Guest post: Digital resources have the capacity to close the education deficit—so why haven’t they already?

Technologies available today equip us with tools to finally close the education gap, in both access and quality, for good—but they also have the capacity to widen it. 

We’ve seen it over and over again: laptops, projectors, tablets, apps dumped in schools with the promise of a ’silver bullet solution’. One year, maybe even just months later, they are sitting dusty, often broken, in the corner; the school no better off than it was before.

It is no secret that there is a gap in the world of education, particularly for the global south. Under the Millennium Development Goals, significant progress has been made in access to primary education. Shockingly, though, the numbers of children out of school are still rising (a). While the responsibility to make education accessible to all remains, the focus of the international community is shifting to improve education quality, an equally difficult task to accomplish.

As we embark on the journey to address these pressing challenges, technological progress has provided new ways to make these goals a reality. Technologies available today equip us with tools to finally close the education gap, in both access and quality, for good—but they also have the capacity to widen it.

The Hello Hub in Kidubuli, Uganda, is used more than 20 hours per day. 

The Hello Hub in Kidubuli, Uganda, is used more than 20 hours per day. 

What degree children benefit from this technology is predicated on how effectively it is implemented. The methods used to integrate these tools in and out of the classroom are as important as the potential of the tools themselves.

At Project Hello World we have introduced Hello Hub, energy autonomous, outdoor, internet-enabled kiosks loaded with education software. They are located in some of the most remote and isolated areas of the world. We have built Hello Hubs in villages in Uganda and Nigeria, where hubs often create access to education for the very first time. We have also built Hello Hubs in the centre of school courtyards, where incorporation in the classroom is leading to higher quality education. Throughout the process we have learned both the potential and longevity of impact of technology for learning.

Consistent community involvement, whether in a school or a remote village, is essential for the utilization and sustainability of any solution. This involvement begins at the onset of each project and does not end. Ever. From construction, to maintenance, to use-sharing, community members take charge in running their Hello Hub. This creates ownership and investment from each member of the community, whether they are enrolled in school or not, which is essential for the disenfranchised, most vulnerable members of any community.

Children enjoying an educational game at the Hello Hub in Tooro, Uganda

Children enjoying an educational game at the Hello Hub in Tooro, Uganda

When ownership takes place, users utilize new technology in a more invested way, regardless of the environment. This investment transforms learning from memorization to exploration, as they interact with information through curiosity while concurrently developing both hard and soft skills relevant for the labour market of the 21st century. Learners collaborate with peers in a more organic, less isolated, fashion - discussing and understanding with intention. This investment flips the learning environment by design, and empowers users to guide their own learning—complementing effective practice in the classroom and extending it to the world outside of it.

The Hello Hub Community Portal is a pivotal resource that enables these outcomes to happen. It is a place where learners of all ages can connect, enjoy structured learning, and contribute their voice to the community and to other hubs around the globe. The inclusive and open nature of the Hubs makes them an understood and welcome resource for all stakeholders in a child’s education. It is through this methodology that Hello Hubs provide access to education where it is not available, while improving quality in areas where formal education is already widespread.

The Hello Hub allows youth, children and adults to learn with and from each other.

The Hello Hub allows youth, children and adults to learn with and from each other.

We have begun to see that the potential of a child’s mind is infinite when limitations are removed. Hello Hubs are in constant use—19.2 hours per day on average. Users, even without guidance, are making tangible progress across all forms of educational attainment. On average, users’ digital literacy proficiency increases 175.46%. And if the results are similar to other self-organized learning research, we expect to see content assimilation, literacy progression (b), and numeracy (c) soar. As we track the impact of these projects, we also have the opportunity to measure unique predictors of educational progress, such as empathy, critical thinking, and problem solving—all key attributes of a successful learner.

