Saturday, April 21, 2007

Computers for African schools

Some years ago, a mature-age British couple on safari in Tanzania visited Tengeru Primary School in the Arumeru District of Arusha. They were so touched by the poverty of the school that serves nearly 400 students, that, as reported on AllAfrica, they have been sending donations to the school regularly.

Last week another consignment of goods arrived, including text books, exercise books, pens, pencils, crayons, safety scissors, sporting gear and assorted toys. And, most wonderful of all, the consignment included a computer complete with a printer, a flat monitor and other peripherals. This seems to be the way schools in Tanzania are resourced, see my blog about the recent container of goods that arrived at the School of St Jude.

The Tengeru computer has been set up in the Livestock Training Institute next door, in a room the school has hired. So now the 400 students have the chance to go next door and use the computer that has been so generously donated to their school.

You have probably guessed why they have to go next door - yes, Tengeru Primary School does not have electricity. The school chairman, Dennis B. Mushairizi explains that they have been applying for an electricity connection for more than 10 years now, but TANESCO (Tanzania Electricity Supply Company) hasn't managed to provide it, though the institutions on each side of them are connected.

Perhaps the publicity in the Arusha Times about the 'computer-next-door' might trigger some action from the apparently inept TANESCO. But even if the school gets electricity connected, the regular blackouts will render their computer unworkable on a regular basis.

The Tengeru Primary School works very hard with the resources they have. All 59 candidates who sat for the Class Seven National Examinations in 2006 passed - no one failed.

This example has me wondering about the pitfalls ahead of the One Laptop Per Child program that is trying to provide $100 laptops to schools in poor countries. Computers in classrooms need a lot more than the hardware. While the $100 laptop project may go a long way towards providing basic hardware, it's going to need massive support resources if it is to make a difference at the grassroots level. The elegance of the One Laptop website might indicate that they have innovative solutions to old problems, or it might just mean they have a great graphic designer!

All in all, I have solid confidence in the approach of the School of St Jude. Their latest container of goods (blogged here) contained 160 second hand computers for the current school, the new school under construction at Usa River and the boarding school. The school already owns two large diesel generators to provide power during blackouts.

New computer equipment arrives at School of St Jude

There are so many ways you can support schools in Tanzania. They have so little that everything you give makes a huge difference. You really can't do anything better.

1 comment:

wayan said...

You are so right about the need for local involvement for a successful OLPC rollout. So far they think that local governments, the same ones that can't electrify a school, will be able to distribute computers, a whole implementation miracle that not even prayer can help.