IESC Senegal: The world is changing a few feet away

The Intel Education Service Corps (IESC) is a short-term service and career development opportunity for a select group of Intel employees to support the deployment of Intel classmate PCs in developing countries. In this blog, Noel Durrant, a technical program manager at Intel, recaps his team’s first week of experiences in Senegal.

Here in the school courtyard, I am hiding from the equatorial sun in the shade of a neem tree. Students chat as they stand in line to pay their fees for the new academic year about to begin. A few goats roam eating anything they can find. Lycée de Tattaguine (Tattaguine High School) looks today just like it has looked on the first week of school for many years. But just a few feet away, the world is changing.

Just after arriving in Senegal last week, our IESC team unloaded 24 Intel Classmate PCs into a sweltering classroom to kick off a “programme de formation en informatique” (IT training course) for the nine teachers and head of the PTA who will oversee the new computer lab at the school, supported by World Vision.

While “computer class” might sound passé to the American ear, here in Tattaguine it’s part of the serious business of community development and educational reform. And shortly into our project we understand why: only a small fraction of the students have ever used an “ordinateur.” Computer education is not unknown in Senegal, but for many students in this rural area, concepts like using a mouse and typing on a keyboard are simply not a part of everyday life. The few desktop PCs currently in the school are used very rarely. And tellingly, there is no connection to the academic curriculum or the teaching process.

Being a lycée, the school is responsible for preparing students for university entrance exams; which are often computer based. Professor Fall soberly sums up the situation facing his students in the information age: “It’s a high tech world, and if we can’t use computers then we are illiterate.”

As we launched into the training, the teachers were immediately interested and engaged. And as we got deeper into the explanations, they became even more excited – it was better than they had imagined. They started to see what computer-based education could be!

The Intel team stresses that the point of technology is not using computers and consuming information, but rather using it in a way that helps with every academic subject, improves the quality of delivery and automates time consuming tasks such as grading exams. Through examples, the teachers have seen how the Intel classmate PC can enable a teaching style that is appealing to their students and serves as a valuable addition to traditional teaching methods. They also see an opportunity to incorporate faster feedback and bring more objectivity to testing and scoring.

We are halfway through our two-week program, and already these hardworking teachers have evolved from technology consumers to technology users as they create and present example lesson plans to each other using their computers. They connected the technology directly to their role as teachers, what they want to accomplish academically, and how they want to deliver their materials.

Professor Fall expresses his urgent hope for the students: “If they have the opportunity right here, right now, it will help them in the future.”

So even if the courtyard looks the same as it has in years past, I believe that when students arrive on Monday for the first day of classes, they have a chance to believe the world is changing.

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