1. What does the acronym SEE mean?
SEE stands for Share, Engage and Educate. It sums the underlying philosophy of the work that we have undertaken in developing countries. We share our knowledge about how quality educational practices can be implemented in schools by engaging with the key stakeholders. These include personnel in education ministries, school principals, head- teachers, teachers, students and school management committees.
2. What does the project do?
a. We work with schools and donate digital resources (e.g. computers) and library books.
b. We build teacher capacity so that these resources can be efficiently embedded in classrooms.
c. We facilitate the engagement of university staff and students to showcase classroom activities using the print and digital resources.
d. We support the education of girls from disadvantaged backgrounds through bursaries.
e. We design new teaching and learning strategies and tools to enhance the quality of education in developing countries.
3. Why are library books so important?
Children need to be able to read from an early age. Unless they develop an interest and fluency in reading, their chances of success in life and education are significantly diminished. In many developing countries, access to reading materials such as books is either non-existent or minimal. An entirely operational school library that we are so accustomed to in developed countries is a rarity in many schools in developing countries. Thus giving children access to libraries and books is a prerequisite to quality education.
4. Why should digital technologies be integrated into classrooms?
Digital literacy is essential for all citizens of the world. Without this knowledge, the chances are that some citizens will be unable to take full advantage of the opportunities that the technologies present. The integration of digital technologies in classrooms can also enable students to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding across disciplines. Activities such as problem solving, information management, collaboration, and communication bring these skills to the fore. Effective integration of information communication technology (ICT) for instance, creates variety in learning and can utilise learners’ multiple intelligence as they work through a task. In countries like Fiji, where poverty levels are high, schools are the only place where students can be educated about new technologies.
5. How are schools selected?
We have worked with the education ministries and universities to identify the schools. Sometimes schools have approached us directly. Our focus is on schools in disadvantaged communities because this where the most help is needed. Thus, all our support is directed mainly to schools in rural and remote areas.
6. How many schools has the project supported so far with resources?
Since 2011, we have supported more than 30 schools in Fiji, South Sudan, Bhutan, Solomon Islands and Malaysia. We have donated a range of digital devices (e.g. desktops, laptops, robotic kits, data projectors, cameras) and library books. We believe that these resources have the potential to impact on more than 8,000 children in the respective schools. We estimate that the value of the resources to date exceeds $250,000 (U.S). We have also conducted teacher professional development activities that involved more than 100 teachers in Fiji. We have designed and implemented four outreach projects in Fijian and Malaysian schools. The participants were university staff and students from local and Australian universities. Apart from donating library books, we have shown teachers how to set up and manage school libraries using technology.
7. Why is teacher professional development so important?
Technology is a tool. Like any tool, it does not make a difference on its own. Thus, access to technology in schools does not always make a difference. However, when teachers are appropriately skilled in terms of how to use the tools, they can make a difference. The literature has many examples of poorly initiated projects where the focus was solely on making technologies available – without fully realising the significance of building teacher capacity.
8. What new teaching strategies and tools have been trialled to enhance the quality of education?
i) The idea of the SEE digital books has emerged from the experiences of this project. In developing countries, there is an obvious need for library books. In addition, we also have to find ways in which donated computers, and laptops can be used for a range of activities – both online (where possible) and offline. Digital storybooks are not only a solution to both these problems but can also create new opportunities for both the consumers (readers of the book) and producers (authors of the book). The idea here is for children (in both developing and developed countries) to write digital books and share them with other children around the world. There are benefits for all participants – the writers engage in a higher order creativity task; their work gets published (adds value to their efforts), and they may even get some feedback. These factors can motivate learners. For the readers, it helps them develop their reading and comprehension skills. Since the children are from different backgrounds, such a task can promote a good understanding of the world they live in. The computers can get more use. Children can read in pairs – where they can help each other as they read. This is not an ideal solution to solving the problem of library books – nonetheless it is a solution.
ii) The SEE Box emerged as a solution to the problem of lack of connectivity to the Internet in schools in rural and remote locations. In a nutshell, the SEE Box is a hardware with a digital repository of online resources. The resources include the Wikipedia, Khan Academy videos, digital books from the Gutenberg Project and so on. The device can enable teachers and students to engage in highly productive classroom activities.
10. What are the challenges?
Technology is here to stay. Therefore, initiatives such as the SEE Project are needed. So far this project has had the support of the Queensland University of Technology (Brisbane, Australia) which has donated second-hand digital devices. The project also has the support of experienced professionals with extensive experience in (a) teaching and learning with digital technologies and(b) setting up of libraries. Some professionals also have a profound knowledge about technologies and education in developing countries. These professionals not only give their time but also meet other costs associated with travelling to schools in developing countries to support schools and teachers. The outreach projects were backed by the Queensland University of Technology and Australian Government’s New Colombo Plan – it covered the cost of students’ travel and accommodation.
11. Where to from here?
In this context, there is a need for more regular professional development activities to sustain and nurture teacher capacity (once every six months). Such regular sessions can also develop strong networks where knowledge can be shared among teachers in terms of what worked and what did not. As teachers build capacity, over time there will not be any need for input from external agencies. However, in the interim, teachers need support from experts. There is also a need for locals (with a background in teaching) to keep in touch with the teachers and address their issues as they arise. While projects such as the SEE digital books and the SEE box have considerable potential in developing countries, they need further refinement and management.
To support professional development strategically, and to facilitate ongoing research and development of new ideas, more funding is needed. Given our track record through the SEE Project, we believe that we can deliver the outcomes required to enhance the quality of education in developing countries.
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