Solar Powered Educational Learning Library

Rwanda Field Report from Alain

Alain is a Bridge2Rwanda Scholar currently interning for SolarSPELL. In the beginning of March, he participated in the Teacher Trainings at our five pilot schools in Rwanda. The following is an excerpt from his experience:

In June 2017, I met with Dr. Laura Hosman and Bruce Baikie in Rwanda, and they briefly introduced to me the SolarSPELL digital library. I was excited about that new technology and the impact it would have in communities. In January 2018, they came back in Rwanda to conduct a workshop. During that time, I became more interested in SolarSPELL, and I wanted to contribute to the project. Fortunately, I was chosen to be a part of the SolarSPELL team. Since then, I have been realizing the potential the SolarSPELL digital library has to transform communities positively, especially underprivileged regions.

As SolarSPELL envisions to provide educational resources to constrained areas without internet or electricity, it expanded its project in East-Africa. In March 2018, it initiated digital libraries in five schools in Rwanda, each located in one of the five provinces of Rwanda. Those digital libraries contain information relevant to local communities in Rwanda that can help teachers to prepare their lessons better and students to understand materials learned in class clearer. The SolarSPELL team, which I am fortunate to be part of, conducted trainings in all those schools to train mainly teachers to use the SolarSPELL digital library. The trainings had a tremendous impact on both the schools and the SolarSPELL team.

During the trainings, teachers were excited about how the SolarSPELL digital library will help them to transmit concepts better. Most teachers did not have tools and resources to illustrate concepts they were teaching. When they noticed illustrations of different concepts on the SolarSPELL digital library, they realized how useful that digital library can be in their teaching. One teacher during the trainings shared that, “With the SolarSPELL digital library, I will be able to teach in an understandable way the colors of metals.” He was a science teacher, and he has been having difficulties to communicate effectively different colors of metals to students because he did not have a visual representation. However, the SolarSPELL was for him a tool to express those ideas that can be best expressed through a visual representation.

Another aspect that appealed to schools was the fact that the SolarSPELL digital library contains localized information. In fact, many people in East-African communities think that when a new technology from the West is introduced, it usually suits the West. Therefore, many teachers during the trainings were subconsciously expecting to find on the digital library information relevant or useful to Western communities. However, when some teachers found resources in Kinyarwanda, the local language of Rwanda, on the digital library, they were excited because that language is part of their culture. In all the five schools in Rwanda, the common impact of the trainings was that schools realized, as an administrator of one school mentioned, that, “the SolarSPELL digital library is a tool schools can use to explain abstract concepts usually taught in classrooms concretely.”

The trainings were as well beneficial to the SolarSPELL team and to me personally. Through them, teachers supplied the SolarSPELL team with valuable constructive feedback on how to improve the SolarSPELL digital library to best fulfill the needs of communities in East-Africa. For me personally, the experience of conducting trainings was very rich. I was able to learn how to initiate professional conversations with people with different experiences and perspectives. I was also able to experience diversity of landscape and lifestyle by traveling in all provinces of Rwanda. It was as well an opportunity to meet new people. For example, it was such a great pleasure for me to discuss SolarSPELL with a woman I encountered on the side of the road when we had a flat tire. Furthermore, I was heavily humbled by the attitudes of people at the schools we visited. Most of the schools had limited facilities compared to facilities that are assisting me with my education. However, during the trainings, teachers were very motivated and eager to learn how the SolarSPELL digital library works. They still believed and held firmly on education as a way to transform communities.

Above all, the most humbling moment was when we arrived at every school and saw primary students enthusiastically running towards us to greet us. Despite their young age, they had the desire to learn about something new. Even though they did not know what we had come to do at their school, they were still ready to experience change. My hope is that through the SolarSPELL digital library, the curiosity and thirst for knowledge of those little children will be encouraged.