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Global Outreach supports education delivery through ICT

26th November 2012
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Mr. Stan Muessle, Founder of Global Outreach with Advanced level students from Iringa Girls Secondary school, who use Global Outreach’s internet library to do their assignments. (Photo: Masozi Nyirenda)

In May 2010, President Jakaya Kikwete announced that in a few years to come every secondary school student will have access to internet-connected individual computer. In addition, the then Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training, Prof. Hamisi Dihenga told journalists that the ministry had a plan to establish a programme to utilize modern computer technology to teach multiple secondary school classes using the internet.

Prof. Dihenga said the programme which was expected to start last year would cost USD100m, equivalent to 13bn/- for procurement of computers, electrical installation and teaching and learning materials.

These are, indeed, impressive plans and programmes. However, they cannot be accomplished by government’s effort alone, public and private partnership is essential in ensuring such programmes are implemented and supports teaching and learning process.

Last year, I wrote an article titled “Are our schools ready to utilize ICT for education delivery?” which tried to make an analysis of government’s ambitious programmes on utilizing ICT for education delivery and the real situation in our secondary schools. Most secondary schools face many challenges such as lack of power, technical personnel and resources to run ICT projects.

The above mentioned article caught the attention of Mr. Stan Muessle, a US based education stakeholder, who through his NGO, Global Outreach, with international office in the US and a country programme office at the Catholic Diocese of Iringa premises at Kichangani in Iringa, has made very impressive efforts in ensuring ICT is utilized in secondary schools for education delivery. Since last year, Mr. Muessle and I had frequent online discussions on this project, and he invited me to visit and see practically how ICT can support education delivery and change teaching and learning processes. Recently, I managed to visit the project and talk to beneficiaries of the project. This article is going to present the success story of utilization of ICT in teaching and learning, using the Global Outreach project as a case study.

According to Global Outreach (GOR) Tanzania Country Director, Mr. Kanyama, GOR is an operational NGO that has equipped and managed computer laboratories in Tanzanian secondary schools since 1998. Its headquarters in Sarasota, Florida is managed by unpaid professional volunteers and operated from donated facilities. It maintains an in country office in Iringa town, in the southern highlands of Tanzania.

The mission of Global Outreach is the introduction of computer literacy into curriculum of schools in Iringa – a commitment and a challenge shared by Tanzania’s leadership as a significant focus area for advancement of life in the country.

In conjunction with its partners, GOR, establishes computer laboratories, furnishes electrical capacity – often solar, installs hardware and software, trains teachers and technicians, develops computer literacy syllabuses, provides on going technical support, creates educational CDs to support curriculum subjects, builds computer-based learning centers, and implements innovative uses of computer technology into secondary school learning.

Mr. Kanyama, further states that GOR started back in 1998, whereby Pomerini Secondary School, a typical rural boarding school with 380 students, was selected as a pilot school. The first step was to conduct training classes on three desktop computers imported from the USA and powered generators. Installation of solar electricity afforded the opportunity to upgrade to 10 laptop computers and set the stage for student courses. The Computer Laboratory at Pomerini secondary school was fully functional in 2003 and now serves as the prototype for all schools accepted into the programme.

Currently, GOR ICT project benefits about 8,562 students and 450 teachers in eleven secondary schools in Iringa namely: Bomalang’ombe secondary school, Pomerini secondary school, Image secondary school, Cagliero girls secondary school, Mafinga Seminary, Mawelewele secondary school, Lugalo secondary school, Iringa Girls secondary school, Nyerere high school Migoli, Ifunda Tech secondary school and St. Michael secondary school. The project demands a budget of TShs.92,400,000/= per annum.

GOR has established a computer internet laboratory as well as education resources data base dubbed “windows to knowledge’ which contains hundreds of print, audio and visual education resources in sciences and arts. The laboratories are located within Catholic Diocese premises at Kichangani area, Iringa town. In addition, GOR has established a video conferencing facility at Lugalo Secondary School, which provides an opportunity for students in Iringa to interact with fellow students in USA through Skype.

Students in the schools which utilize the laboratories, not only get skills that differentiate them from the majority of secondary school graduates, but they have discovered that the use of computer technology in learning of other subjects is an invaluable tool in their education.

During my visit to these laboratories, I found Advanced level students from Iringa Girls Secondary School surfing through the internet in search of education resources to do their Geography class assignment on various topics on energy such as ‘Coal production in China’, ‘Nuclear power in Japan’ and ‘Fuel production’. According to Form Six students, Esuvath Godwin and Sweetlight Godwin, their Geography teacher had assigned them to search for materials and prepare a presentation to be made in the classroom later. These students expressed the advantage of utilizing internet in searching for education resources.

