Late 2015 was an extremely exciting one for Suas – as we launched two new pilot projects under our Fast Forward programme.
The aim of ‘Fast Forward’ is to help improve the quality of education for some of the most disadvantaged communities in Kenya and Zambia. With Fast Forward we focus on community schools that are often understaffed or staffed with teachers who are very poorly trained.
The girls and boys who take part in Fast Forward are from extremely disadvantaged backgrounds. Some are orphans others have parents who are living with AIDS. They are full of enthusiasm to learn – but standing in their way is the fact that they sit in overcrowded classrooms. Often without books or pencils and a teacher who is not fully trained.
This is where Fast Forward programme steps in! Fast Forward uses low-cost, solar-powered, android tablets – fully loaded with software covering every grade and topic the schoolchildren need.
Tablets are shared between students in a group-centered learning approach. This approach means that a small number of tablets will cover an entire class. Teachers have their own specially designed tablet, containing thousands of lesson plans, helping them to give a high-quality lesson to their school children.
In Nairobi, Kenya we are partnered with a truly amazing NGO, the Kangemi Resource Centre (KRC). Kangemi is a bustling, energetic area, but it’s an extremely poor, slum community which homes approximately 100,000 people.
Back in March, Saoirse McCann (Suas International Education Programme Coordinator), visited the Kangemi Resource Centre to meet with the founder Alix D’Ansembourg and the staff. The KRC acts as a community hub, providing those living in the slum with a number of vital services – a feeding programme, a water purification and distribution centre, an early childhood care programme and many others.
Teachers from Kangemi community schools register to attend the centre with their students every week. There they can access a well-stocked library, a DVD room and a basic science lab all while having a healthy breakfast. We were inspired by the potential to support such a large number of teachers and girls and boys through their hub approach – we needed a donor who might allow us to establish a project in an ideal environment such as KRC.
Thanks to our LinkedIn employee champion Linus Wellen, we were successful with an application to LinkedIn’s ‘For Good’s Social Innovation’ grant. Because of this funding Saoirse returned to Nairobi in early December to help launch the first stage of our programme.
‘In order to raise awareness I held an information session in December for teachers. Despite Christmas holidays having already commenced, the session was full! Teachers had gone out of their way to be there. Being a community school teacher doesn’t necessarily mean you get a salary – many of these teachers have two jobs in order to provide for their families and volunteer in the school. Happily the teachers were really enthusiastic about participating in the project and there was a 100% sign up rate!’
The project will begin officially in 2016, where teachers will have training sessions and workshops. Students will attend the Suas Fast Forward room in the KRC, where the tablet driven lessons will take place. Schoolchildren will now have the chance to gain high quality learning, suitable for their age and ability.
‘My engagement with community school teachers and students has been so inspiring. They face enormous challenges in their daily lives and have very little. But the energy, enthusiasm and positivity they demonstrate towards education is remarkable. This programme is all about supporting them to overcome the last hurdles they face in achieving quality education. I can’t wait to see what will happen when they combine their passion for education with these new tools and skills!
There’s a lot more work to get done in 2016. As of now, we have an innovative and unique programme up and running and are cooperating with an excellent partner (the KRC). But in order to reach the scale we aspire to we need to raise a lot more money!’