Friday, April 20, 2007

TAKING IT TO RURAL SCHOOLS

By Rebecca Wanjiku

At the heart of Meru district, Eastern province, a dusty road leads to Ruiga girls’ school. It is a typical village school with no power and vehicles to the shopping centre operate only on market days.

To access it, one needs prior information, if it rained; don’t bother visiting because the road is impassable. The school is two kilometers from the road with no public transport.

Imagine this: the school has an integrated system that allows teachers to teach mathematics, chemistry, biology and physics using animated computer graphics and has an integrated system that allows parents to monitor students’ academic and disciplinary progress from the internet.

The imagination can roll on to the classroom where the teachers use LCD projectors in place of black boards and exam past papers are available online. The assignments are forwarded via email and teachers, parents and students are in constant communication.

Well, this is the dream that the headmistress of the school has dared to dream. The school is typical of many village schools but wants to be the pioneer of computer technology in the area.

This school imposes itself as the testimony of the determination by Cyber School Technology Solutions (CSTS) of providing quality educational services to schools in Kenya- whether rural or urban.

With no power and coming from a place where computers are still perceived as myths, CSTS is proving that all students can enjoy world-class teaching aids that enhance the learning environment.

Fatma Bashir, chief marketing officer at CSTS narrated to ICT stakeholders gathered for the KICTANet forum how she has had to teach communities about benefits of computers before embarking on her mission to promote educational packages.

“One time a headmistress of another school blocked us from entering the school because we were introducing ‘bad pictures through the internet’ to the students. I took time to explain to the teachers the benefits of computers in schools, and that we had good intentions,” Bashir told the forum.

CSTS develops teaching resources, aligned to specific syllabi, featuring 3D animations. Each Unit within a Chapter apart from 3D animations contains 2D animations, visuals, charts, experiments and other reference materials required by teachers in a classroom environment.

Today, Ruiga girls’ school has 220 students and 12 teachers. Granted the challenges, the school was ranked 18 out of 79 schools in 2006, up from 33rd position in the district in 2005, and according to Bashir, the students have demonstrated positive index improvement in sciences subjects after using the Digital Science products for barely 6 weeks before the final exams.

This school epitomizes the desire by CSTS to bridge the infrastructure and digital divide and ensure that rural schools enjoy similar opportunities as those enjoyed by urban schools.

Through the electronic teaching aids offered to schools, CSTS hopes to bridge the digital divide between rural and urban schools. This, Bashir argued, will lead to early familiarization with ICT for teachers and students alike.

According to Bashir, CSTS hopes to qualitatively improve learning by conceptualizing more creatively and digitizing learning resources to help educators build better learning interventions.

For the tough science subjects, CSTS hopes to make them fun by introducing new teaching aides in the subjects of Mathematics, Biology, Physics and Chemistry that animate and turn the subjects to life, making it easier to learn and recall.

Standardizing the learning process thereby creating an equal opportunity for success for every student sitting the examination across the board.

Digital Science is a revolutionary teaching aid because by using animated visuals, that brings to life the abstract concepts learning science has been made easier thus more interesting and readily understood by the students.

“The interactivity built into these modules also gives students a feeling of hands-on experience. At the same time, it gives control to the teachers and students as the lessons follow syllabi of specific subjects while pace and explanations can match the level of the student,” said Bashir.

In Physics, interactivity allows students to tweak parameters in situations and literally see how the system responds to the change. In short, the limitations of a school laboratory are overcome. For example, no school lab can show a nuclear reaction, but this is also shown in our modules.

In Chemistry, using the virtual lab, students can conduct potentially hazardous experiments safely and without the expenditure of chemicals. Even dangerous experiments dealing with poisonous gases, etc. can be performed (students are warned adequately in such cases to prevent them from replicating it in reality). They can also repeat experiments over and over until they are familiar with the process in preparation for practical examinations, all this at the click of a button.

In Biology, through animation of complex concepts students get to understand what they are being taught and can thus apply this not only in their lives but also while responding to examination questions. For example a process such as importance of diffusion in the human body, cell division during reproduction etc are visually depicted aiding the understanding and retention process required in the teaching and learning environment.

CSTS has introduced a new technique of teaching mathematics. In Mathematics, when teaching about shapes, the animation shows the shapes in 3 dimension, thus attracting the students to get into the concept and learn it better and with self-interest.

CSTS recognizes the necessity for educating students about HIV / AIDS appropriately and effectively, using the power of multimedia. The organization has developed innovative, original multimedia teaching tools, on CD ROM for HIV / AIDS education for children between the ages of 6 and 18.

The content sophistication increases for higher age groups, covering the nature of viral infections and causes and effects of HIV / AIDS. Because this is a global problem with many mature themes, it is treated in a sensitive and flexible, non-judgmental manner to appeal to persons from different backgrounds.

The lessons are created in a visually attractive style with cartoon characters giving the message in a manner which is easy to understand. This is followed by interactive exercises, quizzes, etc. to reinforce the learning process, evaluate what they have learnt, and show them how this knowledge can be applied in safe behavior to avoid HIV / AIDS.

By Advocating the use of relevant ICT software in education CSTS hopes to improve learning processes of all students in Kenya as well as improve living standards.

Ends

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