Archive for the ‘rural’ Category
There are a great many excellent educational resources on the internet – some have even been produced specifically for African and underprivileged kids. Unfortunately, the digital divide makes it very difficult for these resources to wind up in the hands of those who need them most. Content is great, and there is great content, but to be an effective supplement to education it also needs systems for distribution and management, which allow timely updates and feedback, and measurements of learner engagement with the materials. Most of all, it needs educators and support staff who know the content and can incorporate it into their teaching.
We’ve long wanted to use awarenet to help address this problem. From the first version we included features to allow learning materials to be collected, curated and distributed on awarenet. The latest version takes this further – teachers and technical staff can now use awarenet’s package management system to install the content which they need on their local awarenet instance, or build their own packages from sources on the web. Learners then have fast, local access to resources such as digital textbooks, video lessons, past exam papers, and can download them to their lab accounts or mobile devices. Since mobile awarenet nodes can create their own wireless network, no internet or other infrastructure is needed at the point of use – though a computer lab with mains electricity is preferable.
The default set of content packages we’d like to set up on all awarenet servers includes textbooks from Siyavula (English and Afrikaans), past exam papers provided by South Africa’s Department of Basic Education (multilinual) and video lessons on all subjects from Khan Academy (English) and the University of Cape Town (isiXhosa). We’re also looking into including collections from Project Gutenberg (multilingual), WikiHow, the Wikipedia Selection for Schools, Geogebra and many other sources.
Learners in many Eastern Cape schools have very restricted access to textbooks and teachers. We want to help provide the best available substitute – digital books and recorded instruction provided by world class educators, preferably in learner’s home languages. Where schools don’t have staff or funds for a working library we’d like to put one on every capable phone. Even in more developed countries schools can benefit from these, and need tools to manage these resources and track their use.
If you’re a teacher and know of free or open source materials which you think we should be including, please let us know in the comments.
South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research has brought together a number of government agencies, local groups and stakeholders for an ambitious project in Cofimvaba, near Queenstown in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. Goals include improving education, creating food security and building the local economy through agriculture and related SMEs. The project is currently based at the Arthur Mfebe Educational Centre, where awareNet is being used to develop learning materials for a new agriculture curriculum.
This is an exciting first for awareNet: there is currently no internet access or desktop computers at the school. Curriculum development work is done almost entirely on Android tablets connected to a portable hotspot – a laptop running Edubuntu 12.04 and the latest version of awareNet for mobile devices. Utilizing a wireless mesh network which will be built by the Department of Science and Technology, we hope awareNet will bring localized educational content and web services to mobile users in the wider Kwa Manzi community, and schools across the St Marks circuit.
For now – eKhaya ICT, supported by the VSA, has been training teachers and project members on the ground in the use of awareNet for collaborative authorship, creating multimedia on tablets, and use of the mobile server.
We originally set out to develop software to bridge the digital divide – to bring internet services and the opportunities which come with technology literacy to those who had been left behind, particularly in rural areas, and starting in the Eastern Cape. To see awareNet being used this way, and the enthusiasm of teachers at an under-resourced rural school to use and benefit from new technologies has been a shaft of sunlight in a cloudy month.
The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) will be thinking out of the box and breaking the computer lab ICT education mould in a rural pilot. The pilot will take place at Cofimvaba, Eastern Cape, South Africa. awareNet is forms an important part of the social networking technology and methodology for the project. The CSIR is one of the leading scientific and technology research, development and implementation organisations in Africa, which undertakes directed research and development for socio-economic growth.
The Village Scribe Association will be help with the training of the community awareNet champions, who will be taking the learners at the school through the programme. Learning about awareNet is never the aim of the programme, it is just an enabler for the learners to be able to collaboratively work on agriculture projects that directly affect their community. The CSIR’s other partners will ensure that useful and valuable content is introduced into the network.
