Ulwazi boots up computer learning for local primary schools

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By Zikhona Nyumka

Just 17 of the 26 computers in the Fikizolo Primary School computer lab are in working order and there is no connection to the internet. The software is basic: Microsoft Office, Rapid Typing and a coding gaming programme called Blockly.

But unlike many similar labs in local schools, this one is being used thanks to a partnership with the Ulwazi outreach programme of the Department of Information Systems at Rhodes. Ulwazi recruited an intern to manage the lab and every afternoon between 2 pm and 4 pm ICT training is offered by Rhodes students.

In 2016, Ulwazi joined forces with the Rhodes University IT division, the Telkom Centre of Excellence and the Makana District Department of Education (DBE) to construct an ICT lab at the school. The DBE provided Microsoft Office and typing software while Blockly came from a group of Italian software developers who visited the Computer Science Department at Rhodes University.

“There were guys from Italy who gave us software that is very useful for learners. They trained a few learners and it was going to be cascaded to the teachers so that the teachers can use it”, said Fikizolo teacher, Diliza Hobongwana. Although many other educational programs could be installed in the computers, the machines have limited storage capacity and the infrastructure is aging.

The Ikamva Lesizwe institute in Canada, represented by Dr Thembela Kepe, a former pupil at Fikizolo and Ayanda Nqeketho donated five new computers at the school. The older computers were donated by the IT division at Rhodes University and the Telkom Centre of Excellence. Fikizolo now has a low-cost computer lab, which is set up in a theatre style with four rows of computers all facing one wall.

Some of the 26 computers in Fikizolo Primary School’s computer lab. Pic: Zikhona Nyumka

Ulwazi is formerly headed by Gugulethu Baduza, an Information Systems lecturer at Rhodes. She said Ulwazi assigned two interns- sponsored by a company in East London- to oversee the management of the computer lab at Fikizolo and facilitate the development of a second lab at Samuel Ntsiko primary.

The Rotary Club and Slipstream had donated a number of laptops to Samuel Ntsiko but they were sitting at a storage room for more than two years. “We placed the second intern there and tasked her with getting a quote for batteries to repair those laptops so that they could use them in the labs,” said Baduza.

Rhodes volunteers provide training in the afternoons. Their lessons are synchronised with the curriculum offered in the different learning areas in the school but Baduza said there was a need “to sit down with teachers and understand how we could in a greater way integrate what they are taught in class”.

Fikizolo learners are from disadvantaged backgrounds. “The project helps them to hone their computer skills and it enhances their English speaking and writing skills. It creates a wonderful co-operation between abantwana [the learners]. One would realize that one of the learners has a learning barrier, but they are doing quite well in computers,” Hobongwana said.

The learners are granted access to the computer lab after school, during their computer literacy sessions with Ulwazi and occasionally during teaching hours. “Currently it is difficult during the teaching time. They mostly only go there when there is Ulwazi. But there are teachers who had advanced computer skills like the Fikizolo deputy principal who sometimes takes the learners to the lab because he is a science, math and technology educator for Grade 7s”, Hobongwana said.

The objective of Ulwazi is to get one local school computer literate per year. However, this vision is hindered by limited ICT resources and facilities as Ulwazi is dependent on donor material. “Our aim is to move out of the school, but we are hindered by the fact that we do not have stuff to take to another school”, Baduza explained.

“In terms of sustainability, we requested the school that we at least have a teacher there every afternoon so that when we move out it is sustainable, Baduza said”

Hobongwana added that the Department of Basic Education has implemented a training programme that would equip educators with computer skills so that they can be able to sustain and maintain the school’s computer lab even when Ulwazi moves to another school. The education department has since provided laptops to foundation phase and intermediate phase educators to kickstart the programme.

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