News from #ketascomobile

Our member Margarete Grimus, together with Michael Pollak, a student from UT Vienna, is back in Ghana right now, following up on her previous two workshops at Keta Senior High Technical School. Here’s the links to posts about the two workshops:

This time, Margarete is (more…)

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News from #ketascomobile
was published on 20.06.2014 by Florian Sturm. It files under global
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Using ICTs in schools with no electricity

interacting with a whiteboard (in front of a blackboard) in Senegal

One persistent criticism that I hear of educational technology projects in many places — and especially in Africa — is that ‘there are too many pilot projects’. ‘What we really need’, or so the lament usually continues, ‘are things thatscale‘. While I don’t necessarily agree that more pilot projects are not useful — to the contrary, I have in the past explored why we need more (not fewer) ICT4D pilot projects in education — few would argue that we shouldn’t be focused on finding ‘solutions’ that ‘scale’.
One challenge that many groups find when trying to scale educational technology projects is that they often begin by working with relatively well-resourced schools in or near urban areas, seeking to establish proof-of-concept that something specific works (e.g. a technology, an approach to teacher training) before taking on the greater challenges of working in, for example, rural schools that are off-the-grid and which have few (if any) qualified teachers. It should perhaps not be so surprising that what works in the first set of schools may not work quite so well in the second set.
There are other groups who choose to start with the most difficult environments first, figuring that (1) that is where the need is greatest; and (2) if a model or approach works there, it might have a better chance of working (most) everywhere.
I am regularly contacted by groups who seek to work in such environments, but only rarely hear back from them with reports about what they are actually learning about working successfully in such environments (I do unfortunately hear a lot about failure), and how they are changing their approach or model as a result. One organization I have heard back from recently in this regard was Cybersmart Africa, a group I had initially learned about because of its innovative use of nylon sheets, PVC pipe, and a modified Nintendo Wii remote to assemble low cost interactive whiteboards for use in schools in Senegal. Cybersmart Africa works exclusively in schools with classrooms with very poor physical infrastructure (including those with no or very limited electricity). “If this is the reality for 80% of schools in Sub-Saharan Africa, and we need to scale ICT use for education, why base what you are doing on what 10-20% of the privileged have?” asks Cybersmart Africa founder Jim Teicher.
(Another example of an approach designed to work in very difficult environments is so-called interactive radio instruction; this has been shown to scale well in many places, but, for a variety of reasons, has often proved to be difficult to sustain. One Mouse Per Child, which has also been profiled on the World Bank EduTech blog previously, is another.)
Many of the Western NGOs and firms with whom I speak who are interested in ‘working in a developing country’ start with a very high level or high concept approach, figuring essentially that, if the strategy is largely correct, the details will follow. (Indigenous groups and international NGOs with long experience ‘on the ground’ usually know better, of course.) Such groups can become frustrated when they discover that it is often an accumulation of ‘small details’ that ensure their particular approach or model does not work. It is better to walk than curse the road, or so the saying goes in Wolof, one of the languages used in Senegal, and this is an approach that the Cybersmart team seems to be following. When speaking recently with Teicher, one of the most encouraging things I found was that he first wanted to share information not about grand theories about what *might* work, but rather about a lot of the ‘little things’ they have been learning about what *doesn’t* work, and about how iterating (and iterating, and iterating!) has been key to their ability to learn and make changes to their approach to methodically improve what they are doing. Things like:
  • If you are off-the-grid and need to use batteries, don’t used lead car batteries, which can cause big problems if/when they tip over, even if they are commonly available. Use sealed AGM batteries instead.
  • Let’s be honest: In most cases, there are too few computers in a school for too manystudents, and it is difficult to integrate their use into normal instruction.  Don’t make things more difficult by segregating computers into their own special rooms (e.g. computer labs). Instead, take the technology to the teachers and students where they are currently teaching and learning — in the classroom itself — and use tools like projectors and interactive whiteboards that impact as many students as possible at one time.  (While you’re at it, be prepared to spend more on teacher training and support than on the technology itself.)
  • Given a choice (and there is a choice more often that you might think!), always search for local products (or, barring that, products that can be assembled locally) instead of immediately looking to import goods from abroad — this can be key to keeping costs down and keeping your supply chain as local as possible. This approach applies as much to the PVC material that they use for the portable ‘interactive whiteboards’ that they have assembled as to lesson plans, which are developed locally.
Sounds simple, you might say, to which I would say: you are exactly right.
moving a low-cost portable interactive whiteboard -- over rocks and sand -- between classrooms
Now, it is not my place or intention to do so here to ‘endorse’ the work of any particular organization (I’ll note parenthetically that World Bank has not supported this particular project in the past — although USAID has).
Rather, it is to highlight an approach which begins by working in the most challenging environments and not simply taking a model that worked successfully in Paris or Pretoria and assuming that, with some small modifications here and there, it will work everywhere. That’s common sense, you might say, and I would certainly agree. But, if the parade of groups who (seek to) pass through our offices here at the World Bank demo’ing their wares are any indication, and the many stalled projects I visit around the world are in any way representative, too often ‘common sense solutions’ are discarded in favor of what’s ‘new and exciting’. While funding what’s new and exciting may be fashionable for donors (should I be surprised that every other project proposal I seem to come across these days seems to include the use of mobile phones in some way?), in the end that it is usually the most practical solutions that find traction with teachers and students over time.
More information (short videos):
  • Here’s a short promotional video from Cybersmart Africa showing off its work. (A hint: watch it first with the sound off to focus on what classrooms in participating pilot schools actually look like)
  • Here are some interviews with school leaders (don’t turn the sound down on this one!) and a short explanation of how text messages (SMS) are being used in conjunction with low cost interactive whiteboards to support teachers.
  • Cybersmart has also posted 17 student-made videos, put together as a result of a special ‘digital storytelling’ initiative it sponsored. The idea here was first to gain the confidence and support of parents and community leaders by extend traditional storytelling customs into the digital realm, before moving on to other things. The result: 17 portraits of contemporary village life in Senegal.
Note: The image used at the top of this blog post (“interacting with a whiteboard (in front of a blackboard) in Senegal”) comes courtesy of Cybersmart Africa.  The second image (“moving a low-cost interactive whiteboard — over rocks and sand — between classrooms”) is taken from a screen capture of the ‘Snapshot – Cybersmart Africa’ video on YouTube.  Both are used with permission of the rights holder.

