Transforming Tanzanian Schools with Technology

Schools have many challenges – often no water, no electricity, and few books, yet students demonstrate a hunger for learning.

If children miss school for any reason it is impossible for them to resume. If you don’t pass your primary exams you cannot go to secondary school, and if you are too old to go to primary school, government schools won’t take you, even if you have completely missed out on an education. Therefore this library works with children who have missed their chance of an education. By using Swahili literacy apps they ensure they learn to read, Whatever their age.

Maths performance is low across Tanzania for many reasons – many schools do not have any qualified maths teachers and instead rely on temporary untrained school leavers to teach classes.  As they have often themselves missed out on a good education, the cycle of poor performance goes on.  Low maths performance pulls down students overall results and ruins their chances of progression to the next academic level.

Digital learning offers huge potential to raise the attainment of these students.  We have so far put in small, battery operated Raspberry Pi computers with an enormous range of downloaded content on into 10 schools.  This content is called RACHEL – Remote Area Community Hotspot for Education and Learning – and enables students without the internet to access world class educational materials such as Wikipedia, Khan Academy, TED talks and much more.

We have set up a project whereby each school sets up a digital group of students who use the RACHEL maths resources three times a week, and a control group that uses books only.  They are tested at the start of the programme and after 6 months, then the groups change over.  We will be analysing the results carefully to measure the impact of these resources.

Rotary club of Amherst had only managed to fund a very small number of devices for the students to access the resources on so far, but these are supplemented by the use of teachers’ own laptops and smartphones. Students share 1 device between 4 or 5 students.

However it is already clear that students and teachers love the new resources.  Tesha, 15, says “I used to struggle with quadratic equations and never understand them, but after watching these videos it finally makes sense!  Now I am confident I can pass my exam and become a doctor”.   Mr Haule, her temporary teacher adds “many students were not motivated by maths and had given up.  Having the pi computer has made them like maths much more and now they are working hard.  God willing now they will succeed and we thank everyone who has contributed to this project.

They think nothing of carrying water for washing the classroom floors several kilometers as they walk to school.  Marium, 15, who I met earlier this month in Mgeta Morogoro, is typical.  She wants to be teacher “to help girls like me learn”.  Her parents are illiterate and she is the first in her family to attend secondary school.  “The first two years were hard because I live very far from the school – it takes me almost 2 hours each way to walk, so I was very tired and hungry when I reached home. It was also difficult to study at home because I had many jobs to do and we don’t have a solar lamp.  Now I am able to stay at the girls’ hostel during the week I can study with my friends every night and my grades have improved”.

Elizabeth, 14, wants to be a doctor.  She too walks for several hours to and from school each day.  But of more concern to her is the fact that her school has no maths teachers.  There is a nationwide shortage of maths and science teachers in Tanzania, and poor rural secondary schools are the most severely affected.  To help students like Elizabeth we have set up Raspberry Pi computers with downloaded maths and science content.  This cannot replace a good teacher, but it does mean that students have more chance of passing the all important maths and science exams without which they cannot continue with their schooling. Elizabeth says “The algebra videos and exercises are very helpful.  When I tried the questions in our text book I didn’t understand them, but after using the computer it made sense to me.

With Rotary club of Amherst  generosity in 2018 we will be able to help many more students like Paskwina,Ashura,Mahija,Rehema,Mwanaid and Elizabeth in 2019, and increase their chances of realising their full potential..

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