As Computer Aid’s marketing officer, my day to day role is UK-based, however I was fortunate enough to accompany Ben Makai, our East Africa Programme Manager, on a visit to Zambia in December last year to meet some of our new and existing partners.
Zambia is an absolutely beautiful country. As I travelled in and around its capital, Lusaka, I was surprised by the sheer amount of building work and the number of shopping centres popping up around the city (I counted 6) – apparently a result of what seems to be fairly extensive Chinese investment.
There is a huge demand for computers as well as a significant need for an improved ICT infrastructure across the country.
The organisations we visited that already have access to IT were clearly putting the technology to good use. Both teachers and pupils at all the schools we went to, spoke about the importance of learning IT and the difference PCs had made to their lessons.
At St Michael’s Early Learning Centre, Miss Pascalina Chabu, a teacher at the school, told me that “We know that in the modern world, everyone needs IT skills. All jobs expect their employees to have them so our computers are very beneficial for all the children.”
Miss Chabu had taught all the teachers at the school how to use PCs and said that “With books you can only learn so much and you are limited to the information within them. With the internet, the learning opportunities are so much greater. It’s also great for the teachers too because now that we have PCs and the internet, planning lessons is much easier. I can find information that I need for my classes and it has improved all my lessons.”
It seemed to be assumed by everyone I spoke to that IT skills were necessary both to get into university and employment. At Matero Girls School, 2,000 children shared 20 PCs and there was a rota in place to help ensure that as many students as possible got access to weekly IT lessons. Grace and Tamalis, both 14, told me “we enjoy the IT lessons, we can now write letters and change fonts and size of text on the computer. I think this is really useful to us. With more practice we can get even better and this is very useful. All jobs need IT skills.”
Teachers also emphasised how IT was valuable in other subjects explaining that “it is so useful to have PCs and now that we have the internet the older children can learn how they are used in employment. For example in business studies we teach them about e-commerce. Until we got the internet, the lessons were all theoretical but now we can show them how e-commerce works and the type of sites where you can buy goods online. It is no longer just theory.”
Outside of schools, organisations such as the Kafue Child Development Agency (the implementing agency for Child Fund) were also focused on improving access to IT and computer skills. The Agency ran a peer to peer IT learning centre which encourages children who learn a host of IT skills at the centre and can then pass this knowledge on to others in the community. Esra, the initiator and youth facilitator of the project says that “once one child is trained, they are then very enthusiastic about teaching other children. One child trains another who trains another… this means that IT knowledge spreads very quickly and effectively”. The centre hosts four groups of six children every day and, to date, the centre has trained 100 children in IT skills, all of whom are now able to teach other children at the centre, in school or at local libraries.
While the projects I visited impressed me with the enthusiasm and IT skills of both the teachers and pupils, it is clear that many thousands more computers are required if the majority, if not all, children are to gain access to IT and to be able to learn the skills required for further education and employment.