Esuvath said; “I obtain new updated information, comparing to books which are often outdated. Moreover, through internet I may be able to obtain a three dimensional diagram, picture or videos of the topic I am interested in, which can help me to have an in-depth understanding of the concept. Moreover, interaction with the computer has been very interesting, and helped me to learn more concepts than what is required in class.”

On the other side, video conferencing facility at Lugalo secondary school, provides an opportunity for students to interact with fellow students in the USA. They learn Kiswahili, French, English and other social-cultural issues. The sessions have been running for one hour every Thursday for the past five years.

According to Pendo Albert and Zuhura Amir, both Form Six students at Lugalo Secondary School, who are respectively the Chairperson and Vice Chairperson of the Video Conference club at the school, video conferencing sessions have improved their academic performance, including gaining confidence in presenting arguments, critical thinking, utilization of computers, improved English skills (fluency in spoken, reading and written), skills on sharing ideas, and encouraged independence in learning.

The success of this project has been noticed and commended by higher level government officials. In June, 2008, the then Minister for Education and Vocational Training (MoEVT), Prof. Jumanne Maghembe was invited, by Mr. Stan Muessle, to inaugurate the ICT Library for Iringa Regional Schools and to have a first hand opportunity to view a video conference between the students of Lugalo Secondary School in Iringa and those in Florida USA. In a letter to Mr. Muessle after a visit to the project, Prof. Maghembe said he was personally very impressed by the improvement in the English skills attained by students of Lugalo Secondary School in only 6 months of using ICT or e-learning. What was even more gratifying was the advancement in Mathematical skills by students of Iringa Girls Secondary School in less than a year of using the computer system provided by the organization.

In that letter, Professor Maghembe further said that “I am now very confident that e-learning can revolutionize the way we teach and the effectiveness of delivering knowledge. My students were more confident, more motivated and school attendance was enhanced greatly. The Ministry of Education fully supports your work in Iringa and we will work with you to increase the spread of these teaching techniques by making Iringa a special pilot”.

GOR is committed to continue using the success achieved in the schools under this project as models for other schools and to leverage the prototypes “we have developed to serve as guidelines for national programs.”

Currently, GOR is working with the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training to assist their long range planning efforts for inclusion of computer technology in the education initiatives of Tanzania. GOR is also committed to be a model for the use of technology in changing the quality of post-primary education in Tanzania.

Despite all mentioned successes of the project, challenges are inevitable. Mr. Charles Kifwe, an IT expert and the Coordinator of Internet Laboratory and Digital Library, mentions several challenges facing ICT project under GOR, which are:

(a) Many students do not have adequate computer skills to use computer and digital resources. The technician provides support to these students to facilitate their learning;

(b) Both students and teachers have fear to utilize computer for teaching and learning. GOR is providing assistance to improve users’ confidence in utilizing ICT;

(c) Sometimes, students do not come with their teachers who might have other duties, therefore, students might not be able to get proper guidance to understand clearly what they should look for;

(d) Main national grid power is unreliable, there are frequent power cuts which disturb utilization of laboratories. However, a generator is used though it is expensive to run;

(e) There are a number of teachers who have realized that ICT can support teaching and learning and have utilized opportunities effectively. However, there are other teachers who are yet to realize the power of ICT in education delivery. GOR continues to provide awareness to teachers;

(f) Some schools are very far from the ICT laboratories such that it has been difficult to utilize these services effectively. However, GOR and Rotary club Iringa are working on a strategy to buy a bus which will shuttle students from distant schools to utilize these laboratories.

When addressing Heads of Schools under GOR project, who attended a one day workshop on Wednesday 21st November, 2012, to evaluate progress of the project, Mr. Stan Muessle, President and Founder of Global Outreach, who is also the major financier of the project, insisted that the main challenge ahead is to ensure sustainability of the project as for the past 15 years it has relied on a sole source of funds, himself. Though he has friends who are ready to contribute to support the project, the need for internal partnership in financing of the project, as well as commitment of heads of schools, and other education stakeholders in the country to support the project is inevitable.

The school heads at the meeting committed themselves to ensure the project is sustainable, however, they expressed concern over challenges facing schools under this project which are: few computers comparing to number of students, financial resources for maintenance and replacement of items, transport for schools which are far from laboratories and lack of local sponsors for the project.

I am really impressed by the GOR project on utilizing ICT for education delivery. The results have shown impressive academic and extra curricula skills and knowledge among students under this project. GOR has shown a way in which the private sector can support government’s efforts in ensuring ICT becomes a central tool for education delivery in secondary education. I call upon various education stakeholders to support GOR, financially and materially in order to scale up their project to reach more schools in Iringa and other regions.

 

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The writer, Masozi Nyirenda, is a Specialist in Education Planning, Management, Financing, Economics of Education and Policy Studies. He can be reached through +255754304181 or masozi.nyirenda@gmail.com

SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN