iiTablet Tshomiz

Want to know how to run a successful online technology programme in a remote rural area?

Follow the progress of iiTablet Tshomiz to learn how.

Technology has the potential to radically reinforce and support what’s being taught in the classroom – and when it comes to technology, our rural areas should be prioritised and not ignored.  The typical difficulties that rural communities face (remoteness, poor infrastructure, language barriers etc.) can be surmounted and we are going to show you how. 

We have been running iiTablet Tshomiz at Xhora Mouth JSS (a remote rural primary school) for 4 months now and already have a lot we can share. Should you consider implementing a similar project, here are our tips so far:

  1. Build a relationship with the school you want to work with. Technology access and internet in a deep rural area is very exciting. The children, parents, teachers and principals will likely be very excited about a project like this. Some things you will need from the school to ensure a successful programme:
    1. principal support: it’s important to have principal meetings before doing anything and constantly give updates and make sure they can see the benefits;
    2. teacher support: emphasise the importance and need for teachers being in the classroom. Train the teacher so that she knows exactly what is going on and involve the teacher as much as you can.
    3. a reliable timetable: work with the school to develop this and check in regularly to make sure it still works for everyone;
    4. secure one classroom that you can use consistently but not necessarily exclusively; and
    5. get parent support: invite parents to sit in the classroom and see how the project is running and do workshops with the parents to explain why consistent attendance is so importance.
  2. Do your homework and choose the right online programme. We knew that we wanted a curriculum that was CAPS aligned, that ran from grade 1 to grade 12, and that had interactive videos and lessons. We need more programmes like this to be developed in our African languages: for now, English programmes are still dominant. For our maths programme, we settled on MathsBuddy (mathsbuddy.co.za) but there are others out there that may be more suitable to your needs (e.g. OLICO, IXL, African Storybook, OMO Fast Kids etc.)
    1. Estimated cost: R190/child/year
  3. The most affordable way to run online programmes is by using tablets. In an environment with limited energy resources, make sure you buy good, durable tablets that have excellent battery life. Use your Consumer Protection Act rights if they do not perform as promised.
    1. Estimated cost: R80 000 (for 40 tablets at R2000 each)
  4. Online programmes require excellent internet access. We have tested a variety of internet sources and concluded that satellite internet is the best option in a deep rural setting. Prices have also come down so it is now more affordable (we use YahClick/Vox who will need to come and install a satellite dish). You may be able to use a 3G Wireless Router or a few cellphones as hotspots (one cellphone can typically have 8 – 12 users) which could be a cheaper option if your signal is strong enough.
    1. Estimated cost: R14 000 once off and R1400/ month
  5. We have to charge the tablets and power the internet. We have a good solar system at our offices that we use to charge all the tablets (if you are lucky to have electricity nearby then that’s an easier option). At the school there is no electricity or solar energy so we charge a battery at our offices using a solar panel which we then take to the school to run the lessons. One fully charged battery typically lasts for three hours and can power the internet, the router, and the charging of some of the tablets. We have an inverter at the school which allows us to plugin everything that we need. Alternatively, you could use a small 750W generator which should be sufficient to charge tablets and run the internet devices.
    1. Estimated cost: R3500 for a panel, battery and inverter or R12 000 for a proper solar system (sufficient for use for 70 learners at one time).
  6. If your online programme uses videos then you may be able to download them in advance to limit internet usage and to ensure that learners are not waiting for things to download. A server is another solution that can be explored.
  7. Use the “teaching at the right level” educational approach. This requires grouping the learners according to their learning level.  Complete diagnostic tests of the learners and based on their results sort them into three broad groups (some diagnostic tests that can be used are those produced by NumberSense, EGMA or Count Africa).  Learners can then do lessons which are tailored to their level and they can complete them at their own pace.
  8. We use local youth as our facilitators in the classroom. The ideal facilitator is one who has grade 11 or matric, has had some computer/tablet experience, a reasonable grasp of the English language (for translation purposes), is from the community and speaks the local language. Once the learners have been put into groups, the facilitators are then allocated to a group of learners: struggling learners will be in smaller groups and vice versa.  The facilitator then works only with that group of learners for the year and is responsible for them moving through the lessons and giving extra attention to a learner where necessary.  We recommend 5-7 facilitators for a class of 25 – 35 learners.
    1. Estimated cost: R20/ hour or R3500/ month per facilitator (based on the proposed minimum wage)
  9. Lastly, expect some initial chaos. The learners will be very excited to use the tablets, learners from other grades want to see the programme, and all the teachers will be very interested in what is going on. Insist on strict discipline from the beginning. Remember many of the learners have never used tablets and the learning programme will be new and they will not yet have been put in the right group.  After just one month you won’t believe the improvement: soon you will be running a very successful online technology programme in a rural area!

We will be developing a more detailed toolkit so keep following us for updates.

Please feel free to contact us for more information or advice.

By: Tess Nolizwe Peacock

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