In the spirit of empowerment

This article appeared in Issue 5 of Khanya – Education through Technology – 2004

Over the past three years, Khanya has been instrumental in helping more than 250 schools to become the proud owners of computer laboratories. During this period technology has advanced and taken new directions, and Khanya responded by becoming involved with open-source software, experimenting with electronic whiteboards, wireless connectivity and a host of other technology manifestations.

While technology is playing a major part in the project, we have been careful to continue focusing on the most important issue: the empowerment of people. The word ‘empowerment’ has been used, misused, and even abused over the past decade, but Khanya has consistently been doing justice to the spirit behind the word.

The goal of Khanya is to improve the quality of teaching and learning. When introducing technology at a school it is done with the realisation it is a foreign teaching medium to many of the educators. The first level of empowerment is, therefore, to place teachers in a position where they are comfortable with the use of computers. This implies a certain degree of computer literacy and Khanya facilitators are spending a fair amount of time providing such training.

That is not enough. Educators need to understand how to use technology to deliver curriculum and how to integrate the sessions in the computer lab with the other media of teaching available to them. It is at this secondary level of empowerment that Khanya excels by facilitators engaging with teachers over a long period until they are comfortable in using this new way of teaching.

As the learners are working through software modules and coming to grips with the maths, science and content in other learning areas, they are also developing important computer skills. When they leave school they are fully equipped to use a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation software, internet access, e-mail and other basic computer applications. Is this not what empowerment implies? Providing them with the ability to harness the power of technology in whatever career they may choose to pursue.

Khanya’s drive towards empowerment does not stop with educators and learners. Wherever possible, schools are encouraged to make their computer laboratories available to communities when the labs are not utilised by the school. In some cases, formal computer courses are offered to parents and other community members, hence empowering them to become part of the information society. In other instances vocational training is provided, equipping them with skills that make them more marketable.

There is, however, another form of empowerment often overlooked. Khanya has recently received international recognition for the way it assists and empowers communities to take charge of the sustainability of their technology facilities. We have moved away from the beggar-bowl attitude prevailing in many developing areas, and are assisting schools and surrounding communities to be innovative in supporting their computer installations. Communities gladly make generous contributions to the set-up and maintenance costs because they appreciate the benefits to the learners, educators and other members of the community.

Thank you to everyone who continues to support Khanya’s efforts.

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