Silence is broken by swift keyboard press noises and an occasional laughter from a keen student after a magical completion of an exercise. Ordinarily schools are deserted as it is school break but at Kagugu Primary School, the IT Summer Camp was the holiday excitement.
Throughout this year, Government enthusiasm for technology has been transmitted to many students under the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative.
Instead of lazing away as they await the next school term, the students gathered with their small green and white laptops as they eagerly fed their curiosity and hunger to learn more mathematics skills through training in programming and reading and writing skills through training in journalism.
The camp involved training children in three groups. These covered classes that taught children with curiosity for adventure, game programming and journalism.
As the students kept busy on their laptops, the confinement of the classroom did not seem to exist for them. Every possibility lay on a tiny screen as they typed away. In Rwanda, this is the wake of a new era in ICT integrated education.
OLPC Vice President David Cavallo said that, through these trainings children are groomed to become engineers, scientists and journalists.
“We are opening up the children’s mind to see careers through ICT, so that they can start working towards achieving their dreams when still young,” Cavallo said.
According to Cavallo, school holidays are opportunities to build capacity in schools and to boost the students learning experience.
“The real value of education is when children can practically apply what they have learnt in schools,” he said.
With this, Cavallo assured that the greatest achievement of the OLPC project is seen in the children’s ability to use and learn with their laptops.
The OLPC Programme Coordinator Richard Niyonkuru, said that the Ministry of Education is keen on the ‘education by doing’ teaching methods.
“Students need to be challenged to use their laptops to do more than just typing. Exposing them to such trainings will encourage them to explore careers that are supported by computer technology,” said Niyonkuru.
Niyonkuru stressed that there is need to also train teachers to assist students with laptops to further venture in all possible possibilities the computers have so as to ensure optimal use.
During the IT summer camp, the students were challenged to use the issued laptops to create games, newspaper articles and to tap into their innovativeness and creativity .
This according to Herye Munyorangeri, a trained Rwandan teacher from the OLPC Core Team, will aid the students to conceptualize what they learn in their classrooms.
“To be able to work out the programming exercises, the students have to apply their class work lessons.
This helps them to put into practice what they have learnt during classes,” Munyorangeri said.
After only a week’s training, he said that the children in his class were able make basic shape movements supported by their developed programs. Soon, Munyorangeri said that the children would be able to make multimedia cartoons on their laptops.
“This is a platform for self expression, where they can use the cartoons they have created to tell their personal stories and those of others too,” he said.
Currently, the Core Team members have already introduced the children to E-toys and scratch programming environments.
Through such training the children have been challenged to think and be creative in a practical way.
In another class, Julia Reynolds, one of the OLPC expatriates, trains the children through the principles and basics of Journalism.
As they sit quietly organizing pictures and short written articles, the students were able to develop their own newspaper articles.
Reynolds said that, “the children are being trained to use their laptops such that they can go back to their communities, collect stories and write about them.”
On their laptop screens were a display of both Kinya-rwanda and English headlines. Below were their bylines that were closely followed by well written stories on various topics of interest.
The good connectivity on the internet enabled them to write about well researched stories.
According to Reynolds, the selected students who attended the summer camp will in turn pass on the lessons to other children with laptops at home or during the school term.
The students were selected, from Rwamagana B, Nonko and Kagugu Primary schools, some of the schools that are beneficiaries of the laptops.
Established two years ago in Rwanda, OLPC has achieved tremendously towards furthering the country’s ICT goals. Over 9000 laptops have been distributed across the country and a new batch of 10,000 more is expected to be given out before the school year ends.
The IT summer camp only comes to reinforce and support trainings in computer use that have been experienced by the students during the school term.
To further this cause, the government is taking even bigger steps towards creating an ICT hub by implementing a nationwide and high-speed fibre optic point of presence (PoP) in every district.
This will ensure that all schools in both urban and rural areas have high-quality access to the internet that will avail reference materials to the pupils and allow coordinated communication.
Niyonkuru, also noted that, “children who are trained in programming and journalism, will be the motivation for more parents to keep purchasing the USD195 laptops.”
Creativity and curiosity today, among Rwanda’s school going children is not only quenched by hours of clay work; but is met head-on in lap classrooms.
With every child owning a laptop, in Rwanda, education will eventually be addressing the core reason for taking children to school.
Through exposing their minds to various possibilities, knowledge grows and is passed on.
This gives each and every child in Rwanda chance to be anything they dream of becoming.