Computer literacy and research at Kisaruni

Written by Luke Filose

I had the pleasure of visiting Free The Children’s Kenya program in May to support an exciting technology project as part of the Intel Education Service Corps (IESC). It was a moving experience that reinforced the quality of Free The Children’s programs, and the opportunity for technology to improve the quality of education.

So why was I in Kenya, exactly? IESC provides free technical assistance to organizations like Free The Children that purchase the Intel classmate PC, a rugged computer designed for students. We support NGOs in a cycle beginning with initial installation and moving to more advanced training, and I was part of the second team of Intel employees to visit Kisaruni since the project began in 2011.

The 91 girls at Kisaruni now have 50 classmate PCs to support their learning in a number of subjects, as well as the ability to do research using the eGranary, which is also known as “the Internet in a box.” ¬†While connectivity is spreading quickly in Kenya, access is still expensive in rural areas, so Kisaruni students use the eGranary to access Wikipedia and 14 million educational documents including books, journals and even videos from Khan Academy and MIT OpenCourseWare.

We spent a lot of time at Kisaruni using the eGranary with the students. For people who are new to technology, “search” is not just a tool but a new way of thinking about the world. So initially, the girls wanted to use Wikipedia to look up things they already knew – such as the Maasai and Kipsigi tribes. To get them started searching for new information, we posed three questions: (1) What is the capital city of Ghana? (2) What kind of mosquito carries the malaria parasite? and (3) What is one interesting fact about Wangari Maathai?

Once they got the hang of which search terms to use, you could see their eyes light up with the possibilities. They then began searching for a variety of topics including tree nurseries, child marriage, and even Michael Jackson – perhaps because we showed them his moonwalk debut the day before!

At the end of our session, I asked for a volunteer to present their research. We were delighted to see Wiliter (watch video clip above) not only raise her hand, but come to the front of the class, answer the questions perfectly, and then call on several other students to provide additional answers.

These girls are truly model students, and the example of Wiliter taking initiative and collaborating with her classmates was just one of many we witnessed during the week. Outside of class, we found
that the students are almost always studying, playing sports or taking care of the beautiful campus. And they have so much pride in their cultures and the loving community Free The Children has created at Kisaruni.

At the end of our week of training, the girls had us in tears with their touching speeches thanking us for what we shared with them. In return we learned so much about life in Kenya and the priceless opportunity these girls have to become leaders and inspire change in their community.