One of my family’s favourite poets, Robert Frost, said, ‘I am not a teacher, but an awakener.’ Likewise a paraphrased quote from Plutarch says ‘education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire’.
These eloquent quotes are all very well for people in developed countries who have access to so many educational resources, but how do we educate, awaken, or light a burning desire to learn for people in remote areas of developing countries such as PNG and Africa? As part of its commitment to basic education, one of Rotary’s six causes, Rotary District 9600 is providing the ‘Teacher in a Box’ program, and training in its use, to people in remote areas.
NO, we are not packaging teachers in boxes and sending them to developing countries, whereupon they spring forth to work their magic. We are actually thinking outside the box, as well as inside, to achieve our aims. What some might call lateral thinking. Teacher in a Box (TIB) uses re-purposed laptops, which act as both a browser and a server, to provide offline access to over 10,000 educational and vocational videos that are stored in the system.
By connecting the TIB laptop with a projector and speakers, a teacher is able to provide a complete lesson to a classroom. The mini router, that comes with the TIB kit, means that it can also be accessed by any Wi-Fi enabled device for self-paced learning. TIB is the brainchild of Jeanette Johnstone from the Rotary Club of Paddington, Queensland. Following a visit to Tanzania and Zanzibar in 2012, she recognised the need for educational resources that didn’t depend on the internet which was not only unreliable but expensive, in many parts of Africa.
Jeanette met Patrick Hackett, a volunteer with Computers 4 Learning, another Rotary Project, which comes under Rotary’s Donation in Kind program. Jeanette and Patrick formed a partnership and they stripped and cleaned donated laptops, uploaded thousands of educational videos, lessons, books and accompanying resources and connected the laptop to a small router. The information on this laptop can be shared with as many as 100 other devices. The TIB Project continues to grow and has been invaluable to schools in Liberia, Tanzania, Kenya, Cambodia, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines.
Recently, Jeanette and some of her fellow Club members visited our Club and demonstrated the system. I was able to connect 2 iPhones and my iPad to the system instantly and had access to thousands of free educational and training manuals. Jeanette explained that they are now using Remote Area Community Hotspot for Education and Learning (RACHEL) as a content provider for the TIB units.
You can find a list of the RACHEL modules already available at racheloffline.org. This now means that additional content can be added prior to sending the laptop or added locally by the users. Over the past few years, our Bribie Club has received district grants to purchase a number of TIB laptops and provide them to Rotary Clubs in PNG, Nauru, and the Solomon Islands. Every March the incoming Presidents from these Clubs come to Bribie Island to receive training for their presidential year.
They are given a TIB kit and provided with training on how to use the system. To me, one of the ‘apparent’ problems with the TIB kit was the lack of electricity needed to charge the laptops; however, my concerns were alleviated when I saw a photo of a man from the Western Province of PNG charging his iPhone with a solar panel during a 4 hour walk to the next village. Also, I have read that satellite charging is available to remote areas and that solar panels are being placed on the roofs of schools.
Yet another problem solved. In our developed world, we take internet access and readily available electricity for granted. So this is such an inspiring innovation for rural villages and countries where it is limited, or no, internet access. Teacher in a Box is making a huge and positive impact in places where there are few classroom resources or teachers with very little training.
In closing, I am drawn back to my favourite poet, Robert Frost, who also wrote the famous poem ‘The Road Not Taken’– or to many – ‘The Road Less Travelled’. I feel the ‘Teacher in a Box’ program is perhaps indicative of Frost’s poem where many people, never given the chance before, are being given an opportunity to take that road. A road to success and happiness – the one less travelled by. And, that can make all the difference!