As we move to incorporate technology in educational policy and work to mobilize national technology solutions, we must realize the work does not end here. In fact, the work has only just begun. Simply introducing the technology is no longer enough. Technologies must be incorporated into community life and integrated with intention into educational processes. With this approach, information and communications technologies become tools that can achieve both an inclusive and equitable education for all.

by Drew Edwards, Manager Project Hello World

Sources:
(a)
UNESCO Institute for Statistics (2015). A growing number of children and adolescents are out of school as aid fails to meet the mark.
(b) Cronjé, Johannes C. and Burger, Dirk (2006). “Learning from a free-access digital information kiosk in Africa: An objectivist-constructivist investigation”. Aslib Proceedings, 2006, 58(3), 218-236.
(c) Inamdar, Parimala and Kulkarni, Arun (2007). 'Hole-In-The-Wall' computer kiosks foster mathematics achievement: A comparative study. Educational Technology & Society, 10 (2), 170-179.

First published on the UNESCO IIEP Learning Portal, January 2017.

Guest post: Can Internet kiosks facilitate meaningful learning in remote places?

The Avenues mission reminds us that being part of our school means both focusing on the lives of our students and shaping education on a global scale beyond campus walls.

Children at the Hello Hub in Kidubuli, Uganda

Children at the Hello Hub in Kidubuli, Uganda

Project Hello World is a non-profit organisation based in the United Kingdom. It helps communities in remote regions of the world build solar-powered Internet kiosks to support learning, often in the absence of teachers and schools. Inspired by the work of Sugata Mitra, "Hello Hubs", as they are called, promote a model of learning called learner-directed collaborative engagement. This means that a small number of students control the kiosk while others watch and co-direct. The surrounding students learn through vicarious engagement with the kiosk. 

In June 2016, Avenues began working with Project Hello World to extend their curriculum development, educational research, and design and engineering efforts. In addition to this research and development, Avenues students built a Hello Hub in New York later that year with the support of teachers Katy Garnier and Ivan Cestero, school leadership, and the Project Hello World team. This presented students of Avenues with an unprecedented opportunity to engage through the network of Hello Hubs and learn with peers living in remote regions of the world.

Research Summary

Can Internet kiosks facilitate meaningful learning in remote places? The existing research, though preliminary, suggests it can.

Can students learn to use a computer without taking classes?

Three groups of students ages 12 to 13 were selected randomly from four sites across India. Group A (31 students) had a kiosk but no computer classes. Group B (31 students) had neither kiosk nor computer classes. Group C (42 students) had both kiosks and computer classes.

After the kiosk had been in the villages for at least one year, all students were given the eighth grade computer science examination, which is a 70-minute practical examination, 90-minute written and five-minute oral theory exam. A month before the exam, all students were given the computer textbook so they could prepare.

Results

  • In the practical exam (35% is passing):
    Group A (no class, yes kiosk) scored an average of 58%
    Group B (no class, no kiosk) scored an average of 5%
    Group C (yes class, yes kiosk) scored an average of 55%
  • In the theory exam (35% is passing):
    Group A (no class, yes kiosk) scored an average of 41.67%
    Group B (no class, no kiosk) scored an average of 12%
    Group C (yes class, yes kiosk) scored an average of 55%

In the practical exams, students who only had access to a kiosk scored higher on the exam than those who had computer classes. In the theory exam, those students with only a kiosk scored only slightly lower than those who took computer classes.

What kinds of learning can learner-directed collaborative engagement support?

116 children ages four to eight were tested from two different villages in India on three basic measures:

  1. Test for intelligence: Raven’s Standard Progressive Matrices (SPMRS)
  2. Test for personality: Catell’s High School Personality Questionnaire. The composite scores on leadership potential (LP) and creativity potential (CP)
  3. Test for kiosk usage: Frequency of Usage Test (FUT) survey.

Based on the results of the frequency of usage, students were divided into frequent (62) and infrequent (54) usage groups. School examination scores in mathematics, science and English were compared between frequent and infrequent users when the kiosk was installed and again two-and-a-half years later.

Results

  • In one village, frequent visitors scored higher on the intelligence test than infrequent visitors (62 vs. 54, p < .05).
  • Changes in mathematics scores were significantly improved with frequent versus infrequent users (3.16, p < .05), but improvements in science and English were not statistically significant.

