Friday, January 27, 2012

Up and Running

Our progress has surpassed even my own expectations. In just about a month we have coordinated the expansion of the building, installation of window, ceiling, desks, and computers to convert the former store room into a lab.
before...

...and after

Locally hired laborers completed the masonry and carpentry work.


raising the walls


before...
...and after

framing the window
before...

...and after


A teacher did all of the wiring. Below he's using the students' help to bury an earth wire to ground the inside circuit. 
grounding the circuit

Students also helped with porting materials from town, painting, and organizing.
students painting
I bought computers (10 Dell Optiplex gx150 and 1 Dell Optiplex gx270) with flat screen monitors from a place called Divine Anchor in Kumasi. The man who helped me, a Ghanaian university graduate in computer networking, was very good about packaging all the equipment for the long and rough return to Donkorkrom. The computers are in place and networked together and sharing an internet connection. They're operating windows XP and hosting such software as Rosetta Stone, Mavis Beacon, Wikipedia for Schools, and WordWeb. I'm currently working on a solution to clone the contents of one computer to appear on the rest. We will begin ICT practicals with the students next week, the third week of the term.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Project started

I've started this new blog thread to provide updates on the project implementation. You can access it with the link above (or the URL http://atakoracomputercenter.blogspot.com).

As the initial fundraising goal necessary to start the project has been met, my headmistress and I have met with the district director of education to inform him of the project. With his approval, we've begun purchasing materials and constructing the building addition. I would like to extend a big thank you to everyone that has contributed. If you didn't get a chance to contribute through the Peace Corps website but still want to, you can use the "Donate" button at the right side of this page.

To portray the plan, I've animated a tour through the building model:

video


Next, let the following pictures serve as "before" images in a to-be-completed before and after sequence

The room that will host the computers

The exterior of the room where a window will be installed

Another view of the exterior where the room will be expanded

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Atakora Junior High School Computer Center

I venture to claim that computers have served an important function in your life. In school they may have helped you collect, revise and share your ideas. At work they may have helped you efficiently organize and communicate information. In your leisure, they may have helped you stay in touch with family and friends or learn something new about the world via the internet. Perhaps you've even been inspired by how a simple concept, an on/off switch, and enough ingenuity can underlie the ushering in of a new era called the Information Age, similar to how the wheel was exploited to streamline travel. You've heard it before, the rapidly increasing popularity and state of the art of computers is dramatically changing the way we live.

The "we" in that last sentence should be better qualified. It definitely contains millions from America, Europe, and Asia. Does it include Ghana and West Africa? Sergey and Larry, founders of Google, would have you answer “no” about a minute into their TED talk after displaying their real-time globe plot that tracks Google use. But I have a list of facts that suggest the answer "Yes, but to a lesser extent than the aforementioned continents." One, cell phone use is ubiquitous nationwide in Ghana. We're all familar with the great amount of connectivity cell phones provide our social networks. In addition, the popularity of post-paid service and the ease of transferring credit between cell users has effectively brought electronic banking practical for their income levels to Ghanaians and West Africans. Two, internet is available. Cell network service providers beam mobile broadband to most parts of the country at ideally 3G speeds for the cost of about a dollar per day. I mentioned in an earlier post that it is even available in our town that Peace Corps has deemed deserving of their help, so you can imagine what that means for more developed parts of the country. One provider, Vodafone, operates a state of the art satellite internet cafe in at least each capitol of Ghana's ten regions for public use at a cost of about a dollar an hour. Three, personal computers are available in bigger towns and affordable to every Ghanaian with enough financial discipline. The ever-increasing quality and affordability of computers has westerners throwing away working parts. There are organizations (such as FreeGeek) recycling parts for resale in the western world and also a number of charitable organizations (such as Computers for Africa) donating them to Africa. I've priced used PCs in the second largest city in Ghana starting at 100 dollars. Four, perhaps in recognition of the three previous points, the national-level administering body of public education in Ghana requires that all public school students above the primary grade levels learn Information and Communications Technology (ICT), which is a fancy phrase for matters arising from computer use. After completing junior high school and senior high school students write standardized tests that dictate if and where they continue schooling. ICT comprises one section of each of those tests.

