We visited the teachers at Nangwanda Secondary School in Newala last week so we could begin to understand how they teach their students and what issues they face in that process. Some of the issues they face here are startling: large class sizes ranging from 45-75 students each; limited number of teachers, only 13 teachers available to teach a school of over 600 students; minimal access to textbooks; and lack of reliable electricity. In fact, we ourselves lost power last night when preparing for the week’s sessions but were lucky enough to find a generator to charge our laptops, ad hoc servers, and mobile phones. It would have been interesting conducting a mobile technology workshop without any mobile devices!
Today, we began our 9-day project of two workshops per day consisting of 65 to 75 students each. The students ranged from grades 8 through 9. The wonder and excitement plastered their faces as we handed each group their phone were alone worth the 19-hour flight here from the US. Within the first 20 minutes and with a good measure of trial and error, they had a reasonable grasp of the mechanical functions of the phone that many of us take for granted such as: how to turn the phone on; unlock it by swiping their finger across the screen; use the camera to take pictures; and type words in the text box using the on-screen keyboard. It was remarkable to watch how quickly students began to learn how to use the phones, especially since most of them have never seen a touch-screen smartphone before in their lives.
After the workshop, when asked if she had fun today one of the students replied softly, “We have had a lot of fun because today we learned things we did not know before.”