This summer I had the amazing opportunity to present several technology sessions at a four-day teacher conference at a school in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda.
Technology sessions in this context are very interesting. The school is one of the few in the country to even have computers, and their lab is a conglomerate of many different models of laptops and desktops from the past 10 years. None of them are connected to the Internet as the school prioritizes feeding their 750 students two meals a day over purchasing Internet access. Without the internet, teaching about technology then is in the realm of Microsoft Office products that are installed on the hard drive.
These hard-working teachers, however, are eager to learn about technology and were fascinated when I did a session about using ChatGPT - the session only lasted until the internet hotspot gave out. The conversation around generative AI, however, was very different than I was used to with teachers back in North America. American teachers are very concerned about how and what to teach since students can “cheat” so easily with generative AI tools. My African teacher friends, however, only saw the possibility of generative AI as a timesaver. When students at the school use computers, they have no access to the Internet and almost none of the students would have computer Internet access at home.
I knew before I arrived that the school had very little Internet access, although I was surprised at how their computer lab had grown since my last visit before COVID-19. And so I was very pleased when Sylvia, the CEO of StickTogether, generously agreed to send 2 StickTogether poster kits to complement my technology training.
Fortunately, this African school has some nice flat smooth walls on which to mount the poster - smooth walls would certainly not be a given in many African national schools. This helps to illuminate that an activity like this was a treat for the teachers, and just like teachers anywhere who gather around a StickTogether poster, the visiting and chitchatting were constant.
However, there is a sobering contrast: based on teacher wages in this region, purchasing a StickTogether poster (even before shipping costs) would cost more than a week’s income. Understandably then, the school principal was very excited that I had brought 2 more posters that they could use for students.
And then consider this school that I visited in a very remote community in the South Omo region of Southern Ethiopia. Without walls, water or electricity, a North American luxury like a poster feels out of place.
When planning for this conference, I always have a number of backup plans based on internet availability. I had hoped to be able to do a virtual StickTogether activity and once I realized that many teachers were willing to use their own cellular data plans to experience digital activities, I launched a virtual sticker board that I had prepared ahead of time.
The teachers here in Uganda enjoy learning tidbits and facts about Canada, and we often laugh as we discover the different ways we use and pronounce words.
District Instructional Lead
Prairie Rose Public Schools; Alberta, Canada