Three generations of school-based telecentres | digitalLEARNING Magazine
March 2006

Three generations of school-based telecentres

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The role of RI-SOL is to support the educational mission of each school through its expertise in technology and education. Recognising the fact that schools and communities are intrinsically interdependent RI-SOL Bangaladesh project, at present encompasses thirty telecentres, involves eighty schools and reaches almost one hundred thousand students and community members

Recognizing that schools and their communities are intrinsically  nterdependent, RI-SOL, a US-based international  NGO, began launching schoolcommunity  dual use telecenters in  Bangladesh in 2003. Over the last two and half years, we have found this  approach to be viable in terms of educational, societal and ustainability goals. As the pilot phase now winds down, the project encompasses thirty telecenters, involves eighty schools and reaches almost one hundred thousand  students and community members.
This project represents the third generation of RI-SOL’s educational  telecenter concept, the Internet Learning Center (ILC). Not long after  the introduction of the worldwide  web, its value as an educational tool was recognized by industry leaders in  Silicon Valley; in 1996, they created a not-for-profit organization: Schools  Online (SOL,  SOL promoted the use of computers  in classrooms and the integration of technology into all aspects of teaching and learning. The concept  spread quickly, buoyed by the  rampant optimism of the time for any project involving technology and the  Internet. The dot com crash was a harsh blow to these and similar  projects, and forced SOL to reevaluate  its strategy. In 2000, Schools Online merged with  Relief International (, an international NGO known for both its  emergency relief operations (most recently, its responses to the Boxing  Day Tsunami and the Kashmir  Earthquake) and efforts directed towards rehabilitation and development. The merger reflected a   growing commitment by Relief International to the education sector,  while enabling Schools Online to make its programs global in scope.  Thousands of existing ILCs in western countries began to interact with the next generation of ILCs being  established in developing countries. This second generation effort added  an intercultural dimension to the educational objectives.  Building on ten years experience, we have introduced three evolutionary  changes during the rollout of ILCs in Bangladesh: increased reliance on the  host schools, increased emphasis on sustainability through community  involvement, and greater willingness to customize ILC structure and  operation according to the needs and capacity of the schools and their  communities. Organization of ILCs into local clusters has also proven  valuable.  We think of the ILCs as a multi-use  classroom rather   han a telecenter that  is used for classes – the distinction is important. The primary use of the  room, both for the school and its community, is learning. The ILC  belongs to the school and is run by  the school, it is not an  autonomousenterprise appended to the school.  The expertise and authority for
running the center lies in the school itself rather than hired specialists. An ILC is:  • a dedicated classroom equipped with computer equipment and some means of connecting to the Internet;  • a resource for both its school and
its community;  • not just the equipment, but staff and content;  • an integral part of the  school, community  and society in  which it   exists;  • a continuing commitment  for its school and  community;  • always  evolving;  An ILC is not:  • a cyber café;  • a drain on the school, but an  asset for the  school;  • a one-shot project;  The role of RI-SOL is to support the  educational mission of each   chool  through our expertise in technology  and education. We solicit schools competitively in areas where we think  we can make the biggest educational  impact. Typically, this excludes elite  institutions and focuses on schools that   ave minimal or no access to  computer technology.  Establishment of an ILC   akes place  after a detailed consultative process  involving both the school and  ts  community. During this process, the  school must demonstrate its  commitment and ability to network with other schools, communities and  civil   ociety organizations to enable  the ILC to serve as a hub of activity. Schools also   orm community  committees at this point, a group that  meets monthly to   evelop and update a customized sustainability plan for  each center.   embers of this group  include school and community stakeholders: parents,   eachers, local  business owners, members of civil  society and representatives  from  neighboring schools.  Typically, the ILC is time-shared  during school  hours by the host  school and two to four neighboring  schools. After school,   sage of the facility is divided between  extracurricular student activities and  community organizations. The ILC project’s overarching goal is  to use   omputer technology and the Internet to advance education in the    road sense:    ucation of students,  but also of teachers and community members. Administratively, the project is divided down the middle,  with about half the effort invested in establishing and developing ILCs and  half spent on developing teacher capacity and educational content.  Teacher education occurs first in breadth and then depth. Immediately  after equipment installation, every  administrator and teacher in host and partner schools participates in a oneday computer fundamentals course  designed deflate anxiety about the technology. By the end of the day,  every staff member has a sense of achievement and mastery, having  learned to turn the computer on, write text in a word processor, save the text,  print it, and turn the computer off. By  putting every teacher in the drivers’ seat, this simple lesson has proven effective in mobilizing teacher  support for the ILCs from the first day of operation. Each school is then  asked to nominate a teacher as a “technical lead teacher”, or TLT. The TLT becomes   he caretaker of the ILC, taking on both a management and operational role.  Since IT is part of the Class 9 and 10  curricula in  Bangladesh, many  schools already have computer  science   eachers –  even if the school does not have  computers. Although these teachers  already receive a salary for their teaching assignments, it is common  ractice in Bangladesh to supplement  official income through private  tutoring.   