As a junior high school teacher I am naturally more interested in the first of those two transitions, from junior high school to senior high school. I guess but am not certain that this transition is modeled after the British education system and is hence different from the comparable norm in the U.S. and other parts of the world. This time in a students life is best thought of by how Americans think of going off to college. Like colleges in the U.S. most senior high schools in Ghana house boarding students and most are attended only after a) the school has made a decision to accept an applying student based on their record and exam scores and b) the student has decided that such a school is worthy of their attendance. This has good implications for a country whose public services and wealth are unevenly distributed between urban metropolis and destitute village. That is, talented Ghanaian youth living in areas deprived of quality education have the opportunity to seek better education elsewhere. The hometown of a junior high school student at least according to the strtucture of the education system does not limit her or him from acheiving full academic potential. Additional information about a place does, however, reveal why this thoeretical meritocracy is not in practice. For example, the junior high school students of Atakora have trouble during the ICT portion of their standardized exams and may as a result be refused admission to senior high school because they have little to no contact with a computer beforehand. Try telling me that questions such as "What is the keyboard shortcut for copy?" and "Save is an option under which menu in the word processing software Microsoft Word?" would not seem exceedingly abstract having had little free time on a computer.

We teachers of Atakora D/A Junior High School have proposed a project to remedy this problem: establish a computer center at the school. The plan involves expanding and renovating, i.e. installing wiring, a ceiling, a window, a doorway, and furniture in an existing room and buying then setting up ten used PCs. As alluded to, the goal of this project is to better prepare our students to further their education. The center will be used for ICT class practicals. The computers will most likely run the Edubuntu distribution of Linux and be loaded with free and open source software such as typing-learning software and an English dictionary, and offline electronic resources including Wikipedia for schools, a selection of educational articles from the Wikpedia website. The center will also be open to other community members during after-school hours at which time they will have the opportunity to access the same resources, learn basic computing skills, and even browse the internet. Public use of the center could generate small income used to keep the center functional and address other needs of the school. The proposal for the project has been reviewed by Peace Corps. A summary and opportunity to electronically donate appeared on the Peace Corps Partnership Program web site before we met our initial fundraising goal. We are still accepting donations using the button above to curb inflation during implementation, upgrade the computer, purchase a projector, and start a repairs fund. We greatly appreciate the smallest of donations and help with spreading the word. Below is the summary appearing on the Peace Corps web site.

Computer Center for Atakora D/A Junior High School

This project aims to establish a computer center, hosting ten computers, in a
renovated Atakora D/A Junior High School (JHS) classroom in Ghana. Ghana
Education Service requires that JHS students learn about computers, regardless
of school facilities, and demonstrate their knowledge of computers during a
portion of the standardized exam that determines their chances of enrolling into
Senior High School (SHS). The center will be a venue intended to build teachers'
capacity to offer practical instruction about computers and to increase computer
literacy among 120 JHS students and interested community members. The Project
Team hopes to expand Atakora students' future pursuits beyond the locally
widespread lifestyle of subsistence farming by increasing the number and quality
of students who enroll into SHS. Community members will acquire basic knowledge
of computer use and maintenance and be exposed to up-to-date information via
electronic resources.

The school has offered an existing room to house the
center. The staff and students recently installed an electric pole at the school
and one of the Information and Communications Technology teachers, as well as a
trained electrician, has volunteered to wire the center for electricity. The
students have volunteered to help the locally hired craftsmen transport the
necessary materials. The request from the Partnership Program is mainly for the
cost of renovation of the room and purchasing of computer equipment.
The full report of the project is also available here. And, below is a picture of the students (showing off letters they send to American penpals) that you would help by contributing.