Active Learning for a Global Education
by Reshma Patel, Impact Network
In 2009, Impact Network began building schools in rural Zambia to bring educational access to some 57 million children who were out of school. Two years later, we handed over 5 newly built schools to the local communities to operate. But as the school year unfolded, we saw that while we had left a structure for the community, we had provided no teachers, no management structure, and essentially no tools to help provide a quality education.
How could these schools possibly thrive without adequate resources?
Unfortunately, in the struggle to improve access to education, this story is all too common. The result? Over 100 million youth lack basic literacy skills. It is no surprise that the Sustainable Development Goals have quality education at the forefront of its education targets for the next 15 years.
In 2011, Impact Network shifted our focus beyond the build, and created the eSchool 360 system – a holistic e-Learning solution to deliver a high-quality education, through the use of technology and training.
One of the core components of the eSchool 360 is the iSchool ZEduPad tablets that we use in our classrooms, which come loaded with an activity-based curriculum, aligned to the Zambian standards and translated into local languages. Each of our teachers is given a tablet with lesson plans to guide their practice, and students use the tablets in smaller group work as well. In Zambia, where rote learning and memorization are widespread in many schools, we are excited to be part of a big shift towards active learning. The ZEduPad lesson plans are designed to create an activity-oriented and inquiry-based learning environment, which is engaging for both students and teachers.
But we also recognize the main purpose of tech – it’s a tool. While some organizations literally “drop” technology into classrooms, we know that for our schools, it needs to be accompanied by an integrated and supportive approach to training. We have trained teacher supervisors who spend their days observing our 55 teachers. They provide weekly support – giving real-time feedback, demonstrating best practices, and helping teachers plan their lessons. On top of this ongoing development, we also do more formal teacher training with all of our teachers monthly. While some of this training is geared towards the basics of using technology, the bulk of it focuses on how to integrate the technology into the classroom effectively.
When you go around to our classrooms, what do you see? Visit a math class, and you’ll find students doing addition, subtraction, multiplication and division all with rocks collected from around the school. Sit in on an English class and you can find students huddled around a tablet, watching an interactive story. Observe a science class and you might find a group of students outside, listening to the sounds of the village and recording what they hear. Watch a literacy class and you’ll see our scholars huddled with sticks, tracing letters in the ground.
We use technology in our classrooms, but we also use rocks and twigs. Because the world is full of learning tools.
Reshma Patel is the Executive Director of Impact Network.
All pictures are credited to Kristyn Ulanday.