During a Rotary club visit to Arusha in 2012, Jeanette Johnstone took a trip to the local library and found it full of serious students with no computers and a limited number of quality text books.
"I was really, really confronted by the lack of opportunity for people outside the School of St Jude (a school in Arusha established by Australian Gemma Sisia and where she had been staying while in Tanzania) and thought I’d like to put some effort into different ways we might be able to assist," Jeanette said.
"Their desire for education blew my mind."
When Jeanette alerted the School of St Jude they donated some surplus books and the Rotary Club of Arusha-Meru delivered them to the library. The books were eagerly received, and more arrived after an American traveller saw the story of the books donation in the local newspaper and connected the library up with a philanthropic organisation in the US which supplies them with free text books.
Jeanette went back to Australia but couldn't get the lack of opportunity for kids' learning out of her mind, so she raised funds and put fifteen computers in the library but the often unreliable and slow internet connection in Tanzania meant the computers were not being used as often as had been hoped.
"We found the internet was too slow to support proper online learning, so another solution was needed. I found a group that had made an off-line version of Khan Academy, a not-for-profit organisation that provides free short lectures via YouTube." Jeanette said.
More sparks went off in Jeanette's non-stop thinking mind.
Back to Australia and she shared her idea with an inspired 19-year-old IT student volunteering at Computers 4 Learning, a Rotary project for which Jeanette volunteers and is also deputy chair. Patrick Hackett had the skills, knowledge and enthusiasm to put her ideas into action – and a prototype version of Teacher in a Box was born.
"He loved the idea and my goodness we would not have got anywhere without him." she said.
The initial raspberry pi server was placed in the Arusha Regional Library in 2014 but it had its limitations. As luck would have it, a new volunteer arrived at Computers 4 Learning with an extensive background in setting up networks in developing countries. Chris Hoyland took up the challenge and Teacher in a Box was born.
A huge milestone was also reached on the latest trip, the very first government schools have taken TIB and now thousands more kids will benefit from the huge selection of off-line content.
But it's not until the last days of the long and busy trip that during our interview Jeanette has a moment to reflect on this breakthrough.
I ask how she feels knowing that more than 2500 students now had access to TIB just in the work she has done on this single trip.
And that is when all the frustrations, all the hard work, all the travel, all the negotiating, all the technical challenges mixed with realisation of having achieved such an outcome hits her.
"Oh... thanks a lot Louise for making me do what I didn't want to do... cry... Jeanette says.
Business Plan Development & Advisory
Materials Development & Advisory
Materials Development & Advisory
Materials Development & Promotion
*The Project Team reports to the Board of the Rotary Club of Brisbane Planetarium.
We want to expand the benefits of Teacher in a Box by providing educational materials in languages other than English.
We are currently working with community focussed NGOs with the aim of developing a Teacher in a Box for the Khmer speaking population of Cambodia.