Monday, January 19, 2009

Africa is Bigger Than You Think

Well, bigger than I'd thought anyway. And I already knew it was big.

That hand-drawn little green shape represents, approximately, Uganda.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Bit of Background

This is Royal High School, in Kampala, Uganda.

There are six classrooms for the 150+ students.

All the classrooms are equally sparse. There's no money for textbooks, and even notepads and pens cost more than what many of the students can afford. The education stems from a British curriculum, but the Brits left Uganda in 1963, so the education and information is often pretty outdated. Many of the teachers lecture from the notes they took when they were in High School, and the students copy down what they're told from the old notes, sort of like a multi-decade game of Telephone.

The second time I was there, I spent a week teaching & fielding questions from students. The third time I visited, I bought three computers and rented an Internet connection, and for two weeks showed the teachers and the older students how they could use the Web to find answers to most of the questions they'd been asking me! They saw its potential, and were somewhat in awe, but I worried that the ultimate lesson they were learning was "Ha-ha, look what we have in America that you can't afford to use here!"

Luckily, the owner of an Internet cafe near the school offers computer training at a more than reasonable price by US standards - $35 per student for three weeks of training, which includes basic computer skills (mousing, etc), email usage, and Web Usage. This is Jet Internet Cafe:

In December we put twelve students and teachers through his courses, and another twelve students start on Monday. In the meantime, my Ugandan friend and colleague Charles found a nice space just behind Jet for us to build our own computer lab. This is how the lab looks now:

We rented the space earlier this week, and Charles and some student volunteers have started clearing it out and sprucing it up. My last day at Perforce is today, and I'll leave for Uganda in about a month. We'll turn it into a full-on computer lab / classroom, and then I'll start teaching.

If this sounds vague, it's mostly because it is. I know what I want to teach at the start: Internet search skills, critical thinking (how to tell Internet truth from Internet lies), and (maybe most importantly) how to type! But after that... who knows? All I can say is that I once I get there we'll finish readying the lab, I'll start teaching, and I'll stay until I think the lab can run smoothly and that the same classes will be taught well by other teachers while I'm gone for awhile.

So, um, I guess that's it. I'll give more details later. Please ask me anything at all!