The experience and product management information supplied by the VSA to implementing partner eKhaya ICT has been instrumental in this success for the Grahamstown team. The system is clearly ripe enough and stable enough to provide all the functionality required by the CSIR to meet their needs. More information about the technology aspects of this awareNet pilot can be found on the eKhaya ICT blog.
Further, the work done by the VSA with Grahamstown school learners and teachers is a valuable example for future trainers. As such, training sessions for small groups of awareNet champions can take place inthis living laboratory and provide valuable experience for future trainers.
The VSA facilitates the use of awareNet in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, especially in Grahamstown. We mentioned in a previous blog post, that the VSA is offering a large number of new and repeated projects on awareNet this first term of the year 2012. These include science, fitness&health, creative writing&blogging, software development and music, which are all combined with the advancement of computer&Internet literacy.
We are happy to report that this offer has brought us a very positive feed-back from the schools and more schools than ever are going to work with awareNet on a regularly basis, some of them even integrated awareNet workshops as a compulsory subject or as an official co-curricular.
In Grahamstown joined six underprivileged school which are situated in the township, 2 former Model C schools and one private school. In Port Elizabeth, we were approached by the Masifunde Learner Development Center that works with 10 underrivileged schools in the Walmer township. We are going to train their teachers, so that they will be able to use awareNet independently and collaborate with Grahamstown learners. Three rural schools which are going to use mobile awareNet servers are situated in the Zithulele district in the Wild Coast, and the Lady Frere district is currently investigating how many schools would be able to join aside from their Rural Teacher Training Center.
Thank you every one of you for your interest and motivation to provide education beyond your class room for your learners.
On Monday the 23rd of January, the Village Scribe Association visited the District Office of the ECDoE at Lady Frere. We met with Chulekazi Bula (District Office Director) and several other curriculum and technical staff. We wanted to find out whether awareNet, with its co-curricular and (ICT) literacy focus, would be of interest to the leadership of such a rural district. The officials at the department were very positive about the possibilities presented by awareNet. They highlighted aspects like improving motivation, energy for learning and use of the ICT labs, while preserving security and maintinging an educational focus. We were very impressed how the team of officials each brought up alternative worries or benefits and formulated their own reasons why the programme would work in the schools of the region.
The VSA has a plan to supply these schools with training, which involves hiring additional staff living nearby. Unfortunately, the funding for this programme is unclear, although there are several possible avenues, including via the Vodacom Regional Teacher Training Centre which is being opened in 2012 at Lady Frere, as well as private funding from England. The ECDoE officials voiced their impatience at having to wait and were determined to build a “nucleus of users” in advance of any other efforts, as a pilot. Possibilities for sustainability of the project include further options – more news around this area will surely follow in the next months.
We look forward to collaborating with the ECDoE in this beautiful and mountainous part of the Eastern Cape.
The VSA and three of our partners, eKhaya ICT, Left2Write and ReedHouseSystems, went together to rural Nkwalini in the Eastern Cape for several reasons. One was to hold a social networking workshop using awareNet for learners, teachers and community coordinators of the Zwelenqaba SSSchool (27.-28.09.11). Richard Strickland from eKhaya ICT updated the awareNet server and the laptops’ browsers and fixed a few of the laptops of the solar school computer lab. Anna Wertlen from the VSA brushed up the teachers’ and coordinator’s knowledge and introduced about 50 new learners to awareNet. Erika Wertlen from Left2Write chaired a session about blogging and publishing during the workshop. Then, all learners blogged about solar energy. Additionally, Mrs E Wertlen delivered a great donation of books and magazines to the school’s library on behalf of Left2Write. Further, Ronald Wertlen as director of RHS followed up on an investigation of mobile banking and most importantly was concerned with maintaining relationships with the community and the schools in advance of the TeleWeaver rollout.
