We have broadened our focus in the past few years to bring tools to help the teachers in the classroom.

We call the initiative e-Mwalimu. ‘Mwalimu’ is the Word for ‘Teacher’ in Swahili, the regional language. The e is for ‘empower’ chosen because we are looking for ways to help and augment rather than automate or replace.

Our first efforts were too grandiose. We brought fancy new e-books on tablets which were too much of an extension from what is being done today. They created a lot of ‘Wow’ but never got used. So Penny led us back to basics and her favorite rule ‘KIS’ -Keep it simple!

While our aim is better educated students, we have learned that the teachers are the delivery system or ‘engine’ of education. They must believe and be at home with any tools used in the classroom. They have to incorporate any tool into their approach, lesson plan and style. This takes time.

This year we focused on two specific tools.

The first is a document camera which allows projection of maps, written notes, relevant texts and documents, experiments and the like from the desk or table top to the front of the room At Byimana they have fitted two rooms with painted whiteboards in the middle of the current blackboard. This approach not only makes things clearer for the students but gives the teacher more classroom time by reducing the time taken to write on the board.

The second is a massive, local, digital library called RACHEL. It can be run without the internet and delivers the broadband responsiveness we take for granted in the developed world, but is generally non existent in Africa. It is run on the small computer, the size of a credit card shown here. A local ‘hot’ spot is created which can be accessed by laptops, ipads and smart phones. The two keys to this are: the ability to run without the internet - here it is operating on a battery pack which lasts four or five hours. [It can also be set up to be accessed by many computers in a computer lab.]

.. and the breadth and depth of the RACHEL Library. Some examples -- Rachel provides a 6000 item Wikipedia subset. A geography teacher can have his students research countries in Africa, the history of computers, business terms, and so forth. More than 3000 instructional videos from the Khan Academy cover math and science topics from basic multiplication to calculus to Recombinant DNA. A complete set of k-12 math and science texts. Thousands of classic books digitized by Project Gutenberg. Health videos and community health guidelines - ‘what to do if there is no dentist?’ The focus so far is secondary education and basic community support.

Guess what? ... the library is free!!! Yes, there are some really terrific people in this world who want the third world to catch up. The instructional videos come from Salman Khan’s Khan Academy, dedicated to a ‘free world class education for every one everywhere.’ The textbooks are the result of US educators’ collaboration. Project Guttenberg has been digitizing the out of copyright classics in many languages for several years. AND the most important part for us, RACHEL is the result of World Possible’s packaging of these materials into a curated library which we downloaded for free. Kudos go directly to Jeremy Schwartz in San Fran, its executive director and his team of volunteers, particularly, Sam Kinch, in Ohio. Throw in efforts from our laptop refurbisher, Charlie Thompson his partner, Marlene Archer, and good friend Frank Holden... All of these guys were as responsive as could be while Penny and I stumbled through the preparations fort his trip.

Now comes the fun part which we will show thru a gallery...

Here’s Penny coaching one of the teachers on how to assemble the little computer which is called a RACHEL PI.

The computer is an adaptation of a British team’s project called a Rasberry PI. They were interested in getting students interested in computing. This credit card sized computer with the library can be assembled for about $100, making a killer app for the third world where funds are meager. Add a battery and you are still under $200

Here two of our Marist colleagues spend a few hours exploring the depth of the library.

Even Mike can operate this stuff. Here he is showing it to a group of local school headmasters at the MURURU Teachers Training College next to the Congolese border.

Over the first two and a half weeks we visited several schools and trained more than 60 teachers and headmasters.

This next photo shows one of the keys to sustaining this effort.

In this picture we are sending off the headmaster and IT support person from NYANGEZE, a 1500 student k-12 school in rural Eastern Congo.

In their back packs they have their laptops, a document camera, a RACHEL PI with battery pack, a bluetooth speaker to fill a classroom with sound and a strong projector which can operate without draping the windows. With Penny’s training and the headmaster’s leadership they have all they need to get started.

Meet the charter members of Byimana School of Sciences e-Mwalimu Club.

President Emmanuel SHYAKA, duly elected by his peers will hold regular meetings to exchange approaches, class materials and lessons learned. Emmanuel heads the IT department, of course, and has earned the respect of his peers. He will also coordinate the tools we are leaving and Skype with us for support.

Penny and I hope to set up a parallel e-Mwalimu club of interested teachers when we return to Duxbury. Missing from this photo but most critical to sustainability is the school’s headmaster, Brother Alphonse Gahimal. While resources are dear, he has prioritized the teachers efforts to adopt these technology tools, encouraging them each step of the way. Having visited many schools in Rwanda, we can’t say enough about the importance of the schools leadership in any successful program of this nature.

We had several opportunities to share our work and these tools outside Rwanda’s Marist led schools. We continued to collaborate with The Ministry of Education’s One Laptop per Child Team. They now have units installed in two hundred primary schools. We met the head of the new broadband and 4G companies. We met with the Minister of Youth and Technology’s ICT director. ...and of course we will share this with the head of the SEACOM undersea cable. All are most supportive and a bit amazed, especially by the ‘game changing’ potential of the RACHEL library.

Mike and Penny Herlihy

April 29, 2014