Sustainable ICT in Action: Lessons Learned at Potou Elementary School, Senegal

By Jim Teicher, CEO & Director, Cybersmart Africa

According to a 2014 UNESCO study of 46 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, in more than half the countries, 80 percent of primary schools have no access to electricity. Millions of children are denied the technology-enabled learning they deserve in our globalized world.

In partnership with The Earth Institute, CyberSmart Africa is taking action to innovate a sustainable and massively scalable digital learning solution for all schools – especially those without electricity. Teachers at Potou Elementary School in rural Senegal have shown us how every school can provide quality learning through the use of CyberSmart’s innovative classroom technology. On a recent trip to the school in June 2015, we observed the technology-integrated classrooms in action.

Simplifying and minimizing the equipment

The CyberSmart Digital Learning Platform is a whole-class learning solution that operates in any classroom, including those without electricity. With minimal equipment, hundreds of students can be impacted in a single day.

Teachers in Poutou Elementary School like the CyberSmart approach because we don’t use a lot of equipment. We simplified the digital learning process by innovating an “all-in-one” learning platform that provides ultimate simplicity.

A computer, speakers, projector, and screen interactivity are packed into a single, durable unit that can be charged with a small solar panel and projected onto any surface. Through a mobile broadband connection, the latest learning materials and teacher training is download directly to the device. Within minutes, a cinderblock wall in a remote village can become a fully up-to-date interactive teaching tool.

We introduced teachers to the new CyberSmart Digital Learning Platform, our "all-in-one" device that can be recharged with a small solar panel.

We introduced teachers to the new CyberSmart Digital Learning Platform, our “all-in-one” device that can be recharged with a small solar panel.

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Whole-class instruction impacts every student

Classroom instruction is the dominant form of teaching, so it makes sense that the teachers are motivated to use technology in ways that supports their ability to deliver everyday instruction. In fact, the teachers explained that using technology-enhanced lessons directly in the classroom is saving them time by reducing the need to copy learning content onto the blackboard. Interactive learning activities as simple as circling or drawing lines between objects encourage their students to work together and solve problems – key 21st century learning competencies.

Multimedia enables quality learning materials

Introducing the concept of "inside" and "outside" using a a whole-class instructional approach

Introducing the concept of “inside” and “outside” using a a whole-class instructional approach

Introducing the concept of "inside" and "outside" using a a whole-class instructional approach

The ability to use multimedia learning content – something taken for granted in the developed world – is a luxury in sub-Saharan Africa. One teacher created a lesson using multimedia content to illustrate the concept of “inside” vs “outside” to her students. Another displayed a map of Senegal, while another played an animated alphabet video.

Multimedia matters! Compare a chalk-drawn map of Senegal with it's multimedia counterpart.

Multimedia matters! Compare a chalk-drawn map of Senegal with it's multimedia counterpart.

Multimedia matters! Compare a chalk-drawn map of Senegal with it’s multimedia counterpart.

These picture and video learning resources were instantly displayed on the CyberSmart Digital Learning Platform, as compared to spending classroom time hand-drawing images like maps and diagrams with chalk.

Over half the instructional staff has been recently replaced; but digital learning thrives

Teacher attrition and relocation is an ongoing challenge, where the more experienced teachers leave rural areas and are replaced by less experienced, new recruits. This issue impact many rural schools, including Poutou Elementary School. Still, we were amazed to see how four new teachers, all women, have embraced CyberSmart Africa’s innovative approach to whole-classroom digital learning. They told us that having our technology in their school made their jobs easier and made their lessons more exciting and impactful for the students. They felt like the CyberSmart Learning Platform was designed just for them.

Teachers coach each other to provide ongoing training

We don’t get to visit Potou very often, but teacher professional development continues as they coach each other to make effective use of the technology. One of the new teachers has become particularly skillful at creating multimedia lessons, and is eager to answer technical questions, while another more experienced teacher helps the others to improve their classroom management skills.

A teacher learns to create multimedia learning content.

A teacher learns to create multimedia learning content.

Addressing the Sustainable Development Goals

Education is a human right and it cannot been delivered effectively throughout the developing world without the use of technology. The need to harness information and communication technologies (ICTs) “to strengthen education systems, knowledge dissemination, information access, quality and effective learning” was universally endorsed at the recent 2015 World Education Forum convened by UNESCO in Itcheon, Korea; and ICT will play heavily into the world’s attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals to be ratified by world leaders at the United Nations later this month.

The CyberSmart Digital Learning Platform serves as an innovative enabler to help address the mandate for every school to be a 21st century school, providing inclusive and quality education opportunities for all.

Together with the Earth Institute, we are continuing to actively recruit new partners as we refine our technology and prepare for massive scale, with the goal of introducing the CyberSmart Digital Learning Platform to thousands of schools across Sub-Saharan Africa and beyond.

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