We have always tried to set realistic expectations for our supporters. Our mantra has been “Introducing computer literacy training into Tanzanian secondary schools is easy: keeping it there is the challenge.”
Schools that enter the Global Outreach program are strongly motivated at the time. They have a Head of School who has the vision to see its value for their students, and the commitment to confront the myriad of challenges that such a program entails. They have completed the extensive application process to join the program, and accepted their responsibilities in the program. They and their staffs get actively involved in the installation tasks.But after a while the reality of life takes over. These Heads of School are typically the ones performing well overall and getting noticed, so they are promoted to jobs of responsibility as district or regional education executives. The replacement Head often has no interest and/or motivation, as these programs are not part of the government mandate and hence not part of formal measurements. Without a Head of School involved, the program will founder if not fail.
The school’s trained teachers and lab technicians often use their new skills to find more lucrative positions in city schools where living conditions are better. Since Computer Literacy is not a standard subject, the schools cannot request this competency from the government appointment system, but must rely on luck of the draw that a new teacher may have some computer literacy training in his/her background, or else a whole new set of teacher/technician training programs must be undertaken before the program is back on course.
The difficult environment of Tanzania schools demands constant attention to computer maintenance, and remote schools stress the support structure. Desires to access the digital libraries are frustrated because they cannot successfully solicit funds from students to provide transport to educational programs that the parents do not understand how to prioritize in their day-to-day existence. So opportunities remain unfulfilled.
It is in these challenges that the real work of Global Outreach lies. We are like the medical profession I think. We must provide preventative services at the functioning schools so we are ready for possible setbacks. We must be alert to the changes in the school’s condition, so we can guide them through transition periods. We must be in the triage program when schools crash and need life-support to get back on track. We must even be ready for the reality that some of our schools will ‘die,’ and when that indeed did happen, we had to perform last rites and bury the patient. Most important, we must always understand that if this was easy, it would have been done long ago. We can’t throw our hands in the air and give up when we encounter failure: we WILL encounter failure along the way.
With all that said, this week I visited one of the schools in our program I would like to tell you about. They were our third school, and in many ways faced the most serious challenges. Image (I-mah’-gay) Secondary School was opened in 2004. I visited with the Head of School, (Lutheran) Pastor Andendekisye Ngogo, when the school had two unfinished buildings, and he had already chosen the room for the computer laboratory. There was (still is) no grid electricity, so solar power was a requirement. The school was in the middle of nowhere so access was difficult, and the environment was challenging.
But it turned out that Image had three things going for it. One was that their Head of School not only was a dedicated, hard working man committed to the welfare of his community, but he had great vision in what he wanted to build at the school and the courage to stay the course. Secondly was he understood the importance of getting support for his vision and always visibly showed his great appreciation for that assistance: hence the donor community was responsive to his requests. And finally, he has continued at his post for the ten-year life of his school, and kept the vision carefully alive and evolving.
As a result, Image had been able to make computer literacy a reality for its students in the face of formidable odds. Today the lab is managed by an able technician who has utilized the Global Outreach training program to fine tune his operational skills. The lab required a second solar installation necessitated by the vagaries of lightning strikes, but completely financed by generous donors (under the leadership of Bega Kwa Bega friend Lamont Koerner) impressed with their programs. Last year we installed new special energy efficient computers (developed by Genesi in US) that mandated new software training but yielded huge reductions in solar power consumption, allowing extended lab availability for the community.
The school has two computer teachers, who are employing modern techniques taught in our internet library, such as projector usage for classroom direction. Computer Literacy is an established subject in the time table, with two full classes per student per week. Students sit for the VETA (the Tanzanian vocational education institute) examinations in computer literacy and those who pass (all to date!) are awarded their certificates during the school’s graduation ceremony.
Computer literacy has been extended across the entire community. The goal is to have every teacher trained to use the computer, and today over ¾ are capable. Many are using technology in the classroom, and the majority prepare lesson plans and materials, as well as examinations on the computer. Numerous teachers use the internet library to gather materials when they come to Iringa for personal matters.
A subset of the learning library which is available for all Iringa children in our Windows to Knowledge digital library, has been installed by one of our Bega Kwa Bega partners, Dan McIntyre, so that students may do self study on-site. The school has also made periodic field trips to our internet library, and hopes to soon offer one or two computers for local internet access for students through cell phone offerings via modem.
A trip to Image is an experience to embrace. It is a testament to a true Tanzanian leader, and a vivid demonstration of the kind of results that Global Outreach aspires for in our commitment to Tanzanian education. We hope that when you question whether the support you are giving to Global Outreach is really making a difference in the world, you will come to this page and drink in the hope and joy.