Why Integrate?

We knew it would be difficult long before we got there.

We were told that Mfangano Island, near Mbita, Kenya, was “the furthest you can go and still be on Earth.” Even in Mbita, a comparative metropolis, conditions were pretty rough in the schools. The Teachers Without Borders – Canada team visited ten schools the first week we were there. None of them had electricity. Two had generators, but no resources to buy fuel for them. One had a computer lab, but without electricity it was useless.

Most of the schools were very basic. Typically, the classrooms had student desks, blackboards, and chalk. Some had old, tattered books that the students would share. It was not uncommon to see 50 learners in an early primary class. By late primary (grades 7 and 8), there were only a handful of students. Most had dropped out by that point. Many schools had dirt floors in their classrooms. Too many students didn’t have shoes.

We were there to do technology training.

The teachers see technology as a way out for their students. They’re desperate to get their hands on computers, and to learn as much about them as they can. For us, though, finding ways to make the workshops relevant was a huge challenge. How do you teach a group of teachers to effectively use technology when they don’t even have electricity? You focus on learning.

When technology was introduced into North American classrooms, it came at a time when transformational changes were taking place. The teacher finally moved off the stage. Students started working in groups. The focus of classroom teaching changed from a one-size-fits-all model to an approach that sees learners as individuals, each with their own needs. Teachers started applying constructivist techniques to their classes. Students started working on projects, developing their own understanding of key concepts. All of this made it possible to effectively incorporate technology.

Without a 1:1 program, the old model of instruction doesn’t really work with technology. Sure, the teacher can do some Powerpoint presentations and use the Internet to find teaching resources, but the students don’t get much out of it. But none of this happened in Kenya. They’re still in the model where the teacher stands at the front of the class and lectures all the time.

So we decided that we could teach a lot of pedagogy, and a little technology, and actually give the teachers some resources they can use. We had eleven working computers (counting the three we brought with us). We divided the teachers into two groups, so we were able to have 2-3 teachers sharing a computer for the hands on sessions, and an equal number of sessions focusing on pedagogy.

To set the stage for all of this, we got Zac Chase to lead one of the first sessions. At the beginning of the day, we had done a “get-to-know-you” activity that had the teachers up and moving around and talking to one another. Then, Zac took over with his “Why Integrate?” session.

So here he is at the Suba Centre in Mbita, Kenya, August 4, 2009. He has inherited this group of 47 teachers that he met about two hours ago. They think they’re only there to learn about technology. This is the middle half-hour of a 90 minute session. The video is not the best quality — he’s backlit, and I was using a handheld Flip camera. The room was very crowded, and it’s sometimes hard to hear. You also can’t see his slides very well. But despite those shortcomings, the presentation is well worth half an hour of your life.