Written by Lee Marcus, a student at the University of Pennsylvania who is working with The School Fund in Tanzania for the summer of 2012.
After finishing up preparation in The School Fund’s computer lab at Ummu Salama Primary and Secondary School in Iringa, Tanzania, I push the green curtains aside and wait for TSF students to arrive for Computer Camp. It’s 15 minutes before the start of class. I’m starting to get a bit restless, excited to teach students more advanced search techniques on Google.
I see Abel and Elizabeth strolling through the gate, side-by-side. They are two exceptional students from Lugalo. Abel, a naturally curious future scientist, is the oldest of four children. Elizabeth, whose positive energy is contagious, lives with two siblings and her mother. They are both independent workers and born leaders.
“Mambo,” I say, smiling as they walk into the classroom.
“Poa,” says Elizabeth.
“Fine,” says Abel. “We came early to check our e-mail.”
I gesture to the computers, permitting them to log on to the internet, knowing that they would each have an e-mail from me.
The first class starts, and Abel and Elizabeth are on opposite sides of the room. Elizabeth partners up with Debora, a student who used computers for the first time just a few weeks ago. Abel, who is sitting at his own computer, squirms to the edge of his seat, leaning over to the right to point at something on Martha and Kandida’s computer screen. He rapidly explains something in Swahili, and Martha and Kandida nod in understanding.
Meanwhile, Debora is moving the mouse from the middle of the laptop’s monitor to the Google Chrome icon. Elizabeth says, “Double click,” and Debora, smiling, clicks twice, but only manages to highlight the text of the icon. “Haraka kidogo [a little faster],” suggests Elizabeth, and Debora manages to open up the internet browser. The two change the website to http://www.google.com, taking turns typing.
I have observed classrooms at Ummu Salama and Lugalo Schools. Learning often happens in rows, with students learning independently of their peers. The teacher is at the front, speaking. The students are at their desks, listening, or answering the teacher’s questions. The only activities that I have seen happen together are on the netball or football fields.
But in Technology Camp, students have taken time to adapt to different classroom norms. On the first day, students seemed surprised to be asked to turn to a neighbor and discuss what the purpose of a CPU is. However, as students began to become more comfortable working together, they started to rely on each other, ensuring that all are learning.
From the perspective of an teacher, building a strong learning community is important. But watching students begin to build one themselves is every educator’s dream. And this is what I have begun to see happen in Iringa.