Highly Scalable Digital Learning for Potou Elementary School, Senegal

Author: Jim Teicher, CEO & Director of CyberSmart Africa

In partnership with the Millennium Villages Project in Potou, Senegal, CyberSmart Africa has developed an innovative, highly scalable digital learning solution for sub-Saharan Africa. The “21st Century School-in-a-Box” integrates a specially adapted interactive whiteboard (powered by a solar-charged battery), learning content, teacher training, and broadband access (where available).

The CyberSmart Africa team recently visited Potou Elementary School to provide ongoing training and related support to the staff of eight teachers, including the school principal. We were also joined by the director of school technology initiatives for the region of Louga, the local administrative authority for the Senegalese Ministry of Education.

Watch the video 21st Century Learning in Potou, Senegal – March 2014.

Use of the specially adapted interactive whiteboard is essential to CyberSmart Africa’s approach. We believe that whole-class learning through the use of an interactive whiteboard contributes to a more engaged classroom learning experience. Students and teachers control the computer desktop by clicking on the projected display with a special pen that operates just like a mouse. This also eliminates the distractions associated with looking down at a computer keyboard to manipulate the desktop. Additionally, the interactive whiteboard is portable and can move easily between classrooms, enabling hundreds of students to engage in digital learning with minimal equipment. This tech-lite approach will reduce the costs and logistics of equipment management as we scale over time.

Our first activity in Potou was to install new equipment that quickly turns the projected display into an interactive whiteboard by pressing a large, illuminated green button on the side of the screen. We have found that effective technology design and implementation is essential to keep the focus on learning rather than on the equipment. Our teachers are not highly skilled computer users, and school technology must empower them, not act as a stumbling block. CyberSmart Africa’s vision is to offer a system that allows teachers and students to do the important work of teaching and learning with the touch of just a few buttons.

The Potou Elementary School principal uses a specially adapted interactive whiteboard.

The Potou Elementary School principal uses a specially adapted interactive whiteboard.

Our second activity was to install a suite of new software that supports reading, science, and math instruction. Teachers practiced using the software in the context of developing and presenting model lessons in front of their peers.

Our third activity was to focus on classroom management skills to enable teachers to become better facilitators of learning. Generally, teachers in Senegal embrace a traditional, lecture style of pedagogy that requires students to sit quietly, take notes, and try to memorize whatever it is that the teacher has said. Instead, our goal is to move toward a learner-centered approach that empowers students to become more actively involved with and responsible for their own learning. This is a long-term process that will force teachers to break their TTT habit (teacher talking too much) and become more of a facilitator and coach in the learning process. Ultimately, this will help students learn how to become good thinkers and problem solvers in ways that make learning more meaningful, motivating, and effective.

We are making good progress at Potou Elementary School, and the teachers are excited to bring 21st century learning to their school—a sentiment shared by the Ministry of Education representative present at the training session. The teachers at Potou Elementary School are a great team, and they will continue to support each other as they learn to more effectively use the interactive whiteboard in their classrooms.

CyberSmart Africa’s partnership with the Millennium Villages Project represents an important part of our commitment to bringing affordable, effective, and highly scalable digital learning to sub-Saharan Africa.

For more information contact Jim Teicher, CEO & Director of CyberSmart Africa at jim@cybersmart.org.

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