The Unique Strategy Behind eSchool 360 in Zambia

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LUSAKA — Technological advancements continue to flourish around the world in a multitude of sectors and nations, and eSchool 360 in Zambia is no exception.

The first students to test out the tablets in 2011 fell into the grade one category, which contained lessons for the entire term.

Reshma Patel—executive director for eSchool 360’s implementing agency, The Impact Network—talked about its origins. Patel explained that one of the creators worked with the Peace Corps in the village where eSchool 360 in Zambia launched.

After submitting an application for grant money that would build a school, the focus on that region led to more schools. She described the environment as rural and lacking in proper electricity and running water. “So the impetus was really because we knew the community well when we first started to stay in the area that we’re working in Zambia,” she said.

Global Innovation Exchange noted the difficulties that many in the country’s Eastern Province face, including a greater number of individuals per home, as well as jobs typically falling under the category of subsistence farming.

Patel highlighted that Dan Sutera (one of the co-founders) used his experience in tech startup to consider the integration of solar technology into the educational facilities. “So the solar is installed on the roofs of the schools to charge the tablets,” Patel said, adding “there’s a lock box around it so that the tablets can be charging while they’re locked away for the night.”

Eventually conversations about the educational administrators came into play, as Patel explained “we hire all of our teachers locally from the communities that we work in, but that means that they often don’t have a trained teacher background,” noting that though they may have completed grade 12 and their O-levels, they do not have college degrees.

Patel highlighted the importance of collaboration with educators in the country “so that the activities were culturally relevant and appropriate” with courtesy to various languages like Nyanja.

Patel suggested the tablets seem to be most favored by teachers.

“We initially started with computers so teachers were given little netbooks with the lesson plans and would project the lessons onto the classroom wall using these netbooks,” she said, explaining that the newest technology is less complicated.

Patel explained that having an operation manager on hand is necessary for the sake of ensuring everything is running smoothly and that the teachers feel well-equipped. In addition to regular drop-ins from the operations manager week to week, teachers must also be evaluated on a weekly basis and subsequently receive critiques and other pointers.

The mothers and fathers of students also had high opinions of the technology, allowing their children to continue attending the schools as opposed to working, for example. An article published by the ONE campaign highlighted that parents can track their children’s development in the classroom with eSchool 360.

Instructors showed higher attendance rates in comparison to other schools without eSchool 360 in Zambia. Patel narrowed this down to two different reasons: the first being the more intense and frequent observations occurring in these institutions; the second reason she accredits to the tools, programs and lesson plans the teachers have at their disposal.

Global Innovation Exchange also noted that eSchool 360-affiliated institutions yielded test results that mirrored or exceeded those of other schools, while remaining much cheaper.

One of the new undertakings for the organization involves fingerprinting for attendance. Partnering with Simprints, The Impact Network is testing out a technology that more effectively monitors student attendance as opposed to relying on less secure methods such as writing down names throughout the entire term. The fingerprints for both students and teachers is logged to a smartphone with the use of bluetooth.

Future plans include expansion of the technology in collaboration with American Institutes for Research who just received the finances to broaden their efforts to 35 others schools. AIR’s efforts will concentrate on measuring the efficacy of eSchool 360 over time.

Regardless of where the technology goes, eSchool 360 in Zambia has already set down substantial roots and left an enduring level of influence for many students in the region.

Maleeha Syed
Photo: Flickr

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