ince the TLT takes on responsibilities that require a full-time  commitment, we   upplement the  teacher’s salary with a small stipend  for a limited period to   ffset this loss  in tutorial income. The school, RISOL and the teacher sign a   hree-way  agreement, committing the school to continue this stipend after a   ertain  date. The timing of this switchover  depends on a      ustomizedsustainability plan created by the school and RI-SOL. Schools must  factor this stipend into the  sustainability plan, offsetting it through income   enerating activities.  We have found that the majority of  computer teachers in   angladesh lack practical experience with computers  and require training to   erform the  technical aspects of the position.  Consequently, we have developed    localized technical instruction  curriculum for these teachers to  improve their technical proficiency.  Of course, there is a side benefit as well:   hey become better computer teachers.  The focus of our program is not,  however, on IT – we consider computer technology to be a tool  rather than an   nd. A major thrust  of our educational effort is to enable teachers to integrate  technology into their own subjects: math, spelling, geography, etc.  So, in   ddition to the technical lead teacher, we work with the school to  select three to   ive educational lead teachers (ELTs) per institution.  Again, by mutual   greement of the teachers, the school and our   rganization, these teachers  attend an  intensive one week teacher professional development training program conducted in an ILC.   uring this training, they are  introduced to the   rogram’s educational goals and methods by  example. They sit where their students will sit, and the training itself  employs group-based and participatory   ethodologies promoted  by our project. The predominant teaching modality in   angladesh is  didactic and authoritative, relying heavily on rote memorization   nd  pattern replication. We supplement that strategy with methods designed  to   ncourage creativity and analytic thought. During the week of training,  teachers also receive instruction on preparation of lesson plans and how  to   uild projects around available computer resources.  At training, the ELTs are   resumed to  know nothing about computers; in fact, this might be a plus in that   hey can approach the topic from the same  point of view as the students. During both teacher training and student  lessons, computer applications and  program  eatures are introduced on an  as-needed basis, while the users are  encouraged to explore further on their own. We have found that this  approach   s how people actually learn to use and understand computers.  Reading a book  bout a word  processor is not as helpful as just  using one, and experimenting is preferable to memorizing a series of  keystrokes to perform a task.  In   ecognition of this intensive training, ELTs receive a certificate. They do not   eceive an ongoing stipend, as their participation in the  ILC is expected to occur  uring their  normal class time, for which they are already being paid by   he school.  ELTs are, however, eligible to participate in a number of   rofessional  career development opportunities in conjunction with the program   uch conferences and international exchanges.  Single training  sessions, even very intensive ones like this one, will have  limited long term  impact unless some reinforcement is available. Likewise, a couple days of  echnical training are not enough to cover all the  operational and technical   spects of  running a telecenter. Our answer to both problems is monthly   eetings.  ILCs are set up in geographic clusters,  with five to ten schools in each cluster. These clusters are managed  by local implementing NGOs or  national   GOs with local offices,  further promoting the schoolcommunity  bond. Once per   onth, the technical lead teachers gather to  provide mutual support,  xchange  media, and on a rotational basis,  conduct workshops for other members of the group. The  educational lead teachers also have a  meeting once   er month, where participants develop, test and  exchange lesson plans.   oth  meetings are designed to promote local expertise and foster a sense of    xtended community between the participating schools.  eyond the  lessons  developed by  the teachers, RI-SOL  facilitates collaborative  lessons each month on local,  regional and  international scales. These  lessons involve other   nternetequipped schools within  r outside RISOL’s   own ILC network.  The local  and regional lessons are developed in our education specialists in the   Bangladesh County Office. Most of  these are developed in Bangla, while   English is the language of wider  communication for international  projects.   Some international projects  are within RI-SOL, others employ lessons    developed by online  resources such as iEARN and Global SchoolNet.  The  Global Connections and  Exchange Program (GCEP) is a major component of ILC programming inBangladesh. Children from around the world collaborating on  GCEP projects learn about each others  cultures through direct interaction         over the Internet. Along the way, stereotypes  are  discarded  and  students    gain an appreciation  for the  diversity of  cultures connected  by the Internet.
This  program is sponsored  by the  United States  Department of State, Bureau   f  Educational and Cultural Affairs, and its Bangladesh website is located  at: http://www.connectbangladesh.  org. Implementing these programs requires
a substantial investment of  time, effort, funds, and faith, so we are strongly  ommitted to the concept of sustainability – that an ILC which is set up today will still be functional one, five, ten or more years from now. Our challenge has been to set up ILCs in such a way that  chools can keep the  quipment up to date and
propagate the technical and
educational knowledge required to use the centers.  Unlike a free-standing  elecenter, the  ILC is an integrated part of the school, a classroom. Investments  in  the ILC are a direct investment in the  school’s infrastructure. Training teachers not only produces better  teachers, but a cadre of professionals who can keep the center operational. By clustering the centers themselves,  the schools are empowered to help each other.  During the next five years, RI-SOL
and its affiliated organizations  will scale up to two hundred telecenters in Bangladesh. The model  developed in Bangladesh may also find application in other developing countries. ❏

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