In January 2017, Jeanette Johnstone, the founder of the "Teacher in a Box" project, spent three weeks in and around the third largest Tanzanian city of Arusha educating teachers and students from both government and not-for-profit English medium schools about her easy-to-use and engaging educational program.
The Teacher in the Box program is delivered by some simple technology - a router, and a re-purposed laptop (used as a server) with a huge range of educational videos, books and other materials sourced from reputable international organisations, like the Khan Academy loaded onto the server. Importantly it does not require the internet to work, it is simply accessed by any wi-fi-enabled device.
There are more than 10,000 videos, hundreds of books, question and answer tests that cover a range of topics from commerce and accounting, to how to understand Excel or Word, to medical information and material about agriculture and crop growing.
In rural villages there is no internet, and even in the main cities of Tanzania the internet is often slow or unreliable. So this program opens up the world to children - and it is changing lives.
"Rather than view the lessons online, Teacher in a Box takes them offline, so by setting up a server with all the materials on it, it means anyone with a wi-fi device or the computer in a library, can access that information" .
She knows that TIB instantly changes the way students learn, and how teachers teach.
"Oh, my goodness they (teachers and students) cannot honestly believe what they are seeing, their faces light up. It takes a little while, they are a quizzical to start off with, not really sure what is going on and then when all of a sudden they realise their faces light up and it is the most beautiful thing to see, and they know they can learn from this and educate themselves," she said.
TIB is a platform that can be used to provide access to any educational materials. She hopes in the future that it will be introduced into other poor nations, like Cambodia.
Extracts from an interview by Dr Louise North
Tanzania, home to 50 million people, is one of the poorest nations on earth. It is vital that children receive an education that enables them to lift themselves and their families out of the poverty cycle
A milestone in January 2017 was the roll out of TIB into two government schools, the Arusha Secondary School which has 1500 students and Arusha Day Secondary School.
Arusha Secondary School geography and economics teacher, Abdul Ayubu sees so many possibilities for making classroom teaching more dynamic, engaging and interesting to the students.
"Kids can learn without teachers, they can browse and learn a lot of subjects, there are so many loaded on it," Abdul said.
The assistant Regional Education Officer Eugen Shirima is open to the possibility of TIB content being used in the National Curriculum.
"Teachers have said to me that it (TIB) is good," he said.
Nineteen-year-old student Jordan Salvator was upbeat about TIB: "It's like a book, it's very interesting and more exciting than classes and has lots of videos, it's pretty amazing," he said while trying out the program.
"It's not that complicated and is easy to manage. Sometimes teachers are boring, with this you can even learn by yourself," Jordan said.
Nasra Twalib Ddumba, an 18-year-old form 5 student with her eyes set on a university degree and becoming a "famous" accountant, was also excited by the program.
"I want to make my parents proud of me," she said as she eagerly clicked on various reading material from the TIB laptop.
At the Arusha Day Secondary School the teachers were most excited by the idea that they can connect to TIB on their mobile phones which will allow them to access information to assist with lesson planning.
Volunteer commerce and bookkeeping teacher John Dominick, has just finished a teaching degree at Arusha University. For him the TIB just donated to the school will make teaching more visual and therefore engaging to students, but it will also assist teachers.
John tells us that there is a shortage of books and teaching material in the school and TIB will "change dramatically" how teachers teach and how students respond.
"Teacher in a Box gives access to a lot of information. In our school we do not have a lot of books for the students, so having access to a computer gives them access to a lot of information," he said.
"As a graduate teacher who is upgrading his skills by volunteering for three months at the school, I can also see how helpful it will be to me, for all teachers as well."
"We are so grateful for Teacher in a Box, we are working in a hard situation. We believe through this access (that TIB provides) that this is something tremendous for teaching, children get to see what they are learning."
"We had been teaching in a way that they cannot see what they are learning. It will make our job of teaching kids much easier," John said.
With TIB "they see and they hear and this is a truly dramatic change and it will change how they learn and remember things".
Extract from an article by Dr Louise North
On this same trip, several other schools and community centres including the East Meru Community School and community group Umoja, a Tanzanian charity that aims to see vulnerable children and youth "educated, empowered and living free from poverty" (see www.umoja.com.au) have benefited from the introduction of TIB technology.
The East Meru Community school co-founder and director Tanzanian-born, Mary Horne is rapt to be shown the TIB project that will benefit all of her primary-aged students.
In less than 15 minutes Jeanette has shown Mary the program and before she could get to the end of the presentation, Mary declared: "It's going on the system, this is very exciting".
"My mind is just exploding with how it is going help our kids and teachers," Mary said.
Teacher, Absalom Shanguya, was almost as excited as the kids and said that the program would make teaching more effective.
"It's got visual, audio…. It's very special it will keep them creative and interested in the material," Absalom said.
Earlier that day he had spent a large part of lesson time drawing a map of Africa on the chalk board, while the children watched on, losing interest as they waited. With TIB, he said, he could simply take the children to the room with power, connect TIB and show his students a map of Africa, zoom in to Arusha and Mt Meru or anywhere else and engage the children via technology.
As Mary said, "This is amazing, I am so excited, it will help the children with ICT skills and English language development" aside from the obvious educational information.
Extracts from an interview by Dr Louise North
Like all new things in a country with so little, ensuring that the teachers are familiar with how the program works is crucial and this one problem might well be averted by the ever present School of St Jude.
School manager Angela Bailey, said "Our CSY (community service year) interns LOVE the teacher in the box and are eager to take them out to their schools.
The other way that the CSY interns will be helping is to increase the number the videos translated into Kiswahili so that TIB can be used in government primary schools as well.
It was during the January 2017 trip that Teacher in a Box was installed in the library and the head librarian, Rafiki Kilonzo Mvamba, eagerly received another three laptops and 11 new tablets to assist with general student learning.
It's this visit which demonstrates the cascading effect of one person's desire to help.
Because of Jeanette's interest in the library, firstly some books and computers arrived, then text books from America, then Rafiki was taken on a study tour to Finland under the Finnish Libraries for Development Project which also donated and installed 4 computers, with more computers the storeroom then became the computer "lab", then the library received funds to build a new toilet, and recently concrete tables and chairs where donated that enable 100 students to sit under the trees in a dedicated outdoor study area.
These gradual improvements have inspired Rafiki and now she is planning to localise an idea she first saw on the internet. She will soon take the TIB laptop to the streets to help educate people who might not normally come into a library.
"I think they will be amazed," Rafiki said.
"I will not forget Jeanette in my life, ever. Jeanette came and something happened," Rafiki told me. "God bless her."
Extracts from an article by Dr Louise North