Seven years ago, Axis and the Hekima Girls’ School in Tanzania worked together to install a new, locally sourced PC lab and taught the kids and teachers how to use educational software. The results showed that this change in the school’s routine had an even bigger impact than initially anticipated.
A lot has changed since we first visited the school and the program has helped both the students and the local economy. We spoke to the principal involved in the project, Sister Vestina, to see where this path has led the students and how the technology has impacted the learning environment, development and daily routine at Hekima.
Changed lives and big dreams
Having access to computers and the Internet has paved the way to a more technology-driven educational experience.
In order to appreciate the importance and opportunities that came with the implementation of functioning computers and Internet, it’s essential to understand educational facilities in Tanzania. Many of the schools in the area can’t afford to invest in technology of any kind, which is why access to computers makes Hekima stand out. For the students, it’s crucial to have this access and to know how to use a computer – both to access information for their studies and to be able to apply for universities.
Sister Vestina explains, “The impact of the new technology can, in particular, be seen in the academic context. Many of the students are using the internet access on a regular basis to research information for assignments, as well as enhance their knowledge in specific fields and topics that were tackled during the ‘traditional’ learning set up – like lessons.”
This applies to every subject – from geography to languages. For example, in combination with the special English learning program that the school offers, the computers are also used to teach students how to collect, edit and present the information while also improving their English language skills.
By enabling relatively stable internet access – especially considering the school is located quite far from the center of the nearest town, Bukoba – the students experience a more interactive way of learning, as well as being taught how to use the actual devices. Sister Vestina shares: “We’ve added computer studies to our curriculum so that the students can learn how to operate the machines. Ultimately, the access to Information Technology is an asset and by building up their computer literacy to being able to undertake advanced research and even programming the students will gain the opportunity to enter any job field that requires technological knowledge.”
But just installing the latest educational software onto the computers isn’t enough. It’s also about the right training. Showing the teachers how to use everything properly is the best way to ensure the school will be able to get the full advantage of those technologies. Which is why after setting up the hardware and resolving any technical issues, the Axis team also take the time to prepare materials for the teachers and to explain new applications in detail. The teachers have as much hunger for knowledge as the students. They all are keen to fully understand the functionalities of the computers and the software and to ultimately be self-sufficient. It’s providing the staff and the students with a certain level of independence. Helping the school become self-sufficient, in terms of IT and ensuring the long-term sustainability of this project, is something the Axis team has always felt very strongly about. It’s a process and not something that can be achieved in one visit and a few new devices. It’s more than that. Which is why Axis has been periodically following up with the principal and the teachers to ensure the progress and that the computers are still working. In doing so, the team has not only provided support when needed, but also built a close relationship with the teachers at the Hekima Girls’ School. But the benefit of this project has gone beyond just the school…
Building the community’s future
The positive impact of the collaboration between Axis and the Hekima Girls’ School has also been felt in and around Bukoba Town, where the school is located. With advanced English skills and computer knowledge being some of the keys to attend higher education, the computer lab has been a crucial factor for the girls to get a step closer to this goal. “Our students have a broad interest in various careers and fields. When they join Hekima we introduce them to various careers and the subjects they need to pass in order to qualify. Every year about 98 to 100 per cent of our students pass their final exams and join other schools for further studies that are more specialised in their field of interest. We’ve had success, for example students who graduated and work now in IT, finance, engineering and as doctors”, says Sister Vestina proudly. “It’s incredible to see what this project has made possible – for the school as well as for the whole community in the long run.”
The village benefits from this new skilled workforce. Many former students of the Hekima Girls’ School have also been recognized for their commitment and diligence at their workplace. Plus, since the computer hardware was bought from vendors in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, there’s even an economic benefit for the country. Axis have co-operated with Simply Computers, a reliable partner in Dar es Salaam, which has provided nearly all of the hardware in the computer lab. In the future, the school is looking to hire a reliable technician who can support the staff in the implementation and keeping their technology up-to-date.
A solid partnership for a bright future
What started with a girls’ school where many students had not used a computer before has become the door to a new future. This was thanks to a great collaboration with students as well as teachers, who are committed to this opportunity and keen to learn. Axis and Hekima will be continuing to expand the initiative, such as investing where needed to ensure the technology remains up to date. The students will continue to increase their knowledge and, ultimately, have new career opportunities open up to them. Not only this, it is a source for new ideas, aspirations and solutions for problems in their daily lives.