VMware Foundation’s Good Gigs team worked for two weeks in July 2015 with LEAP Science and Maths Schools to develop and deploy a digital literacy programme to enhance digital learning at a school in Diepsloot.
LEAP Science and Maths Schools is a non-profit organisation that provides free education to students from high-need communities in South Africa. LEAP’s unique educational model requires mathematics, science, and English, and offers extended school hours. The VMware volunteers researched and identified relevant software and digital content, and trained over 30 young teachers from LEAP schools to expand their use of computer technology in the classroom, particularly around STEM subjects.
The project had two major goals: to inspire teachers to integrate technology tools into their lesson plans and classrooms and to strengthen the existing IT infrastructure in collaboration with the school IT manager, Jeremiah.
Following the LEAP approach to learning: I do, We do, You do – the Good Gigs team presented material, and then together with the teachers went through guided hands-on exercises. The culmination of the week-long workshop with groups of 4 teachers developed a PBL lesson that used several technology apps and delivered the content through Moodle.
Two Good Gigs team members spent the week with the IT manager for hands-on learning and training. By strengthening the existing IT infrastructure (e.g. set-up back-up for critical resources), adding storage to the existing server to accommodate the new Moodle and KALite software and adding backup and recovery capability for the new software, together they created a roadmap for future improvements to address critical needs in the infrastructure.
We have asked Nicola Acutt, Vice President, Global Sustainability Strategy and Giving at VMware to share a few thoughts based on her experiences in South Africa:
1. What did you learn about digital education during this project that you feel you didn’t know before?
I think the level of sophistication demonstrated by the teachers and IT staff in particular humbled all of us. The teachers that already use technology were extremely motivated and curious to learn even more and expand their skills and knowledge. Our volunteers had come prepared to teach content by subject area and quickly realised that they needed to adapt their content to meet a much higher calibre of learner. As a result, several volunteers stayed up multiple evenings until 2am or 3am to revise their content and develop entirely new lesson plans to meet some of the advanced needs (including a Java tutorial etc.). In another case, when the volunteers were running behind schedule on some of aspects of improving the IT infrastructure, they decided that they would set-up remote access in order to continue the work from the lodge where they were staying. When the IT manager heard this, he asked if they could instead the work it with him so that he could learn by doing. This was an incredible, and very welcomed, learning opportunity and something no one anticipated.
Something else I personally didn’t appreciate as much before this project is the democratising power of technology for education. Several volunteers commented on how rewarding and hopeful it was to see children in a Township like Diepsloot using the same technology applications to learn maths and science that their kids in Silicon Valley are using. The students at the LEAP school inspired all of us, and it is students like these that are South Africa’s future leaders.
2. Based on your experience, what do you think is the most important element of digital education?
I think the most important insight from this experience about digital education is a deep understanding of context and learning outcomes before designing IT solutions. I think it is very easy for foreigners to come in with all sorts of ideas about technology and applications and “tell” teachers what they should be doing. Instead, through the results of this project, I saw the power of applying human-cantered design to digital education through co-creating together with the teachers and staff. One of the biggest compliments we received at the end of this project was from the headmaster, Paul Mumba, who said that they have had other companies and volunteers in their school before to deliver “training” who talked at them the entire time and that they have never had group that worked as a team like the VMware volunteers did and focused so much on understanding and collaborating with his teachers. In the words of one of the teachers at the end of the week of training “We are empowered now. And we are powerful”.
3. Anything else to share that surprised you during this experience?
I think an unexpected and wonderful mutual learning moment between the volunteers and the students was when Paul Mumba, the headmaster, invited all the volunteers to visit the classrooms and share their own stories (who they are and where they come from). This speaks to LEAPs’ approach to the whole learner (not just academics). And, another part of the ask that we later learned, was that there had been an assumption that we’d all be “white people from America” and the LEAP students and teachers were surprised that we come from such diverse backgrounds (including India, Bulgaria and Netherlands). But more so that even the people from Palo Alto California were born elsewhere e.g. Dawn was born in Hong Kong, Sundar in India, Sunyo in Indonesia and Lauren in Portugal. I think (I hope) we left the students with a global imprint of the IT profession. More than that, it was powerful moment because by sharing our stories we connected with a larger story of our shared humanity.
An important criterion for VMware in selecting partners for the Good Gigs programme is the NGO’s capacity to sustain the project long term. Our purpose is always to enhance the mission and good work an NGO is already doing and to serve, or give back, by helping to accelerate progress. We achieve this primarily by providing access to skills; training and capacity building that an NGO may otherwise not have access to (through the human and intellectual capital of our employee volunteers). A key reason why the Good Gigs program emphasises “Service” and “Learning” is because we believe that it is through knowledge transfer and an exchange of value, between the volunteers and the organisation that creates sustainable change.