The Street Academy in Accra, Ghana: Part 1

We recently had the privilege of helping an academy in Ghana get up-to-date with some new laptops.

Here’s the story:

Background
The Street Academy (www.thestreetacademy.webs.com) received 5 Linux Edubuntu laptops from ComputeReach and its partners at the very end of March 2012. This was possible thanks to the generous donation of our laptop sponsor, Mike Gable, as well as the hard work of the volunteers who refurbished the laptops. They were transported into Ghana from the US by way of carry-on luggage.

The Street Academy uses education, culture, and sports to expose the hidden talents of children living on the streets of Accra. All of our students are needy children who live in the most deprived neighborhoods. They learn dance, music, art, sports, and basic schooling. Our children go on to higher education, to start artisan workshops, and to play professional sports. The Street Academy began operations in November of 1986, and was registered in 1993. Find them at www.facebook.com/streetacademyaccra.

How the Laptops Are Used
Our 80 students are now taking computer lessons almost every day. We have scheduled computer lessons as an additional after-school activity (to take place after their normal after-school sports and cultural activities). The vast majority of them (>95%) have never used a computer before. Their excitement level over these computers though, is palpable, and they have a drive to learn that we sometimes wished they would display towards their other studies as well. And—as children—they learn fast.

Our children learn at vastly differing speeds. As we do not set a student’s grade level by age at the Street Academy, we have divided the students into three classes based on grade level: Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced, and Special Needs. Each class has between 20-30 students (if no student is absent), crowded around five laptops.

A Typical Lesson
The first lesson we teach focuses on computer basics. We outline and have the students try the basic mechanics of operating and viewing the machine (the same things you’ll often hear technical support ask you for: “Have you pressed the power button?”). We teach them about menu buttons, windows, and mouse control with one stroke by having the students open menus and programs and then move, minimize, and close those windows. We also talk about physical computer safety: no fighting, no food or drinks, keep a gentle hand, and no dropping.

While they’re still taking turns learning how to use the trackpads, we ask the students for how computers are used in daily life: writing, reading, gathering information, sending emails, and the always popular “games!” At this point, we set up our very first challenge: the first group to be able to find games could play until the last group found the games.

Next, we move to typing. One of our teachers types at 100 words/minute using KTouch with the keyboard covered by a cloth. It is an impressive feat for children, and all of the students want to be able to do the same. We teach them standard US keyboard fingerings. As this is (predictably) frustrating for the children, we set another challenge: the first child to be able to beat the teacher before a month was up would receive 50 GHS (about 30 USD). This is by far our most popular—even if impossible—challenge. (In the second lesson we distribute life-sized keyboard printouts with fingerings so students can practice even when they are not currently in front of one of our 5 laptops). We end the lesson by giving the students a lot of time to just explore the computer and practice typing if they want to, before showing them how to shut the computers down.

The last concept we teach our students during that first lesson is ownership. These laptops belong to them as a school community. They are responsible for the laptops’ safety, to learn how to use the laptops properly, to maintain the laptops, to watch out for the laptops whereabouts, and to pass them on to future students. The students always take to this lesson eagerly. Although we often have to ask 10 or more times to shut down their computers at the end of a lesson, they organize themselves to take care of putting the laptops away. Without being asked to, our students unplug the laptops, pack them into numbered cases, stack them, and wind up all power cables.

Check back next week for the rest of this inspiring story!

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