During a Drexel University fall Intensive Course Abroad program in Tanzania, an extraordinary collaboration between Drexel TechServ, the Drexel study abroad program and the nonprofit organization Tanzania Enlightenment Development Innovations Tanzania (a group of dedicated students and Tanzanian community members) built a computer lab at the Meringeni Secondary School, in northern Tanzania.
This partnership, as described by Senior Director of Education Abroad at the Office of Global Engagement, Ahaji Schreffler, was a combination of brainstorming in passing and very recent planning. It all started with Gloria Anderson, a Mandela Washington Fellow from Tanzania who came to Drexel for a six week intensive leadership training institute. Anderson, who is the leader of TEDI Tanzania, realized that the lack of digital literacy was very detrimental to Tanzanian students during the pandemic and that even if students did have access to electronic resources, using them was a different task.
Schreffler, who was the instructor of the ICA, describes the need for the computer labs across Tanzania: “A lot of the schools in Tanzania do not really provide ability or access for students to learn digital literacy, so that’s one of the pillars of [TEDI].” TEDI really focuses on “digital literacy, social entrepreneurship, skills and empowerment.”
Schreffler and Anderson came up with the idea at a summit for the Mandela Washington Fellowship program in Africa. After seeing that both of their interests aligned, they decided to pursue the computer lab implementation project at the Meringeni Secondary School, which was close to where the ICA would be staying during their visit. The program was able to be successfully implemented largely due to the sponsorship of the Drexel Study Abroad program (specifically Schreffler herself), the Lindy Center for Civic Engagement, and the Center for Black Culture.
In addition to these organizations, Schreffler enthusiastically noted another addition to the list of partners: “a layer of the local government” which played a huge role in expounding on the awareness of the project.
The computer lab, which consisted of 20 refurbished computers, was provided in part by Drexel TechServ, a student-run organization at Drexel committed to bridging the digital divide in Philadelphia communities. The duties of TechServ primarily consist of collecting old computers and refurbishing them for distribution to people in need. This was perfect for Schreffler, who at the time was working with TEDI to fundraise enough computers in the States to bring to Tanzania during the ICA and needed more to fill her quota. President of TechServ, Vince Cariello, emphasized how ideal the partnership was. The computers, which were installed with educational programs like Rachel (preloaded with educational content pulled from around the world) were intended to bridge gaps in digital literacy faced by schools in Tanzania. Schreffler described the perfect combination of events and partnerships that led to the unanticipated success of the program.
“We had originally planned on having a nice morning, maybe meeting some teachers like celebrate and say ‘yeah we did it’ and leave” said Schreffler. She soon realized that the small goal she had for the Tanzania computer lab had huge effects on the surrounding community. In a genius move, Anderson had contacted the Moshi district authority with the intention of inquiring about a school in the area that fit the profile of what she was looking for in regards to space and need for a computer lab. While she had merely informed them because of her unfamiliarity with the area of northern Tanzania, what happened next was something no one anticipated.
The Moshi district authority was so impressed by the impact of the project that they freshly painted the school and cleared the surrounding roads, making traveling throughout the community more accessible and the school more visually updated. They even pledged educational resources of their own to the effort and visited the school in an organized event. As word spread, the project and its incredible impact on the Moshi community was catapulted into national limelight. Soon enough, national Tanzanian news organizations reported on the Moshi District authority pledging “to collaborate with various education stakeholders in improving digital education to compliment the government’s efforts meant to improve digital education in the country.”
The project involved three main components as part of an organizational structure implemented by TEDI Tanzania. The first phase was implementation, so “she and her team travel to the school before we [the study abroad ICA] got there and they set up the laptops and installed the software there in addition to a server that was purchased as a part of the program.”
Phase two involved the TEDI team staying with the school for five days to train the teachers on how to use the devices and software, teaching digital literacy and teaching some of the students. Phase three will be implemented once the devices are there and have been used for a period of time.
“TEDI will then work with the school to start a student club, it’s kind of like a tech club,” said Schreffler. The important part of all of this is the idea of the students taking ownership of their own digital literacy and realizing the importance of it, this part was essential.
As Schreffler went on, it became apparent that the effects of this computer lab were far more symbolic than anyone had imagined. Not only were students now empowered with educational resources that would improve their digital literacy, they now had access to other things like online textbooks, which were unavailable to them as paper books. Students used these online textbooks to prepare for their national exams and the results were incredible.
“There was some 90 to even 100 percent pass rate for these students,” said Schreffler.
The incredible success of the program has prompted both Schreffler and the TechServ team to think about their next steps with continuing this computer lab implementation program. In the case of Schreffler, although there are ample schools in need of the resources, the biggest issue she is now facing is the international shipping cost of these computers from the United States to Tanzania, prompting her to consider additional fundraising options in the Drexel community.
The goal, she said “is to essentially have like Drexel-sponsored computer labs at other schools around the country.”
Cariello on the other hand, has already started the process for a similar project with Liberia, but in addition to being a computer lab for just student use, this new project focused on resources that could be useful for the entire community, things like “Microsoft Office and digital resources” that could be used for every-day life.
While both Drexel TechServ and Schreffler could never have anticipated this project to be taken so far, the plans they have for furthering the project are intended to make an even bigger impact in communities around Africa.