Education is one of the greatest gifts you can give to anyone. Access to education is, as Horace Mann calls it, “the great equalizer of the conditions of man – the balance-wheel of the social machinery.” Certainly the Internet has become the world’s largest classroom. Global Wire’s core mission is built around promoting digital literacy, and we are strong supporters of young people taking advantage of e-learning as early as possible.
We have worked with many NGOs in recent years on providing e-learning content and tools for young students. One of our best experiences was working with People to People Jamaica on providing tablets and age appropriate educational content for their after school program for its teenage students.
There were some stumbling blocks along the way. While Jamaica has approximately 55 percent Internet penetration, there are still many rural areas that don’t have access to reliable Internet connections. Luckily for us, most of our students had reliable connections most of the time. Nonetheless, when working in areas of the world with limited resources, you have to get creative. Here are some lessons and tips we have learned from this experience.
1. Ask about their needs first – It’s good to have a clear conversation with the educators about what their needs are (and don’t assume you know what their needs are). We had a good, long talk with People to People and the teachers about their goals and the necessary tools needed to reach them. It was determined that the teachers needed 10 Windows tablets with biology, technology and algebra content already loaded onto them, as Internet access is not reliable. At the time the students were using out of date books, and the teachers hoped that the tablets would give the students current information.
2. Don’t reinvent the wheel – We already have some educational content we use for our trainings, but it was also helpful to use other resources to fill gaps we were not able to fill. There are great free and/or low-cost educational materials online and offline that are easily accessible to anyone, such as CK-12, Khan Academy, and its offspring KA-Lite.
3. Use your network – When you don’t know something or don’t know how to access a resource, tap into your network of friends, family or work colleagues. We didn’t know at first how to attain low-cost tablets. We had originally wanted to get the Raspberry Pi, but the teachers told us that the students were already familiar with Microsoft products. However, after contacting a couple of like-minded partners, we got in touch with a used electronics supplier in South Florida that could give us a great bulk rate deal on tablets and USB drives. We then loaded up the tablets and USB drives with the needed content before taking them down to Jamaica. We also raised the money to purchase the tablets and USB drives from our network and called upon educators within our network to advise us on appropriate content.
4. Understand learning curves – Introducing new educational technology tools and content is not only going to be a new experience for young students, but also for their teachers. We had to make sure the educators were up to speed with how to use the gadgets and effectively teach the content.
5. Follow up often – We stayed in regular contact with our friends at People to People and the teachers to make sure everything was going well. Whenever possible, we emailed them new content, and we happened to know someone who lived near the program in Kingston (use your network!) who was willing to fix the tablets if they malfunctioned for a small fee.
Both the students and the teachers were satisfied with their outcomes. This project worked out for everyone because we addressed the problem upfront and in a collaborative manner.
Do you have any e-learning stories? Let us know about your experiences in the comments section.