Education Without Boundaries, founded by Beaverbrook’s Bob and Beth Carson, is helping village schools by providing solar-powered netbooks. The project – called Ukumfwana, which means working together – aims to help the classrooms move away from the exclusive use of a paper-based curriculum.
“The project will draw village schools into the 21st century with technology powered by solar power, giving teachers, then students, access to electronic textbooks, reading material and educational videos,” said the Carsons in an email. “As time progresses, schools will gain access to email and the Internet.”
Bob recently returned from Lusaka, Zambia, where he helped instruct 11 teachers from eight schools the fundamentals of computer use.
“The teachers are getting comfortable with using the netbooks,” said Beth. “We’re working on PDFs of teachers’ manuals. So instead of having the entire manual in paper form, they will be able to refer to the day’s lessons on the netbook.”
The Carsons said many of the classrooms are in remote areas with little to no security for classroom supplies.
“In remote villages, teachers often have to walk many kilometres to the school,” said Beth. Many classrooms have no doors, and animals can often be found roaming around inside, possibly making a snack of paper supplies, she added.
“The netbooks seems like an ideal solution for teachers in these situations,” she said.
As well, prices kept increasing for paper shipments for delivery of the curriculum.
“It occurred to us that the laptop has some capability,” said Bob.
The Carsons said they chose to use the netbook because it’s light-weight and holds a battery charge.
The Carsons presented the idea to the Juniper Networks Foundation Fund, a corporate fund of Community Foundation Silicon Valley, which manages philanthropic funds.
“They surprised us,” said Bob. “All of a sudden there was complete support for our project.”
Education Without Boundaries was able to provide 20 netbooks to the chosen eight schools. A community in the Chisamba area was the first to receive a solar panel, which helps to power the netbooks.
“There’s no shortage of sunshine in Zambia,” said Beth.
Once the teachers are familiar with how to use the netbooks, they will be able to introduce them in the classroom.
“When they’re doing a lesson about ants for instance, the teacher will be able to pull up a video clip,” said Beth, adding they are working on building a library of information, including video clips, for the computers. “(The teachers are) excited to be able to use them.”
The charity is working on attaining more grant money so the project can be expanded.
“Zambia is the primary focus and there are a total of 38 schools,” said Bob. “We want the schools to have more computers.”
Education Without Boundaries was founded by the Carsons in 2000 to assist African schools by providing training for teachers, curriculum development and classroom supplies.