Laptops: Not Luxury Toys for Pupils

Laptops, as we know them, are a “luxury” in Tanzania. Education is not. Almost anything, from healthcare to food, can be addressed well through education. This is why an increasing number of non-governmental organizations are finding a reason to support the government in bridging the digital divide in education. The world has become increasingly digital, thus providing education in the same old way no longer works. Information and communication technologies have become a key part of learning.

In Tanzania, the government is still struggling to provide the basics in schools and similarly, has been slow in mainstreaming ICTs in the education system due to lack of funding. But private players have been very helpful. One of them is Opportunity Education, an international NGO that has been working with local schools since 2006 to include ICTs in the learning process.

With modern computers and laptops, the NGO’s program is all about learning and exploration, rather than just giving pupils and their teachers costly tools. This makes learning exciting for students. After seeing the changes that came from adopting technology in other schools, OE wants to bridge the digital divide by providing computing to school children in Tanzania. “Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is very important in today’s world. Not only does it expose students to the global world, but it also helps in building a strong foundation for the future,” says Mbaki Mutahaba, Opportunity Education Tanzania country representative.

Conducting lessons via laptops and computers has the advantage of making use of videos, and experts say this helps in getting the students engaged. “It also enhances focus. One of the learning principles of Opportunity Education is to make learning a fun process,” say Mbaki.

While the majority of schools in Tanzania are yet to make use of ICT, Mbaki believes it won’t be long before the digital gap in the country is closed. He says there are plans to supply tablets to students across the country in the future. So far, Open Education has worked with 360 schools in Tanzania. “The tablets will be loaded with powerful digital lessons. Our mission is to see that students access better education through technology and embrace ICT in their studies,” says Mbaki.

A teacher from one of the schools supported by Opportunity Education, Sister Linda Jerald, says the learning tools provided by the organization have been very helpful for her learners. “To students, these tools are attractive, and because of the advantage of visual ability, the tools help students grasp concepts faster than studying the notes,” says Sister Jerald, who teaches at St. Anne Primary School in Mbezi, Dar es Salaam.

This year, OE donated laptop computers embedded with 450 video lessons and television screens to Pugu, Tusiime, St. Joseph Millenium, Montfor, St. Anne, Freys Luis, Ilboru and Fidel Castro secondary schools. Last year, the NGO donated the ICT tools to mainly primary schools. This year, the focus is on secondary schools.

While teachers receive curricula on laptops, students receive lessons projected through television screens. Ms. Philomena Temu, a former education officer with ministry of Education and Vocational Training says the use of ICT is a very important step in the country’s education system. “ICT provides better learning opportunities. Currently, many schools lack books, and have very few teachers. So, these tools, while they cannot replace teachers, will address some of the challenges we are facing,” says Ms. Temu. “They work alongside teachers.”

Opportunity Education also offers a curriculum that focuses on improving general reading, learning of mathematics and English in primary schools. “The main aim of the curriculum is to make teaching easier and excite students in their studies by using recorded materials, which are shown through DVDs given to schools for free,” says Mbaki.