Teaching About Computers Without Computers

Site Visit 1: iEarn – Douala, Cameroon (6/15)

Imagine learning how to swim for the first time. On land. Then having to pass a national exam in a 10 foot deep pool.

That’s exactly what the students that iEarn works with are doing. Except instead of having to learn how to swim, they have to learn how to use computers. The Cameroonian government has decided to make computer science a required subject on the national exams. Because of obvious difficulties in ensuring each student can be taught computer science, for now the points received in this section are “bonus” points. Schools in Cameroon vary widely in the resources they have—Le Petit Monde had a computer lab that they were able to equip thanks to iEarn’s help. On the other hand, Voufo La Patience, pictured above, barely had electricity, roofs or enough space for their students.

In one tiny classroom at Voufo La Patience, there was an exact total of:

  • 1 teacher, writing on
  • 1 blackboard, separated into
  • 2 sections by a line of chalk, allowing one each for the
  • 2 grades taught simultaneously (the 3rd and the 4th grades), making up
  • 70 students crammed into
  • 100 square feet of space, under
  • 1 tin roof that makes everything inaudible when it rains. (Which it does often. Hard.)

I’m not quite sure how that all adds up, but these teachers and students make it work. Unbelievably enough, this was a private school that in its fourth year of operation, already had over 700 students. Parents are scrambling to send their kids here.

Growing up around computers and the internet was a big part of my childhood (perhaps sad, but true). It satisfied my every curiosity, made me thirst to know more, while also allowing me to meet people from all around the world from the comfort of my home.

In this day and age, it is absolutely essential to every child’s future that they become computer literate. Completely aware of this, schools like Voufo La Patience are forced to teach computer science with textbooks only. I don’t think I need to tell you that flipping through pages and answering questions with pencil on paper will not lead to computer competence. Many children will never use an actual computer until the day of their computer science exam. iEarn is working to achieve a world where all children have access to such technology.

See my fellow intern Meg’s post about iEarn here!

What you can do: iEarn does not currently have a project to which you can donate on GlobalGiving. You can see their previous project here. But after our meeting, they are planning to start a new project—so keep your eyes peeled!


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