For the community, by the community

This article appeared in Issue 8 of Khanya – Education through Technology – 2006

One of the features of Khanya that sets it apart from many similar projects is the way it involves communities’ right from the outset. Shortly after a school has been identified for inclusion in the programme, a project manager will visit the school and start consulting with the school and the community. Initially, the community is represented by members of the governing body, but the other community members are brought into the loop later.

Why is this important? Consultation leads to involvement, which in turn leads to support. And schools do need the support of the community. The first aspect that springs to mind is the financial support that communities give and, in this regard, many communities must be commended for the wonderful way in which they are supporting their schools. It is not uncommon for a community to donate all the infrastructure requirements to the school. In other cases, physical labour is provided to remodel a classroom into a computer facility. The value of this early involvement lies in the fact that it fosters continued support. The term ‘sustainability’ is often heard. How does a poor school sustain itself, if not through the help of the immediate and broader communities? It therefore follows that this early involvement of communities is the foundation stone of ongoing sustainability.

The benefits to the school do not end with financial support. Burglaries in Khanya schools have been remarkably few. I do not believe that this is a coincidence. The communities are protecting the facilities, as they have taken ownership of them.

For any partnership to be really successful, it has to be beneficial to both parties. In the light of all that communities are giving to the school, the question begs to be asked: what can the community expect in return? Of course, one could reason that the reward lies in the fact that the learners, the children of the community, are benefiting from the technology in the computer facilities. But this need not be the only benefit.

To determine what these can be one needs to consider whether the computer facility can be direct or immediate benefit to the community?  Whether it is possible for the computer facilities to be used after school hours in the evenings or at weekends? And, naturally, who would benefit from broadening the scope of the facility in this way?

In some schools classes are offered to parents. There are also schools where computer courses are offered, leading to the acquisition if ICDL certificates. There may be unemployed individuals in the community who can be empowered through the ability to use technology and, in that way, become more employable. It is also possible that special afternoons or evenings can be arranged, where the learners bring their parents into the computer room to show them what they can do and, at the same time, expose their parents to the wonderful world of technology.

Of course, a great deal of planning and organisation is required for schools to be in a position to open their facilities to the public. There are logistical problems, such as ensuring that the facility is properly supervised. However, when one considers the contribution that the community makes and the extent to which its individual members can be enriched and empowered, one should go to any lengths to find a way in which the computer facility of a school can be made available to as many people as possible.

In this way, one can truly say that the Khanya facilities are: ‘for the community, by the community.’

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