During a Rotary club visit to Arusha, Tanzania in 2012, our founder, Jeanette Johnstone, visited a government school and found a serious lack of teaching resources. A trip to the local library found it full of serious students with no computers and a limited number of quality text books.
“Their desire for education really blew my mind but I was really, really confronted by the lack of opportunity for students outside the School of St Jude (where she had been staying while in Tanzania) and thought I’d like to put some effort into looking at different ways we might be able to assist,” Jeanette said.
While the internet may be seen by many to be the answer this was found not to be the case. The internet was too slow and too expensive to support proper online learning, and it was being reported that student results in the Tanzanian National Exams had dropped in places where students had access to the internet. (Presumably due to the distractions of social media). 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 mind.
Back in Australia she shared her idea with an inspired 19-year-old IT student volunteering at Computers 4 Learning, a Rotary project for which Jeanette also volunteered. Patrick Hackett had the skills, knowledge and enthusiasm to put her ideas into action – and a prototype version of Teacher in a Box, using a raspberry pi, was born.
“He loved the idea and my goodness we would not have got anywhere at all without him.” she said.
The initial raspberry pi server was placed in the Arusha Regional Library and other locations around Arusha 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.
Since then Teacher in a Box has partnered with several not-for profit organisations and the educational content continues to grow
It was on a 2015 trip to Tanzania to replace the Raspberry pi servers with Teacher in a Box (TIB) servers that another huge milestone was reached, the very first government schools had taken TIB and now thousands more kids would benefit from the huge selection of off-line content.
Some of these schools were revisited again 2 years later and it was found the schools that had embraced the technology and integrated the enhanced learning in their curriculum had performed exceptionally well in the national exams and the teachers remained overwhelmingly in support of it. This was all that we had hoped for.
We knew that we had a winning formula but it would be too inefficient and expensive for us to be tripping around the globe carrying out deployments. Instead we adapted our business model to restrict our focus to building and developing the Teacher in a Box servers and training and supporting other Rotarians and people from not-for-profit organisations to deploy Teacher in a Box servers into communities where children and students are disadvantaged by a lack of access to quality educational materials.
Part way along this journey Jeanette’s club, The Rotary Club of Paddington (formerly Planetarium), took on TIB as a major project. They provided a workshop (a converted shipping container) and have carried out numerous TIB deployments as well as funding the development of training and promotional materials.
The Arusha Secondary Day School, Tanzania. The Rotarian’s name is James Mepham from the Rotary Club of Warrnambool Central. Photos by Dr Louise North.