2 months into my internship, I got to the part I had been waiting for the whole time- field trips. I was tasked with visiting 20 schools in 12 days, across 2 counties and across a 100 km radius. The project I was meant to observe is being implemented in 43 schools across Mombasa and Kwale. Since I was not conducting an evaluation of the project but more looking at the perception of our material, I was asked to visit the 20 most successful schools and to conduct my research there. I’d spent two weeks writing out a proposal and creating an interview guide, and I was finally ready to get down and dirty.
For most of my IEDP compatriots reading this post, you know I am a proponent for ICT in education, for its power to make teacher’s lives easier and for how it can transform student learning. What I witnessed in at least 75% of these classrooms is the reason most ICT projects fail – execution. My reflections are in no way an indication of how my organization is doing, but more on how collective systems set teachers up for failure. My research was meant to answer 2 overarching questions
- Does the introduction of ICT in classrooms make a difference to how teachers teach and how students learn?
- Does the literacy material we have developed make a difference to how students learn and has it made teacher’s lives easier?
The long and short of the first question is yes. Every teacher I spoke to said they used the government projector and the government laptop (distributed as part of a Digischool initiative) in almost every lesson, either to project pictures, to Google things or, whenever relevant, to project the pre-loaded government lessons. Students demonstrated a familiarity with the tablets given to them, were able to operate them with a fair amount of ease and seemed excited to learn. However, the biggest roadblock teachers face is what they call ‘troubleshooting’. Teachers only received one 3 day training from the government in 2016 which taught them the basics of digital literacy, leaving them at a loss when faced by things like Airplane Mode accidentally being turned on rendering them unable to connect to the server, or the Ubuntu software on their laptops throwing up an error.
The second question, the one I was a little more interested in since it was my organization’s material, was slightly more complicated to unpack. Teachers in these ICT-enabled schools currently receive material from 4 different resources – the government, another international NGO that works in this region, a sister organization that we are attached to and then us. After 4 visits where we spent the first ten minutes talking about the wrong material, I started all future visits off with opening up our material and taking teachers through it before asking them questions just to make sure we were on the same page. The teachers are overwhelmed by the number of things they are being asked to use, and most often land up choosing the one that is directly loaded onto their tablets already- the government material. When asked about our material, the teachers cited the number of steps it took to get to it, and not the quality itself, as the issue.
What surprised me most about my visits was how enthusiastic teachers were about using ICT and how each of them requested more training for our organization. To get to the schools in Kwale I left work at 6:45 am every morning, crossed a ferry and then drove 60-75 kms one way on primarily dirt roads in 35* weather. The fact that the teachers were willing to endure that for a 2-3 day training every few months pleasantly surprised me and also motivated me to ensure we’re doing better by them. Luckily for me, my organization is extremely interested in the report I produce at the end of this, and intends to take my recommendations very seriously (no pressure..haha), which makes me want to work harder on it and churn out something useful. Despite all the challenges the teachers faced, I visited classrooms with happy, engaged and bright children and teachers that came to school and tried every single day. None of this is surprising to me, I expected it, but it’s still always refreshing to see. So much of what I saw in the past 15 days reminded me of home, and I am so grateful for the opportunity.
Throughout my visits I was accompanied by another intern who helped me translate when interviewing students and I learned a lot about Kenya from him, and he about India from me. Being able to share our cultures with each other was another part of this journey that I truly cherished.
I’ll end my rambling reflections with some pictures of Kenya’s Southern coast, its schools and its beauty.
Until next time!