The community welcomed us warmly and had prepared our visit well. The learners worked with great enthusiasm and concentration and thanked us with a self-composed song about computers and solar energy. Siphiwo Msindwana, the community coordinator, acted very professionally by consulting eKhaya ICT for mediation between the community and the school. Disagreements werecleared. The teachers were overwhelmed by the generosity of Left2Write and promised to use the new resources wisely.
We also paid a visit to Bulunbula Incubator to maintain our partnership and talk about current and future projects.A German member of the VSA came all the way to accompany us and ask a lot of questions to show oversea’s interest. All in all, it was a very successful and very busy trip. We hope that we can repeat it soon in many other rural schools in South Africa and beyond. Please, contact us if you are interested.
awareYet? began as a guerilla marketing exercise during the Social Enterprise World Forum 2011 in Johannesburg. The campaign aimed to affix a sticker with the characteristic eyes of the campaign onto every participant at the event, in recognition of the youth unemployed in South Africa. This was a random and fun thing and reflects the position of the youth, which likes fun, and is subjected to random cruelty.
Youth unemployment is a world-wide problem and occurs for a number of reasons. In South Africa, an upper-middle earning country (World Economic Forum) — the richest country of continental Africa! – youth unemployment is a result of a complex interaction of dysfunctional social institutions, including mainly education and local government, that lead to a “no hope situation“ for the 15 – 29 year-olds. Manyof them are in fact characterised as “unemployable”. An outrageous category for any person!
Xhora Mouth JSS – bricks as benches
Toilets at Zwelenqaba SSS
These youths are legally obliged to attend sub-standard schooling, with educators who are all too willing to skip school, because of problems of lack of equipment, lack of materials, an undertone of violence, absenteeism, filthy toilets, teenage pregnancy and drugs. Educators feel unqualified to handle the disaster that unfolds before them every day and they become accepting of their dysfunctional environment as they feel powerless to change it. Such youths contribute to the terrible statistics of South African youth unemployment:
“The unemployment rate among those under the age of 25 years old is about 50 per cent, accounting for 30 per cent of total unemployment. Including those aged25 to 29 years old adds another million to the unemployed” (National Treasury 2011: 9).
Democratic revolution in Egypt
One can compare this to the unemployment rates in Northern African and Middle Eastern States: “Despite robust economic growth, youth unemployment rates in the Middle East are high, ranging from 20 to 30 percent in most countries in the region but exceeding 45 percent in some countries (e.g. Algeria and Iraq). Young people with secondary and post-secondary education face severe difficulties in securing employment mainly due to skills mismatches and long queuing for public sector jobs.” (Middle East Youth Initiative, 2011, visited 2011-04-28)
The eyes of the youth see change and are happy.
Energetic, unemployed youths turn in the best case to democratic activities, as witnessed in North Africa in early 2011. Here, fuelled by unemployment and enabled by ICTs youths went to the streets and won their rights in a humane and enabling manner. The region as a whole stands to gain much through their actions, their bravery and dignity.
On the other hand, unemployed youths can also try their hand at other things, such as violence and crime. “According to the United Nations Population Fund (1998:3), youth unemployment can drive many people into living outside the law both to survive and as a means of expressing dissatisfaction at the apparent neglect of their very existence.” (National Labour and Economic Development Institute, 2007). The co-existence of amazing wealth next to townships which lack even electricity, has quickly resulted in violence dominating the South African financial centre of Gauteng. The infamy of the violent crime in the region is second to none in the world.
WHAT ARE WE DOING ABOUT IT?
The Village Scribe Association was founded in 2008 to investigate ways in which ICTs could advance development in mainly rural marginalised areas and to promote projects that implemented such methods. What we have found in our years of investigation is that youth are the life and potential of such areas. Their energy and keen interest in ICTs and being connected to the rest of humanity and their peers through social networking is massive. They, like their North African brothers can lead a revolution, in rural and township areas.
This is why we developed the awareNet software and social network. Built for low-connectivity settings and mesh networks, awareNet equips learners with an appreciation for collaboration and teamwork at an early age. It harnesses their keen interest in ICTs and under the tutelage of trainers and champions, connects the youth with itself.
