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Hackernoon logoEach one teach one — IT skill sharing in Africa by@jespejoh

Each one teach one — IT skill sharing in Africa

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@jespejohJesús Espejo

The other Digital Revolution — Empowering people by sharing and teaching IT skills in Africa. Illustration by Álvaro Secilla @ okay bueno

Earlier this year, we at okay bueno had the chance to present the MVP of a digital platform we are currently developing in cooperation with one of the major German development agencies at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The pitch was part of an event hosted by SPDA, the Strategic Partnership Digital Africa, and it was an inspiring event that really opened my eyes to the digital challenges of developing countries.

Some hours passed as we were testing the solution on location when Sinje approached me about the solution we built and evaluating potential synergies with the team at Learning Lions, which she was a part of and represented in some events.

If you haven’t heard about Learning Lions yet, please make sure to check them out. They are a German NGO with an amazing vision: to bring IT education to remote Africa, economically empowering citizens, fostering human development, and bringing the world closer together by teaching fundamental skills for the digital age. Starting their program, Learning Lions decided to focus on Turkana, a remote region in north-western Kenya.

We chatted for a while and before parting ways, Sinje asked me if we wanted to keep in contact and maybe work together at some point and of course, I quickly agreed — let’s stay in touch. But you know how it goes with networking chit chat: there’s usually lot of talking, but little outcome. Not this time! Just a couple of days later I was in touch with Jan at Learning Lions, who’s coordinating the course development efforts, asking me to create a course for the program.

“Me? Creating a course?”
“Who am I to teach?”

Well, since I had this great chance given, who am I to say no? Of course I wanted to help out. So the first question that came to my mind: what should I actually teach? After getting briefed by Jan I quickly learned about what it means to develop a course for an IT initiative in rural Africa and how much it can differ from your typical e-learning course online.

There are some limitations I was just not aware of that would limit what we could do:

  1. Full accessibility to the internet is not possible for most students. Due to costs, bandwidth limitations, and unreliable networks in rural areas, even with on-location training no stable internet connection can get guaranteed. Even though there are infrastructure initiatives on the way, it’s still a while until the problem gets solved.
  2. As the internet accessibility is pretty low, students learn a lot different than what we are used to in our privileged lives: Googling solutions on StackOverflow is often not possible, so all students are facing a crazy challenge: learning web-based skills without actually having reliable access to the internet.
  3. They aren’t digital natives. Many of the students touch a computer for the first time once that they enrol a program at Learning Lions, therefore they need to catch-up with the technology in a very short period of time.
  4. Furthermore, the students will most likely work on cheap hardware and normally running Microsoft Windows — far away from the tools I use daily.
  5. The cultural differences are abismal. Most of the students come from pastoralist families from the poorest corner of Kenya, therefore the concepts of poverty or capitalism are not established or have a much more different meaning.

So I tried to look at from the point of feasibility and biggest benefit. As their course program was already quite stacked, I was looking for courses on web-based technology that would build on basic courses available and has a a fast learning curve that empowers the student to start working in a global environment once the infrastructure initiatives succeed.

After thinking about all the options and my personal preferences I decided to roll with jQuery — and I’m not really much of a JS aficionado. However, after completing a HTML / CSS course it’s a fast and great way to get into functional programming and interact with DOM elements, there’s still a demand in the market space, and it’s easy to set up — which is important if you have to compile everything a student may need into the course material.

Who am I not to teach?

To be honest, I’ve never taught before. I’ve talked at conferences, I’ve lead development teams, but I haven’t done basic courses for students new to the field. So naturally I felt a bit uncomfortable — and I started to push it back day by day. Am I really the right person to do this? I’m sure there are people better suited for the job…

But then I realised that this argument is true for everything in life. It doesn’t matter how experienced you are in a specific field, there will always be people more experienced than you. So I simply started by doing what I always do when I don’t know what I’m doing: I research the topic extensively.

I ran through a ton of material online, looked at different platforms, accumulated all the material I could find. I didn’t steal the exercises, but I sure as hell borrowed from everywhere, creating the structure for the curriculum of the courses simply based on what already exists, adjusted to fit their scenario, resources and connectivity issues. About a week later, the course was done. And I simply wondered why I was hesitating for so long.

What’s next?

The most amazing part of this experience was the satisfaction to know that the course will empower people who are motivated but don’t have the means to broaden their horizon and learn new skills.

With more than 100 overall participants that have already finished courses and a great girls empowerment program, the next step for Learning Lions is to develop a fully functional, self‐sustained IT campus which will board up to 500 students, is respectful of the environment, and constructed with bio sourced material and employing local manpower. Learning Lions’ concept doesn’t end up with education, but their vision goes much further: they aim not only to train people in digital vocational skills but also facilitate access to clients and provide them with the consulting, infrastructure and even funding to develop a business idea and become autonomous entrepreneurs (check out Startup Lions, also part of their program).

If you want to support Learning Lions do not hesitate to get in touch with them: they are always looking for people who want to help out as modestly as they can — from creating a simple tutorial, to evaluate student’s exercises and/or mentor them, donating some money, or even moving to Turkana for a couple of months and teach on site with them! Of course, they are also open to other ways of collaborating (fundraising, social media marketing, word-of-mouth promotion, etc).

And if you want to work with us on developing products for social good, please reach out to us at okay bueno — we’d love to hear from you ❤️.


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