Cool Community Computer Classes (with Certificates!)

17 July 2012

Today marks the first day of the fourth week of the teachers’ strike here in Swaziland. This strike has lasted much longer than we expected and has suddenly ripped us from our finally established routine of classes at school and given us an incredibly unpredictable, but open schedule.

We’ve done our best to keep busy while remaining available to jump right back into the school term at a moment’s notice. We’ve continued to work in the garden (and, despite Rebecca’s constant pleading, I have expanded it once again), successfully made our own bread from scratch, explored some new paths through the bush, and just hung out.

One project which I’ve been able to keep running through the strike – and has gone a long way towards keeping me sane – are the community computer classes we started in May. After a couple of months of hosting ‘open lab hours’ for the community, I identified a community member, Zamekile, with some previous experience and a pretty good aptitude for computers and asked her if they would be interested in teaching some formal classes in the afternoons for the community. To my excitement, she said yes!

We set about planning how the courses would go. After bouncing all over the place, we decided to start with a 6-week course on Microsoft Word to be followed by a 6-week course on Microsoft Excel. We meet three times each week for two and a half hours. It is working our great. Despite charging a small fee, we’ve filled enrollment in both courses (currently we are in Week 2 of Excel) and have had great feedback from the participants.

Besides me reviewing lessons ahead of time with her and answering questions as they come up, Zamekile does almost all of the teaching in siSwati. Even though most of our participants can get by in English, the fact that siSwati is the primary medium of instruction has allowed them to make amazing progress in just a few weeks.
From those first couple of sessions still working on mastering the mouse to all 14 participants typing and printing resumes and letters – they all deserved and were excited by the certificates we awarded at the end of the MS Word segment. Similarly they seem to be picking up the basics of MS Excel with ease.

This project is so exciting for a number of reasons.
1) It doesn’t need me to continue. My role is to provide suggestions, encouragement, and bolster Zamekile’s confidence in her own ability to teach the course. After a few sessions like this, she will have no problem continuing on her own.
2) It takes us another giant leap towards total self-sufficiency of the computer lab. Electricity, printing, paper, computer maintenance, certificates and even a stipend for Zamekile is built into the small course fee.
3) The possibilities are literally endless. We are already discussing ideas for future courses – encouraging Zamekile to learn more programs and skills to pass along in future classes.
4) How often do you get to see someone wearing an emajobo (animal skill loin cloth) while learning how to use MS Office 2010?

Have a great week!
-Oliver

Rebecca is currently reading: Daniel (the one who hung out with the lions)
Oliver is currently watching: Videos from TED conferences
We are currently watching: Frasier Season 6, The Tutors Season 4

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