TabLab progress in Tanzania
Getting Back to Tanzania and Banjika secondary school to follow up on TabLab use was very exciting for me. Since it is a rainy season, the muddy roads and difficult terrain is tough for students, teachers and even me making it to school every morning but we are all not discouraged because we understand the value of good education. Here is a list of a few observations I made when I visited Banjika Secondary school to make a follow up on TabLab use.
The teachers and students are getting used to the tablets and are past what I would call the co-ordination stage. They know where to get the content they want. The form ones which are the youngest lot on the school are really the most enthusiastic and really embracing the TabLab resources. The teachers who use the TabLab in their lessons also really understand what to do to get the right content and resources for teaching and learning their subjects.
I observed some teachers opening the videos on all the Tablets so that once they get to class, they divide the students into groups of four or five, give a tablet to each group and then the students just click play and watch the relevant clip from Khan academy without wasting a lot of time. After watching the video, the teacher then gives a task which the learners are expected to work on as a group and make a presentation. I noticed students watching the videos repeatedly in order to understand the intended concept to solve the task given.
Depending on the lesson, some other teachers would go to class and simply direct students where exactly to go the TabLab. The reason they give for directing the students was that they want students to get used to navigating to their subject content present on the TabLab on their own. In fact one of them mentioned that he directs them because what is presently on Rachel is deep, very wide and knowing where to get the resources is key for students. I am very encouraged by all these different approaches being adapted by the teachers which I believe is a good diversity for students. One of the teachers commented that the students are getting used to the English being used in the Khan academy videos. This was very encouraging to me because in Tanzania, students have a very big problem with English language. Most communication takes place in Kiswahili while they are expected to read and answer exam questions in English. If they can learn how to listen, definitely they will learn and improve speaking English.
Mr Celestine, a geography teacher at Banjika was very excited that teachers are now beginning to fetch knowledge from the students rather than the usual traditional way of pouring knowledge into students. He notes that through videos and pictures, his students and are visualizing geographical physical features like icebergs, sand dunes e.t.c which are not even present in Tanzania, comprehending how they are formed. He also talks of his students relating and connecting what is being taught with real life, broad knowledge and loving his subject because he uses Tablets in his lessons. He says “When taking about the solar system, with the Tablab you can observe mars but with books the students create their own different images which is different from reality” All this is made possible through the use of the TabLab during his Geography lessons.
A biology teacher mentions that learning is difficult for students because the learners are stationed in class but with the TabLab, they are exposed to the world as well as a range of rich learning opportunities. He goes ahead to say that “Science and Maths are a problem to students in the school because of how they are taught. Memorizing of content which does not make sense to students is really emphasized and this makes students to remain silent with their challenges because things are not making sense.” With the TabLab, things are starting to change because they are beginning to understand when they see pictures, watch videos, read relevant textbooks available on the Tablets. They are asking better questions on why? How?…..It is a new experience for both teachers and students. Sometimes the students ask why the teachers come to class without teaching? The lessons are now interactive, shifting from teacher centered to learner centered learning. The teachers are giving a chance to students to share their thoughts which wakes up the learner’s mind. The teachers are refraining from feeding the students with knowledge but let learners explore what is available with guidance. Here the teacher’s role changes to him/her being a facilitator and a co-learner. Because of this excitement, he says the students are always waiting and always looking forward to the next lesson.
All this is not without challenges of course, a civics teacher complained about the TabLab being taken every day by other teachers and he doesn’t get a chance to use it. He actually says the teachers fight for the TabLab. Although team teaching is starting to be embraced, sometimes a teacher being alone in a class of 50 students with the Tablets is a challenge. The students love the camera on the tablets, some students start taking “selfies” when you are helping another set of students on the other end of the class. For students, concentrating on the right content while the teacher is in class is a challenge. When they are using the tablets in a lesson, they cannot avoid the temptation of going to other concepts in other subjects where they have not understood or where an assignment has been given. They are always aware that once the lesson is over the teacher will go with the Tablets. It really made me start thinking about accessibility of the TabLab during the extra curricula hours which seems to be a challenge at the school at the moment.