|Risk and Innovation for Improved Education in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC):
In a world with little infrastructure, IT can bridge educational gaps
dot-EDU, via the Education Development Center (EDC) and the Academy for Educational Development (AED), is developing models of how to improve the quality and dissemination of education through information and broadcast technology in a country with limited infrastructure and resources.
Working in the communities of Vanga and Luozi, this project is building the ability to break the cycle of rote learning, and help these areas develop creative ways to address the serious lack of educational materials and teacher training, in a low cost environment.
The activities combine teacher training on project and inquiry-based learning with introductions to technology tools to create, adapt, and improve teaching materials.
Vanga, directed by AED, is using a community learning center as a base for educational development, and Luozi, directed by EDC, is using a panoply of information and broadcast technologies to support the development of complementary instructional strategies.
Breaking the Educational Cycle
Students gaze passively at the chalkboard as the teacher uses numeric and theoretical concepts to explain the decimal system - a teaching strategy that in no way relates to the students' daily lives. Poorly trained and often unmotivated teachers have not yet learned how to use examples found in the immediate environment to illustrate principles of math, health, agriculture and even physics.
School conditions are inadequate; students of the lower grades sit cramped together on long benches, with no books or desks to write on. Teachers work without handbooks. According to Sonia Arias, Project Director, "a single dictionary in a school is considered a luxury."
Traditional methods of remedying this educational crisis require a generation of effort and funding - free of political instability. However, Congo does not have the luxury to wait that long. USAID's DRC Mission Director, Tony Gambino, put the following challenge to the Education Development Center (EDC): leverage risky and innovative opportunities that digital and broadcast technologies offer in order to bring about improved quality and increased access to education.
Building Educational Competence in Vanga
EDC and AED began work in late Fall 2002 with the Vanga community in Bandundu Province. Vanga, though geographically isolated, is a vibrant health and educational community. Long-standing missionary presence and strong community leadership has given rise to a network of schools and health service centers.
Working within a community ownership model, a fully operational Community Learning and Resource Center will provide access to information technology and training in information literacy skills, learning materials development and project-based learning methods relevant to the Vanga community. Classroom instruction in such areas as nutrition, agriculture and language instruction will be supported by test interventions using information technologies.
Establishing a telecenter with 15 computers when there is no power in the midst of an agrarian, mostly illiterate community is indeed risky. But the Vanga community has already come together for the common goal of improving and developing their community. The learning materials, information literacy skills and community learning projects developed will lay the groundwork for the educational development of future generations.
Community of Practice Promotes Teacher Collaboration in Luozi
The Luozi project, directed by EDC, is using three main components to improve educational quality in this region. First, EDC is working with the community to develop project-based learning using local and relevant technologies. For example, a clay jar and a piece of cloth can be used to demonstrate lessons about water filtration and physics. Tool kits using these local technologies will be developed locally and supplied to schools.
Second, the project is finding ways to disseminate currently existing curricula, supplied by UNICEF and other organzations, on life skill lessons. A major channel will be radio - through a mix of radio formats, important educational information can be shared with the community. Additional methods to support this information dissemination are also being explored, such as production of cassettes, sharing solar powered or hand cranked radios, and building computer infrastructure in selected community radio stations.
However, the key to success of this project will be the "community of practice" approach, which promotes collaboration among teachers to support their capacity building, as well as the development of project-based learning and the radio dissemination of life skills curricula.
Working in Challenging Environments
The challenges to the Vanga and Luozi projects should not be ignored. A lack of transportation and communications infrastructure, poor health and sanitary conditions, food insecurity, limited economic development, gender disparity and little government support are just a few difficulties that have prevented sustainable development from taking root.
It is anticipated, however, that the innovative nature of this dot-EDU project will begin to empower local communities to break the cycle of poverty and create real opportunities for all involved. By giving the communities access and ability to use powerful technology tools, real improvements should be seen in the quality of education in this isolated corner of the world.
EDC, under dot-EDU, was awarded the DR Congo ICTs and Education: Community Learning Centers and Complementary Instructional Strategies in September, 2002 for 12 months (Award No. under the dot-EDU Leader Award No: GDG-A-00-01-00011-00).