I'm writing up my evaluation of the World Links Arab Region's Yemen Project. The project helped deliver computer labs, Internet connections, and training for teachers to twelve schools--six in a coastal city, Mukhalla, and six in Say'un, a town located in, in my opinion, the desert.* Now, these schools are in areas where such technologies are anything BUT ubiquitous. Almost none of the ~200 teachers trained had previously used a computer.
Teachers' training, following the World Links model, really focused on "tele-collaborative" activities for student, using the Web and email to find information and to organize that information well.
One of the problems faced by the project is that Internet connectivity in Say'un was, and is, lousy, expensive and slow. As a result of poor connectivity and other factors, not much happened by way of tele-collaboration: Only 11 percent of students of teachers who participated in training collaborated with other students in Yemen or abroad. However about 30 percent of students collaborated with other students in their own schools--33 percent in al Mukhalla, 29 percent in Say'un.
I've suggested in my evaluation that the low rate of participation in tele-collaboration is a problem, given that tele-collaboration is the core focus of the training. My colleague Ms Reem Bsaiso, CEO of World Links Arab Region, suggests (or, counter-suggests), that if the students experience collaborative learning, well, that's a good outcome in line with project objectives. And indeed, it is.
So what's the problem?
There are several. As Reem suggests, the critical questions revolve around the degrees to which teachers and students experience and master collaborative learning and all its ancillary activities--planning, research, qualifying and organizing information, analyzing and thinking, packaging the results and so on.
But the Internet in a school context takes on some of the qualities of an electric lightbulb: When it's on, you can see really well, when it's off it's dark. Plus, in Yemen as in a lot of schools poor countries, it's expensive to operate (more expensive than the lightbulb), and even when it works it's providing all the connectivity that you muster with one 56kbps dial-up connection shared by 12 computers going out through a national gateway that is bypassed by all reasonable Internet backbone. (I believe that there's a cable that passes right by, along the Red Sea, that _doesn't_ touch in Yemen.)
Teachers, meanwhile, spend a disproportionate amount of time during training using the Internet--and even broadband--only to realize once they arrive back in their own schools that they would have been better served to have paid attention to those inconvenient-but-effective techniques for working around low-quality or snafu connections.
In Say'un, some teachers were stimulated enough by their training that they chose to take their kids to cybercafes to do basic Internet research, with the teacher paying for their connectivity. A greater number of teachers put the techniques that they learned to use organizing collaborative activities within their classes or with other classes in their schools, Internet be damned.
But most teachers--about 70 percent--did nothing, and cited the lack of Internet connectivity as one of the main causes of their lack of activity.
More on this soon...
*Say'un is, formally, part of Wadi Hadrhamout, the oasis area of inland Hadrahmout, It's dry, but there are crops and regular, if sparse, bunches of large, grassy plants emerging out of the sand. These green shoots, about 3 meters high, show you that Hadrhamout's status as an oasis is no lie.