Keongo Primary School pilot project

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Introduction

After much delay due to several problems we had, the Hands Of Charity Mathematics, Reading/Writing and HIV programs have finally taken off simultaneously in Keongo Primary School, a school with a pupil population of about 850 located in Keongo Village, Kericho District, Rift Valley Province, Kenya.
The mood in the school was jubilant. On Wednesday 16th October 2009 I spoke initially to the School Head Mistress, Mrs. Koech, about the program, and she could barely contain her excitement when she had that we were hoping they accepted to have the few XO laptops we have used to aid in teaching their children.
Initially she was worried about what costs they were going to incur, but I assured her that there was nothing to worry about, that we would cater for all the costs. All they had to do was to give us some supervised time with the children. I was asked to start the following afternoon.

The Class
At 3:20 pm Thursday, we had the first class. I was asked to start with Standard 7 West, a group of 38 pupils. I introduced myself and told them what our organization, the Hands of Charity, in partnership with OLPC, wanted to do in their school. I also introduced them to the XO laptop, what it could do, the safety precautions and all its external features, and after that showed them how to start the machine, open activities and manipulate a few other basics.
The class went on for one hour and forty minutes. I was able to extensively demonstrate to them how the Write and Record activities were able to do, and introduced them to Calculate, GeoQuiz, Chat and the Wiki. After that I asked them to write some of the things they believe the XO can help them do. Here is a small sample of some of the responses I got.

  1. It can help us take pictures for our homes and friends.
  2. It can help us write messages to one another.
  3. It can help us learn how to use the computer.
  4. It can assist us to make the learning of Mathematics and English easier and faster.
  5. It will help us get better grades in our exams and get jobs in the future.

All these responses coming from eleven to fifteen year-olds who have never ever seen or touched a computer amazed me. Instantly, they were able to see the enormous potential of this machine. As if I had not had enough surprises for a day, six teachers joined the pupils, sat with them and we were able to have the lesson together. I thought that was a very positive step in bringing the teachers and pupils closer together.

The Potential
These children live under very impoverished circumstances and will continue to do so in the future if the fundamental hope they have in getting them out of that, education, is not rapidly improved. We have to stimulate the interest of this children in the learning process through initiatives like these. For example, after my lesson yesterday (Thursday), there has been a rise in the number of pupils coming to school today from the week’s average number by 43. Just one lesson, and forty three children who would have stayed home and probably dropped out saw a reason to come back. The need to have educated children in a society, you all agree, can never be stressed enough.

In Kenya today, most of the children under 15 years of age, and as I mentioned earlier even the teachers, do not have skills in Information Technology and Computing. This is a chance to bridge that gap and bring Technological tools to them. The key to improving education in Kenya is in Technology.

The XO is also a multi-purpose tool, as I am sure it was made to be, and therefore with the proper guidance can help teach so many new things to these pupils in rural Kenya on issues that affect them.

The Challenges
The biggest challenge we face at the moment is funding. The five day trip we are concluding alone has cost nearly $200 just to cater just for basic accommodation, meals and transport. We would be much more efficient if we have available funds to rent a house in the town near the school and if we had a vehicle to tackle the nearly impossible and nearly always wet terrain the school is located at.

The other major challenge is the limited number of XOs we have. This is a school of nearly 900 pupils, as I mentioned earlier, and with only 9 laptops we are nowhere near able to cater for all these children. If we created all that buzz with just nine laptops, imagine what would happen if we had even a hundred!

The third major challenge is that the children have a very poor command of the English language, the main mode of communication. Of course we are hoping that this is a problem we will fix in due course.

Conclusion
This entire program is a working progress. There are so many limitations that face children like this when it comes to them and realizing their full potential. With patience and dedication, we can all collectively help to improve the education process in poorer countries, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, and bring the unfamiliar belief to this children that you are never too little to dream big!