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Using ICTs in schools with no electricity
was published on 17.11.2011 by Worlali Senyo. It files under east africa, global, sub saharan africa
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Planning for a new project & presentation at Ars Electronica

Although we haven’t announced any news during the summer, we were not only travelling and relaxing but we were also working behind the scenes.

One major outcome is a proposal for a new project in Ghana with exciting local and Austrian partners, which we want to start later this year.  The main objective of this project

is to equip teachers in public schools with skills in internet research and presentation to support their teaching and learning process” [quote from our proposal]

By assisting teachers to use the internet, we think several aspects in education can be improved. This in turn makes not only the teachers, but the students and other stakeholders benefit. By teaching teachers, we are aiming for a multiplier effect and replication across the country.

We will publish more about the project and our partners (Ghana: Worlali Senyo, Charles Amega Selrom, Gameli Adzaho;Austria: Prof. Emerita Maragete Grimus) as soon as we’re finished planning and have concrete dates.

However, we will present the proposal on 1. September in Linz at the event “Mein Beitrag zum Wandel” at the “Create Your World” subfestival of “Festival Ars Electronica”.

Check here for the exact time and date of the “Create Your World” event.

We’re proud to get the chance to present there and I’m sure we’ll get to know many interested and interesting people.

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Planning for a new project & presentation at Ars Electronica
was published on 27.08.2011 by Florian Sturm. It files under sub saharan africa
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Zanzicode online

Since yesterday,’s Zanzibits support project is now browsable at

You can find information and contact data there, and Fritz, our teacher who is currently there shares his experiences on the Zanzicode blog:

There is also a Zanzicode FlickR account with pictures.

So what is Zanzicode actually?

We provide free education in the field of Web Development to a small number of talented and motivated students of poor background in Zanzibar, Tanzania.

Our goal is to help build the personal careers of our graduates as well as to kickstart a local web development community. After getting to know the place and the people during a support project for the Zanzibits School for Film and Multimedia in 2009, we firmly believe that there is both talent and demand for professional web work in Zanzibar.[from the Zanzicode page]

We are currently preparing the second round of classes for 12 more students, starting in January 2010.

If you are interested in getting involved the project – as sponsor or guest lecturer or if you are in the area and just want to say hello – please contact us.

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Zanzicode online
was published on 09.12.2009 by Florian Sturm. It files under global
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Don Bosco School Sunyani

It’s now already a week that I arrived here in Kumasi for my internship at Kwame Nkrumah University and after some travelling and getting used to this environment I go on blogging here.

One of the things I did last week was to visit some fellow Austrians employed at a project in Sunyani – Don Bosco Vocational Technical Institute. It’s a school project by the Salesians with support of the Austrian organization Jugend eine Welt sending national servants (Zivildiener) there.

Initially the school focused on traditional education for financially disadvantaged students, but two years ago a computer class was started which turned out to be quite a success story.

In the first year the students are taught basic skills such as disassembling and assembling computers, installing Windows and Microsoft Office. Finally they have to do an exam and are awarded the ICDL certificate. In the second year they learn how to set up their own network.

These skills enable many of the graduates to get a job or start an own business. One example is Martin Kwarteng (here with pastor Paolo), who is still working for the school as system adminstrator after he finished the course last year. He orders parts of computers in Accra and sells the assembled ones.

Also some of the students work now as teachers at the school. One of them is Isaac Fokou who would be eager to get more in-depth education in ICTs, but one big problem for him and the other students is that although they are highly skilled, they only have the school certificate which proves what they are capable of. International certificates which are often demanded by employers – such as a CISCO Network Certificate – are much too expensive.

What’s also interesting about the project is that there are also classes on handicraft and the students and workers at the school start now to create school buildings themselves and provide services to surrounding villages. The workers dig clay and form bricks, there is a carpentry and a workshop for metal works – especiall wielding. Also the students learn how to grow and harvest crops, there are also grainfields on the area.

I like the project, it focuses on sustainability and creates employment possiblities for the students. The school tries to be as self-sufficient as possible all the teachers except in the IT-class are Ghanaians. With their workshop facilities they could also provide assistance to small industrial activities in the area.

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Don Bosco School Sunyani
was published on 23.07.2009 by Florian Sturm. It files under sub saharan africa
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