Flying Home

A long flight is a good chance to reflect on all of the interviews I have conducted in the last month. My tour started with protests in South Africa over the affordability of education to the middle and lower classes in the #feesmustfall campaign. My time in Tanzania ended with increasing tensions over a disputed election result for the islands of Zanzibar. This time the lack of protests and conversation puzzled me: was it apathy, ignorance or fear? One young man explained the lack of dialogue within Zanzibar on the right to choose a leader and have that result honoured reflected an inadequate education system. If a child is merely taught the vocational skills of their parent (in this case small fishing villages), they can not take part in conversations about their political choices and move towards improving the situation for the next generation. In his definition, the role of education is to create citizens who understand their rights and responsibilities, who have the digital, oral and written literacy skills to understand what is happening and be involved in those discussions and decisions.
"Kids need a good education not just a trade to know their place in society. They need to think … Continue Reading ››

Afri-one Team

The winning team from the eLearning Africa Hackathon 2015 was Afrione. The members, from Congo, Kenya, and Madagascar, had an idea to create a virtual world that represents each of their cultures. Basic elements like houses, utensils, and greetings would introduce children to unique features of many tribes around Africa. The aim is to be aware of and appreciate diversity.  While on my study tour funded by the NSW Premiership scholarship, I made sure I met this talented team. I saw some of their more recent educational projects  and discussed the role of play in education. I asked Kim how he coped with the traditionally authoritarian education system and introducing gamification. He explained that he talks to the teachers about how play at lunch gives children power. They come back refreshed and ready to focus. So incorporating play within lessons is an effective way of gaining attention. Their current projects include developing Educational software for African audiences.

Edu-tainment in Swahili

The theme of my Study Tour was Gamification and mobile technology, which is epitomised by the team at Ubongo Studios in Dar Es Salaam who create an edu-cartoon watched by over 1.4 million Tanzanians. Children watching the Saturday morning shows are invited to interact live through basic mobile phones. The talking / rapping Giraffe will phone you and ask you a series of maths questions. If you get five right in a row you get to hear him sing an (educational) song. This is a brilliant implementation of Gamification in Education. Let me breakdown why this is so effective based on the Neuroscience by Bristol university on risk and variable rewards. If the child is hoping to hear a song from the giraffe they are already receiving a Dopamine hit. This keeps them attentive and focused, an ideal teaching moment. If they do get to hear a song they receive another hit of dopamine. My research into play and learning over the last few years has helped me understand why interactive games are so effective in engaging children (and adults) . The samples of edutainment being produced by Ubongo are very much in line with effective … Continue Reading ››

Training in Zanzibar, Tanzania

Zanzibar has a mix of traditional and contemporary culture. As a popular tourism location, English and Hospitality Skills are highly valued. I had the opportunity to discuss Education with many people. The stories below represent a mix of on the job training provided by corporate NGO organisations, Vocational College Training, Informal , Apprentice and self-led education. The most insightful discussion I had was with a young man expressing concern over the focus on passing on vocational skills from one generation to the next. He sees education as having a higher purpose of enabling people from all walks of life to understand what is happening in their country and be literate enough to be involved in decisions that will affect them and generations to come.

Hamad - On the job training through foreign NGO

As a young man, Hamad was recruited by a Belgium NGO in a major project to build hotels and schools. He first learned how to build strong foundations for buildings and prepare plumbing and as his skills progressed he  expanding his building to include tiling and rendering. He was later invited to travel to Europe and was introduced to different building styles and higher standards. His story is very different … Continue Reading ››

School of St Judes – Arusha, Tanzania

My guide for my few days at the (mostly) Australian sponsored School of St Judes was Enock, a 2015 graduate. He started at St Judes as a young child and is now ready for University. One of the many things we discussed was the difference between the traditional behaviour management techniques used in Tanzanian public schools and the techniques used at St Judes.  Children in Tanzania are usually beaten if they do not behave as expected. This happens at home, school and church or Madrassa. The motivation to comply is to avoid pain.  At a school assembly I attended, I saw the use of school houses and group points as a way of establishing and rewarding the behaviour of this large mass of children. This may seem obvious and normal to us from Australia but after seeing such an embedded culture of physical discipline it was a delight to see that the School of St Judes is providing tangible examples of alternate methods which I describe as gamification. I had never thought of Gamification in this light and now see that the tools of play and games are a way to manage behaviour without resorting to physical punishments.
Enock told me … Continue Reading ››

