Wednesday 16 October 2019

Camara on a mission to close the digital divide

An Irish education charity is delivering 21,000 computers to 840 schools in Ethiopia, writes Katherine Donnelly

John Phiri works on a computer supplied by Camara in Riverain Primary School in Zambia
John Phiri works on a computer supplied by Camara in Riverain Primary School in Zambia
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Technology is a game-changer in education. Its power to transform teaching and learning is well documented, while familiarity with it can nurture a curiosity in students that may ultimately inspire further innovation.

At the very least, digital literacy is now as essential as proficiency in reading and maths for every student and in every society.

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In recent weeks, the debate over the €3bn rural broadband rollout plan, has turned the spotlight on the digital divide in Ireland and the need to ensure that parts of the country, and their schools, businesses and homes, are not left behind in the technological revolution.

The challenges are even greater in developing countries where education levels already lag behind the rest of the world - a gap that can only be exacerbated if access to technology in education is beyond their reach.

Quality education is one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations' Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), and aims to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all by 2030. Government agencies, such as Irish Aid, and non-governmental organisations play a crucial role supporting countries in, for instance, sub-Saharan Africa in meeting those targets.

Camara, an Irish charity, is one such non-governmental organisation whose mission is to transform education using technology to empower disadvantaged students. Camara takes in new and pre-used computers from companies, and refurbishes them for re-use in communities, both in Africa and Ireland.

It is now embarking on its third, and largest, agreement with the Ethiopian Ministry of Education. Zambia and Kenya are among the other African countries where it has a presence.

In an €11.5m deal recently signed with the Ethiopian government, Camara committed to bringing 21,000 computers to 840 schools in the country over the next three years. Some 690,000 students should benefit.

Camara's work doesn't stop at installing the hardware - it delivers a wrap-around support package that also includes educational software tailored to the particular needs of school communities, teacher training and a back-up service.

The Ethiopian government will contribute €7.3m to the new project, while Camara Education will fundraise to gather the balance of €4.2m. In other words, for every €1 Camara Education raises, the Ethiopian government is matching it with a further €1.70.

Camara Education CEO Jean Cox-Kearns says the project will have a huge impact in schools all across Ethiopia, with some students getting access to computers for the very first time.

She says with a better education, a student has a much higher chance of attaining a job and a career. "A career means a prosperous future for them and their family."

In terms of impact, Camara already knows it can make a difference: in 2018, 94pc of teachers who worked with Camara reported that using the ICT equipment and software had a positive effect on the ICT skills of students, while 83pc of teachers reported that it enhanced students' overall academic performance.

Abiy Ebbiso, Director, Regional Education ICT Directorate with the Ethiopian Ministry of Education, says what differentiates Camara is the fact that it works on capacity building.

"They don't just donate the computers, but start their work by analysing what the school's actual capabilities are and what can be improved. They don't just dump the computers, but work to raise the capabilities and capacity of the teachers and schools."

Each school in Camara Education's new project will receive 26 computers and a full suite of teacher training.

The schools will also be supported with maintenance visits to ensure the computers keep working. Each computer will come loaded with content focussed on the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering, and maths.

A selection of the schools will receive software, allowing teachers to assign specific content to students, design and set tests, and monitor individual student performance over time. This means the teacher can ensure that no child in their class is being left behind.

That is why Camara needs €5,000 for each school, and why it is launching a new corporate fund-raising campaign.

Nostra, an IT services firm based in Lucan, Dublin and a long-time partner to Camara - donating more than 800 computers since 2013 - has taken that relationship a step further as the first company to come on board as a sponsor.

Nostra CEO Kevin O'Loughlin says they understand the power of IT to transform an organisation and wanted to support Camara Education in bringing the power of computers to Ethiopian classrooms.

Irish Independent

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