphanage and school run by JBFC, a non-profit dedicated to a holistic approach to ending extreme poverty in East Africa. The campus houses 43 girls who were neglected or orphans from ages 4 to 18 and runs a coed government primary school with 192 students and has just started a secondary school with 49 students in Forms 1 and 2, equivalent to our 7th and 8th grades. Quality educational resources are in high demand and the school is presently designing a learning center that they hope will be equipped with a computer lab in which classes can be scheduled for research, to learn word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation software, and have access to the tremendous resources made available by CK-12, World Possible’s RACHEL Initiative, and Khan Academy Lite. Similar to the AVRS School in Uganda, I have brought them an intranet/LAN system powered by two Raspberry Pi computers, a router, and two 64 GB SD cards. One SD card carries the content from RACHEL including the CK-12 texts and the other carries nearly 3000 Khan Academy videos of science and math lessons with accompanying exercises that can be completed by students who log on enabling them to keep track of their ‘scores’ for correctly completing the problems. I also have brought the most recent CK-12 math and science texts. Because, at present, the school has two computers for students, I cannot introduce the system to all the students. That I will leave for the teachers when they get funding for equipping their learning center. I have, however, had two girls each aged 10 try out the system using the videos and accompanying exercises as well as looking at the RACHEL content. The ‘score’ for their efforts on the exercises appeared to be very motivating. They also enjoyed some of the images from Wikipedia.
There are several challenges in giving all students access to these educational resources. First is that they need computer devices and they will have to decide between desktops, laptops, or tablets. Tablets as I’ve discovered at the AVRS School have many advantages including price, versatility, and the wealth of free educational apps. They are, however, fragile. Students and faculty must ensure they are protected by jackets and screen protectors and stored safely for recharging. Laptops are more costly and don’t have the variety of apps but are less fragile, have a keyboard, more memory, and can use Open Office. Desktops have these advantages as well and are less fragile but don’t have batteries to power them when power is temporarily out. This school does have a set of Kobo mini e-readers on which books including textbooks can be loaded but cannot connect to the intranet content. They will be used as readers for the primary students.
The second challenge is the fact that many East African government secondary schools have what is known as a spiral curriculum (at least that’s what I call it). Science classes in this curriculum, for example, cover biology, chemistry, and physics together each year instead of studying just one science subject per year. This means that secondary teachers need three or four CK-12 textbooks to teach one class. Thankfully CK-12 texts have the “flex”ability so that through the internet, one textbook can be created from the three or four to be in sync with their required curriculum. Staff at JBFC are quite interested in creating these texts customized to their Tanzanian context. What an improvement they will be compared to the texts they presently use!
July 18, 2013 Tanzania
Today is the day before I leave JBFC in Tanzania to return to the AVRS School in Uganda. This afternoon I shared the intranet system with the headmaster and several teachers from the school. Because there are only a few computers at the school, they shared laptops as they viewed the CK-12 texts, Khan Academy videos and Wikipedia content. They were thrilled. They wanted to know who was responsible for creating and sharing such resources.
They asked if the government had helped. I tried to explain the commitment that organizations like World Possible, CK-12, and Khan Academy have for reaching students around the world who do not have access to the internet or quality educational materials. They were incredulous. I asked them to write their reactions down. One teacher said, “It’s a wonderful programme…we need this in our school and our nation at large. Thank you for your wonderful work to this world.”
Though the presentation went superbly, the Raspberry Pi intranet system still has a lot of kinks to work out. Power surges and deficits which are common here both with the electricity from the solar array and from the generator. The inconsistent supply of electricity can damage the router and even the SD cards. Also, once static IP addresses can change so that they have to be determined after turning on the system. We are working on these problems as are others that are using this new technology. The efforts are well worth it. I see it in the eyes of the teachers and students as they marvel at all these resources available to them on the computer screen.
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