Tablets relieve pain of learning in slum school

ST. CHRISTINE COMMUNITY-KIBRA Charles Maina (back centre) OLE-YALI National Cordinator and Jacob 'Job' Ouma (back left) OLE-YALI Programme Iniator at St. Christine Community Education Centre,Raila Village,Kibra Constituency,Nairobi with pupils with their tablets . November 18th,2015. Photo/Elvis Ogina (Nairobi)

There is a pin-drop silence in the classroom as the 20 pupils focus their eyes and index fingers on the luminous screens of the small, green tablets. From this mud-walled classroom, which has cracks that let in sunrays, they are able to access some of the best and well-equipped libraries and academic centres across the world, thanks to the internet-connected gadgets. Learning is now fun.

“I really love coming to school these days because I am always looking forward to interacting with these beautiful and exciting gadgets,” says Boaz Imbui, a Standard Seven pupil. “We do our lessons using the tablets and I also get the opportunity to play games, record music and can upload our neighbourhood stories.”

Welcome to St Christine’s Education Centre in Nairobi’s Kibera slums where technology has made learning exciting and helped improve pupils’ academic performance and school attendance. The school’s use of technology has been modelled along the Jubilee Government’s yet-to-be-launched computers-for-schools programme. While the government continues to dilly-dally about rolling out the programme, the donor-funded community school has managed to do what the Uhuru administration has been unable to do three years since it came to power.

“We have been running this programme for the last one year. Its success here is testimony that if properly implemented, tablets-for-schools programme can revolutionise learning as we know it,” says David Ochiel, the school’s ICT teacher. “We only have 20 tablets used by a single class at a time, but learning at St Christine’s is no longer the same.”

The tablets were introduced a year ago by a former slum boy who saw the idea in the United States during a scholarship. That has renewed interest in learning among the pupils, all of whom come from Kibera slums.

“Before we introduced this concept, absenteeism was a big issue. Today attendance is almost 100 per cent,” Jacob Ouma, the co-founder of the programme, told Wednesday Life.

“In the past, kids would rush to the field during break time and drag their feet to come to the classroom. Today, they rush to the library for tablet-aided lessons.”

Mary Ingina, a Standard Six pupil, bears him out: “This is the best thing that ever happened to my days at St Christine’s. Most of us had never seen a tablet and we are glad now that we are able to use them.” Ingina says she used to miss school often, but now, she usually comes to school even at weekends.

The programme is run through a partnership between Open Learning Exchange (OLE) and Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). Although the school has only 20 tablets, the project is done in such a way that each tablet, costing Sh3,000, is used by more than one pupil at ago. This means if you apply the same model for public school, you only need the number of tablets equivalent to the population of one class and each will have a machine of their own during their lesson.

“St Christine’s was chosen because it has a small pupil population of 20 per class, meaning each will have his or her own tablet during lessons,” says Ouma.

Ouma, who grew up in Kibera slums and went through the slum community school system, notes that the government can learn from this that a public school with 2,000 pupils, for instance, does not necessarily have to buy 2,000 tablets.

“All the pupils cannot be using the tablets at the same time, so what the government needs to do is carry out an assessment of the average number of pupils per class in a public school and then give each school gadgets equivalent to two or three classes,” Ouma says. “This means that at least two or three classes could be having a computer lesson at any particular time. Using this kind of planning, each class will have a minimum of two lessons per week which enough exposure.”

The tablets, which use local area network (LAN), are kept in the poorly-stocked mud-walled library. Each week, the school uses the OLE system to download the latest editions of textbooks from around the world.

“One of the biggest benefits that the tablets have brought to St Christine’s is giving the pupils an access to a limitless stockpile of books from all corners of the world,” says Ochiel.

“This is a big relief since usually, public schools in Kenya suffer from an acute shortage of reading materials and parents are often burdened with lists of books to buy. This project solves this perennial problem once and for all.”

The pupils also do their assignments using the tablets and send them directly to the teacher who marks and saves them in students’ accounts. There is a database that is used to analyse each student’s performance over a period of time.

The online connectivity has also created a platform where the pupils can interact with their colleagues from Manchester in the United States and any other place around the world, hence giving them global exposure.

“Imagine the kind of revolution this would bring to rural primary schools... It would easily inculcate an urban mind in the rural learner and with devolution taking root, the future generation would no longer see the need to migrate to the urban centres,” says Ouma.

The programme has also forced teachers at St Christine’s Education Centre to re-organise their teaching methods and make it more tech-savvy.

“Using the OLE system, the teacher can create a virtual class, identify areas where the student is struggling and generally interact with the students and give them instant assignments and results in real-time,” says Ochiel. “The system can also be used in high schools where there are no laboratories since they access chemical reactions and body parts online without the need for a laboratory to do it physically.”

Since the introduction of the gadgets, the school administrators say, performance has improved by more than 25 per cent.

Ouma says they have so far spent about Sh500,000 on implementing the project through donor-funding: “This includes the cost of the hardware and other costs used to enable the school benefit from the systems internationally since it runs on a platform called Bell.” The cost of Bell platform is one-off and the gadgets have a lifespan of up to seven years.

“Since we introduced the gadgets, none of them has been damaged,” says Ochiel, whose main duty is to guide the pupils in using the gadgets. “The pupils and teachers are so attached to the gadgets that they care and handle them as if they were their own personal property.”

The interaction with the tablets is organised in such a way that each class, from Standard Four to Standard Seven, has a session with the gadgets everyday.

Besides aiding learning, the tablets also encourage extra-curricula activities like playing games and creating a database of their personal stories.

The secret behind the success of St Christine’s tablets project, Ouma notes, is that teachers had to understand and own it first “since they are the ones who understand the needs of the pupils”: “We had to train them and let them understand the benefits of the programme to the whole process of learning. Today, they design lessons and conduct real-time quizzes using the tablets.”

Ouma says from their experience at St Christine’s Education Centre, a nationwide teacher training should already have been underway if the government’s tablets-for-schools project was to be rolled out successfully.

“The State should also consider buying the tablets locally since there are Kenyan manufacturers that are producing tablets designed for the school environment,” he says. “Such tablets are waterproof and do not scratch or break easily.”