Working in the slums of Nairobi is not always an easy task. In the time we spend in slum schools with their teachers, who work tirelessly to educate a whole generation, we get to hear about the hurdles they need to overcome on a daily basis. Education in the slums becomes even trickier when it comes to digital education, the poor infrastructure, the lack of resources and the high teacher turnover make the thought of giving up altogether, a reality. Nevertheless, we are convinced the new technologies can help take education to those who have been left behind, and that is exactly what we are doing.
We are determined in our intentions and our inspiration is constantly fuelled by people like Elias. Elias is 15 and has a very specific wish, he wants to be an engineer, and he is convinced that is how he will succeed in life. Elias attends school in Mathare, one of the biggest slums of Nairobi. In 2015, we installed a-ACADEMY, our digital learning platform, in Elias’ school.
The dreams that inspire us
After talking to Elias and many other children and teachers, we could see for ourselves that although opportunity is not accessible to all, dreams and ambition are pretty universal, and that includes the slums of Nairobi. Although a single conversation with Elias would have sufficed to inspire us, our experience in the slums was one of our main drives to start a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to take a-ACADEMY to as many schools as possible, especially in those places where the children are most likely to be left behind.
In our campaign we promised our donors to take a-ACADEMY to 1 child for every dollar donated. Our donors gave us a whooping $10,000 which meant that we had to roll up our sleeves and fulfill our promise, and that soon, 10,000 children would have access to high-quality digital education to feed their dreams and provide opportunity to them and their communities.
How to make it to the 10K mark?
Besides Mathare, the Kariobangi and Kibera slums, also in Nairobi, host schools with thousands of children just like Elias. Reaching 10,000 children in 3 different slums proved to be a much more difficult experience than anticipated but an incredible adventure. We searched, contacted and vetted enough schools to reach the 10K mark. We were looking for schools that had the minimal infrastructure to use a-ACADEMY and who would commit to using it on a regular basis, the latter was the easy part.
Have you ever driven through the city of Nairobi at rush hour to get to an important appointment? If you ever do, you will feel like Indiana Jones at the end but you will probably not make it on time to your appointments. Sometimes, even if you make it to the school on time, equipment in hand, ready to rumble, you will find that the only viable computer that you were going to use to project a-ACADEMY on a beautiful big screen, for a class of 50 children at a time, turns out to not be usable. Perhaps the mouse is missing, the power cable, its keyboard or any other apparently unimportant thing that all of a sudden becomes crucial. At that point, you will remember the spare mouse, cable or keyboard that you have in the office and will arrange to come again the following day. From that day on, you will never again leave the office without an ‘emergency technology kit’ in your car.
Our learning curve paid off
Most of the times the schools missing mouses or keyboards were the ones in a better position to start a journey into digital education with their children. At times, the situations were trickier and no computers were available or they were old, disused or just empty shells with no basic software installed since they were donated. We knew that could not stop us, and we tried our best to donate equipment whenever possible or lend our time and skills to recondition the empty shells to fully working machines with a-ACADEMY ready to inspire its users.
The stories during our journey to fulfil the promise to our donors are never ending, yes, there was frustration and impotence involved, there was no way around that, but at the end of the day, we made it! We not only reached the 10,000 children we committed to reach, in this effort we made a-ACADEMY available to exactly 16,400 children, 16,400 girls and boys like Elias whose dreams just became a little closer, and we call that a good day’s work.
Additional discoveries on our journey
As part of our plan to reach 10,000 children we got two additional pieces of good news. First, we provided training to around 460 teachers who had no prior experience with digital education. We had a chance to share with them benefits of using technology to enhance teaching and learning experiences, and we support them on a regular basis through the transition to the successful integration of digital content in their teaching, which is pretty awesome.
Second, as we reached more children and collected more stories and dreams we saw a palpable improvement in their digital skills. In many cases they had little to no experience with any kind of digital devices and by using a-ACADEMY they became gradually comfortable in the use of the devices and the platform.
At the foundation we know that digital skills are vital to succeed in the 21st century and seeing a-ACADEMY play such a key part in acquiring them we knew we needed to put a-ACADEMY to the test. With the help of some of these schools we are currently conveying a study to measure the extent of our impact in the acquisition of digital literacy skills, another adventure for our team in the slums of Nairobi!
Vital skills to succeed in a global world
We would like to say THANK YOU again to all our donors for your support. Like us, you see the potential of a-ACADEMY. Together we can help Elias become anything he wants to be and we can also help many girls and boys reach as high as possible by providing them with vital skills to help them succeed in a global world. On our side, we are just getting started and we will continue to work relentlessly to take education to those left behind. With your continued support we will create opportunity and unlock human potential.
If you want to know what we are up to or how to help us to reach more children with a-ACADEMY drop us a line, we will love to hear from you.
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR & SECRETARY OF THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS