The Intel Education Service Corp (IESC), a team of Intel volunteers, is in Egypt helping children and teachers more effectively use the Intel-powered Classmate PCs. Mustapha Abdulai, a test research and development engineer, recaps their second week in Al-Minya, Egypt.
Re-introducing CPMCs into the ancient kingdom’s capital, Al-Minya
by Mustapha Abdulai
The team headed back to Cairo for 36 hours where we saw as many of the amazing attractions as was possible. To accomplish this we had to take the Cairo Metro, ride in a microbus and deal with many crazy taxi drivers (one got us into a fender bender, luckily no one was injured). Finally we caught the Egyptian Rail train from Cairo to Al-Minya (a 5 hour comfortable ride).
Al-Minya which was once the capital in ancient times is very different from Beni Suef, it’s larger and a bit more dense (though not as large or as dense as Cairo). We decided to follow the same script as in Beni Suef, so we got our NGO CARE Internationalto get at least one teacher and one technician from each of the 10 schools with CMPCs installed to come for a two-day training at Madrasa Munkshat Al-Fikr. This time the teachers and techs were allowed to take the two training days off so we were ready to go by 9:30am on each day. On the first day we separated the teachers from the techs and gave each the applicable training. As always the teachers and techs had tons of questions so the sessions lasted about an hour longer than we anticipated.
After the sessions the Intel IESC team was invited to play a friendly game of soccer against some of the teachers on the school’s field. I’m very happy to say we won 3-1.
On the second day we go a little bit off-script and paired the teachers with the techs and got them to go through setting up a classroom from scratch. This hands-on experience helped us identify the schools that will need more training.
We spent our remaining time in Al-Minya visiting each of the 10 schools; to our amazement only 2 schools had incorporated the CMPCs into their curriculum. At the remaining schools we discussed with the teachers the obstacles that were preventing them from using the CMPCs.
Here were some of the main problems:
- Lack of training for both the teachers and the techs
- No escalation point for issues
- Lack of lesson plan examples on the CMPCs
- Not enough CMPCs (only 25CMPCs are installed per school; one school had up to 70 students per class)
- No financial incentive for the teachers
- Workload increase. Teachers would have to prepare their lesson plans on paper and ink to submit to their supervisors, thus using the CMPCs means they have to create two lesson plans
- No internet connection (cannot get the full benefit of the CMPC)
Despite all these complaints, we asked all the schools to show us how they intend to use the CMPCs in the classroom, so we helped distribute the CMPCs to the students and walked the teachers through connecting everyone.
The students couldn’t hide their excitement; in one school they asked the teacher if they could skip their break to continue the lessons being delivered via the CMPC. Hadj showed one girl how to take her picture with the built-in camera. Suddenly murmurs could be heard across the room as all the girls started asking each other how to do that, and within 3 minutes they were all taking pictures of themselves.
At the end of our time in Al-Minya, we had every school setup and running. At each of the schools with low utilization, we made sure to have a chat with the principal to stress the benefits of incorporating the CMPCs into the curriculum; at least one teacher from each school committed to continue using it and our CARE representative also committed to being a point of contact for them to escalate any issues they might face.
Before we set out for this trip we expected that most of the reasons for the low utilization would have been technical, but at the end of our two weeks here in Upper Egypt we found that the greatest obstacle is that the education ecosystem is slow to adapt this technology. Most teachers will use it if it reduced their workload. Most principals will incorporate it into their curriculum only if that was a mandate from the ministry, etc. But we left very hopeful that all these obstacles will be cleared sooner than later. The students love the CMPCs. The few teachers who are using it love it and the remaining teachers that we trained now see how much more effective they can be by using the CMPCs. Things are looking up.