The world needs more socially aware enterprises to counter the imbalance in taking care of public goods that has overtaken the world in past decades. Adam Smith the original capitalist philosopher noted that market economies have little incentive to look after public goods such as clean air, or a strong vibrant environment for our youth. Only strong social values and faith in teamwork can redress the current imbalance.
WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IT?
Albert Yovu is a modern day hero. He is a quiet unassuming man, with a wide smile and a passion for teaching. He also loves working with computers. He teaches Life Sciences to grade 11 and 12 learners at Zwelenqaba SSS. He is one of the 4000 temporary teachers whose contracts were summarily cancelled in December 2010, plunging the Eastern Cape schooling system even further into chaos!
Mr. Yovu says that the Zwelenqaba school approached him to continue teaching with a little support from the community. He says, “I am sacrificing myself for these children, but I can’t do it for long. I also have a family to feed.”
Manuela Walsdorf-Maul from the Technical University Berlin and Anna Wertlen from the Village Scribe Association visited the Bulungula Incubator (BI) in Nqileni last week (2.-6.3.11). Together with Annette Champion, Rejane and Dave Martin, they discussed the possibilities for a school extension project in the area. Mrs Walsdorf suggested that German students finish outstanding work and build a few more class rooms as part of their practical assignments to receive their degree. The BI suggested that such work would best serve the Xhora Mouth School, because they have very motivated learners and teachers. The VSA and BI would facilitate the project and ensure sustainability. A fist contact to the school staff was made and measurements of buildings taken. Next steps are to write funding proposals and to draw up a construction plan. We will keep you updated about further developments.
The VSA has some exciting new developments to report:
- Anna Wertlen is currently writing a proposal to the Makana Municipality for the usage of a large building in Joza-Rhini. Several stakeholders are interested to move into the building to strengthen and widen partnerships to serve the community, eg. RLabs, the Centre for Social Development, The Makana Science Alliance, the Mobile Science Lab and Upstart, except from the VSA apparently. This development is very exciting and promising. The Makana Science Alliance also showed interest in placing science content onto awareNet and offering online teaching.
- Our proposal to the UK Department of International Development for academic research on and implementation of the Village Scribe Project made it onto the short list. Final decisions are expected in April.
- Ron Wertlen is currently working on a study into the Potential to Utilize Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to Promote Inclusion, Public Participation and Accountability in Local Governance in South Africa. This feeds us a lot of useful information and opens up future possibilities for eKhaya ICT.
- Manuela Walsdorf-Maul, a lecturer of the Technical University, is visiting the Eastern Cape tomorrow to explore possibilities for a collaboration with the VSA and Bulungula Incubator to build additional classrooms for the No ofisi School in Nqileni.
- We are working on an awareNet spin-off, it’s a commercial product, it is cool and builds on perhaps 3 or 4 key insights. These are things we knew, and that loads of visitors to the projects reaffirmed by saying, “Wouldn’t is be groovy if we could do that?” Well, finally, it will be possible. More news before the end of 2011.
- The VSA is a partner of Rhodes University International School. Together, we offer a course to students from USA and Italy called Environment, Development, Sustainability in (South) Africa, whereby the VSA offers the elective ICT4D with the possibility to visit Rhini and Bulungula. Mid April we will know how many students will attend.
- Ron Wertlen submitted a solicited proposal to USAASA. The agency is currently ramping up their access intiatives, including the broader themes of training and software, but mainly pure access to communication signals. Being one of their focus regions, the Eastern Cape is hopeful of receiving USAASA support, and we are hoping that some of our initiatives, will be funded. We’ll know soon if our proposal has been accepted.
- We handed in our application for registration as a South African non-profit organisation and are waiting to be accepted. This will give us the possibility to apply for volunteer work from the German Weltwärts Programme and Rhodes University Community Engagement.