Humbled by patience

June 2010


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Tanzania-based ICT training adviser INNES RITCHIE is finding good teaching and learning can still take place even when conditions are less than ideal

After just a couple of months on a VSA assignment at the Agape Learning Center in Moshi, Tanzania, I’m not going to attempt a complete description of life there. I don’t think I yet understand enough about how it works, or the roles people have. I’m trying to watch and listen and not jump to any hasty conclusions.

However it’s clear that it’s a totally different work environment from any I have experienced in New Zealand or Britain – though, in terms of equipment, there may be some similarities with places I worked in Poland and Bulgaria in the early 90s.

The first challenge for me is the technology. The computers are old and the keyboards come from Sweden, so many keys don’t match their function. Finding a ‘?’ is a matter of trial and error each time. Most of the machines are virus-ridden – I’m not sure yet if this is due to inadequate anti-virus software or just poor working practices.

But the main issue is the electricity supply. The power goes off most days for several hours or just a few minutes. The centre can’t afford anti-surge or power failure protection so there are constant issues with corrupted data and operating systems as well as the breaks in teaching.

No one in New Zealand would attempt to run an ICT training centre under these circumstances, but somehow it works here at Agape. Students and staff accept the power outages with no apparent frustration.

I am learning that concepts of time are different here. In Africa, waiting is part of everyday life. I have seen 20 students sitting quietly in front of blank screens waiting for hours for them to come on again.

For an individual student this means the length of their training course is determined not by the number of calendar days but by the progress made. So a two-week course relates to the concept of amount of content, not to the time taken studying it. The full-time tutor decides when someone is ready to take the test that marks completion of the course and this doesn’t happen until they are satisfied the student is familiar with everything.

This flexible approach means all students get a very good grounding in their courses and the tuition is based on helping the individual student make the most of the opportunity available.

I guess that’s the essence of good teaching anywhere and I have been humbled to see it in operation in this small, under-resourced learning centre in Moshi.