East African Innovation at Buni Tech Centre

I was invited to visit Buni, an innovation hub in Dar Es Salaam. This is an open office for young innovators and entrepreneurs. The facilities include a meeting room, training room, computers, and a maker space. The smart houses in the video are part of a recent project which aimed to encourage young women to explore technology. Each smart house has an Arduino board as a mini computer, sensors, and electrical items like lights. If movement is detected inside this tiny smart house an action will follow as programmed e.g. turn the lights on. In the maker space, computer waste is recycled into plastic ready for 3D printing. The design is drawn using a 3D program on the computer. The information is passed to the 3D printer and slowly built up layer by layer. It was very encouraging to see young people being supported as entrepreneurs. We discussed the potential for technology to impact education. They were very positive and keen to see rapid change in the way the next generation is educated. The concept of games in education was very popular. I was invited to connect with more like minded people and organizations here in Tanzania and look forward to more … Continue Reading ››

XPrize Dev4x – Education via offline Android tablets

The Global Learning Xprize challenge is to develop an Open Source  solution to teach 7 - 10 year old children basic literacy and numeracy.  Android tablets will be distributed to remote villages in East Africa with pre-loaded educational content. Pre and post tests after 18 months will identify which team's approach is the most successful. A few prototypes are currently being tested with children in Tanzania. Children who have never used technology before are observed to see how they react and cope with various educational apps and interfaces. The Dev4x team is a group of volunteer educators, parents, and developers who are interested in global education. Children in Tanzania who have never used  smart phones or computers before are being given Android tablets to observe how they react. So far the results are very promising and the team feels confident that offline education resources will be welcomed by the current generation of East Africans who have such a keen desire to be educated. The usage of mobile phones in Tanzania is fairly prolific, somewhat similar to Australia , although less people own smart / feature phones. Daily events are photographed and videoed using phones and shared via social … Continue Reading ››

South Africa – exploring identity

I am about to get on a plane and leave Johannesburg. Within a short time, this city has left an impact on me like no other city I have ever visited. It felt like visiting a movie set of ghosts and stories I have heard about before. Authors like Wilbur Smith and Bryce Courtney have been my main source of information on South Africa, along with mass media and a dozen or so SA citizens I have met along the way. None of which prepared me for the ‘rainbow nation’ of so many cultures forming one country. Balancing the unique local/ tribal identity with a broader group and participating in a global culture is a challenge we will all face in the next few decades. South Africa is the pressure point for this delicate and volatile see-saw of identity. My first surprise in Johannesburg was the high level of security; fences, gates, security guards, and riot police cars in the CBD. The next surprise was the extremes of luxury versus so many people living in difficult economic circumstances.  The biggest surprise was that despite this pervasive fear and ongoing economic struggle, I felt  so welcome and have truly never experienced such politeness … Continue Reading ››

Moodle community leading the way in Open Education

My Perth stop over, as part of my NSW Premiership scholarship study tour,  was an ideal opportunity to drop in to the Moodle HQ offices and meet Martin Dougiamas and the Moodle  HQ - headquarters - team. The very sleek new office has room for three times the current number of staff, which is a great metaphor for the anticipated growth of Moodle. Over a relaxed lunch time chat, Martin explained how he grew up in remote outback Australia and was often the only English speaking child among Aboriginal children. (I had been discussing how my son was naturally learning Swahili through his recent new friends and I was observing the peer mentoring going on.) As a child, Martin studied distance education through the farm radio on the School of the Air. Australia led the way in this pioneering venture in responseto our large landmass and remote locations. It is no great leap to see how that isolated small child from Western Australia would go on to imagine children all around the world having access to education through a Learning Management System. His commitment to Open Source is perhaps linked to those childhood experiences. Any of us who have had … Continue Reading ››