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Ghanian teacher Richard Appiah Akoto drawing Microsoft Word on a blackboard because he has no computer to help his students pass exams.

Over here in the Land of Plenty it’s hard to imagine some of the stratagems teachers in less favored regions must employ to help their students learn.

And although this particular story is about Africa, I don’t mean Africa only. There are many parts of the United States where meager school funding pushes dedicated teachers to extraordinary feats of creativity.

At CNN, Gianluca Mezzofiore reports on a teacher in Ghana who needs to teach kids computer usage — without a computer. How does he do it? He draws a screen image of Microsoft Word on a blackboard.

“Richard Appiah Akoto is a Ghanaian teacher who faces a pretty discouraging dilemma. His students need to pass a national exam that includes questions on information and  communication technology (ICT) — but the school hasn’t had a computer since 2011.

“So Akoto had an ingeniously simple idea: he drew computer features and software on his blackboard, using multicolored chalk.

” ‘I wanted them to know or see how the window will appear if they were to be behind a computer,’ Akoto told CNN. …

“Images of Akoto — who on social media uses the nickname ‘Owura Kwadwo Hottish’ — drawing a diagram of Microsoft Word for his pupils at Betenase M/A Junior High School in the town of Sekyedomase went viral after he posted them on Facebook. …

“Akoto’s 100-plus students were happy about the drawing because it made the explanation about launching Word simple for them, he said. And this is not the first time he has illustrated IT technology on the board.

” ‘I have been doing this every time the lesson I’m teaching demands it,’ he said. ‘I’ve drawn monitors, system units, keyboards, mouse, formatting toolbar, drawing toolbar, save as dialog box and so on.’

Quartz, which first reported on the teacher’s story, says the written exam is a requisite for 14- and 15-year-olds in Ghana to progress to high school.” More here.

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Erik passed along this story from the NY Times about a mini computer that outgrew its original purpose of teaching computer science students. Goes to show that it’s customers who tell inventors what the market for an invention is.

“The story of the Raspberry Pi begins in 2006,” writes John Biggs, “when Eben Upton and other faculty members at the University of Cambridge in Britain found that their incoming computer science students were ill-prepared for a high-tech education. While many students in the previous decade were experienced electronics hobbyists by the time they got to college, these freshmen were little more than skilled Web designers. …

“The Raspberry Pi — about 3 inches by 2 inches and less than an inch high — was intended to replace the expensive computers in school science labs. For less than the price of a new keyboard, a teacher could plug in the Pi and connect it to older peripherals that might be lying around. But because Pi initially ran only Linux, a free operating system popular with programmers and hobbyists, students would have a learning curve.

“The Raspberry Pi Foundation began selling the computers in February of last year. They soon could not keep them in stock.

“ ‘We honestly were thinking of this as a 1,000- to 5,000-unit opportunity,’ Mr. Upton said. ‘The thing we didn’t anticipate was this whole other market of technically competent adults who wanted to use it. We’re selling to hobbyists.’

“One Pi owner, Dave Akerman, of Brightwalton, England, even sent a Raspberry Pi to the upper atmosphere, floating it 40,000 meters up using a weather balloon.

“There he was able to take live video, photos and measurements.

“ ‘Now every primary school in the world can take pictures from near space,’ Mr. Upton said. ‘You give people access to this tool and they do great things.’ ”

More.

Photograph: Adafruit.
A Raspberry Pi computer, which is about the size of a credit card, was created to teach computer science students.

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John knows a good blog topic when he sees it. This tip he gave me is about minimally invasive education, which brings learning to the poorest of the poor.

According to wikipedia, “Dr. Sugata Mitra, Chief Scientist at NIIT, is credited with the discovery of Hole-in-the-Wall [HiWEL]. As early as 1982, he had been toying with the idea of unsupervised learning and computers.

“Finally, in 1999, he decided to test his ideas in the field. On 26th January, Dr. Mitra’s team carved a ‘hole in the wall’ that separated the NIIT premises from the adjoining slum in Kalkaji, New Delhi. Through this hole, a freely accessible computer was put up for use.

“This computer proved to be an instant hit among the slum dwellers, especially the children. With no prior experience, the children learned to use the computer on their own. This prompted Dr. Mitra to propose the following hypothesis: ‘The acquisition of basic computing skills by any set of children can be achieved through incidental learning provided the learners are given access to a suitable computing facility, with entertaining and motivating content and some minimal (human) guidance.’ ”

More at Hole-in-the-Wall.com. Also at the Christian Science Monitor.

And of course, I have to say a word about the program’s appearance in Bhutan, since Suzanne loves Bhutan.

“One of the major projects that HiWEL is in the process of executing is for the Royal Government of Bhutan. The project is part of a large Indo-Bhutan project formally known as the Chiphen Rigpel (broadly meaning ‘Enabling a society, Empowering a nation’). Chiphen Rigpel is an ambitious project designed to empower Bhutan to become a Knowledge-based society.” Read more.

Photograph: HiWEL
Playground Learning Stations in Dewathang Gewog of Samdrup Jongkhar District in Eastern Bhutan.

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