Although we do not know exactly how students used the kiosk, more frequent use appears to aid learning mathematics, but not all subjects. This subject difference could be because math applications were more frequently used than other subjects, or because of the quality of the instructional materials.

Can a group of students meaningfully learn by watching one student engage?

Since many kiosks use learner-directed collaborative engagement, it is important to know the educational benefits of observing another learner. In one study, 80 randomly selected Japanese students learning English were paired based on their English and video game playing abilities. A music video game in English was selected. One student played for 20 minutes while the other watched, and this was repeated five times with breaks. Students were tested on 41 vocabulary items from the game both immediately after playing and two weeks later.

A young man helps three girls at the Hello Hub in St. James, Uganda, with some research. 

A young man helps three girls at the Hello Hub in St. James, Uganda, with some research. 

Results

  • On average, watchers recalled 3X more vocabulary items than the players (21.70 vs. 7.23, p < .05).
  • The recall test two weeks later also revealed that watchers remembered 3X more vocabulary items the players (16.13 vs. 5.15, p < .05)

Students who watched another student play learned vicariously and were better able to recall the vocabulary in the video game. This flies in the face of traditional thinking, which holds that personal engagement trumps passive observation. One possible explanation for this is that students playing the game had increased cognitive load—that is, the game mechanics distracted—reducing the cognitive resources available to concentrate on vocabulary. Additionally, it appears that vicarious engagement in this model is higher than typical passive observation, and it also created a safe, motivating context for watchers to participate and learn.

Avenues Research

This research shows promise, but it is new and preliminary. The Avenues-Project Hello World partnership aims to extend and strengthen this research base: to understand how technology can best benefit these students academically and emotionally; to document and research the challenges associated with technology-based learning in remote places; and to enhance the usability and reliability of the Hello Hubs themselves. We are combining this rigorous research with hands-on work that focuses the efforts of our students, the Avenues team and the people and communities of Project Hello World. This partnership holds the potential to meld new technologies with the much older values of community and service, offering new paths for children to learn worldwide.

Sources

  • “Hope‐in‐the‐Wall? A digital promise for free learning” by Payal Arora, British Journal of Educational Technology, 2010, 41(5), 689-702.
  • “Learning from a free-access digital information kiosk in Africa: An objectivist-constructivist investigation” by Johannes C. Cronjé & Dirk Burger, Aslib Proceedings, 2006, 58(3), 218-236.
  • “A model of how children acquire computing skills from hole-in-the-wall computers in public places” by Rhitu Dangwal, Swati Jha, Shiffon Chatterjee, & Sugata Mitra, Information Technologies & International Development, 2005, 2(4), 41.
  • “The relationship between environmental factors and usage behaviors at ‘Hole-in-the-wall’ computers” by Jennifer DeBoer, International journal of educational development, 2009, 29(1), 91-98.
  • “An initial investigation to voluntary and unstructured access to computing” by Rita Grobler, 2005
  • “Application usage of unsupervised digital doorway computer kiosks in remote locations in South Africa” by Kim Gush Ruth de Villiers, Proceedings of the 2010 Annual Research Conference of the South African Institute of Computer Scientists and Information Technologists, 2010, 93-103.
  • “Computer skills development by children using’hole in the wall’facilities in rural India” by Parimala Inamdar, Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 2004, 20(3), 337-350.
  • “Hole-In-The-Wall’ Computer Kiosks Foster Mathematics Achievement-A comparative study” by Parimala Inamdar & Arun Kulkarni, Educational Technology & Society, 2007, 10(2), 170-179.
  • “The effect of interactivity with a music video game on second language vocabulary recall” by Katsuko Kuwada, About Language Learning & Technology, 2010, June, 74.
  • Children’s acquisition of computer literacy skills in the Mamelodi Digital Doorway Project by Mmankoko Ziphorah Morolo, Doctoral dissertation, University of Pretoria, 2007.

By Gray Matters, the research and development group at Avenues: The World School, New York, dedicated to providing research-based answers to common faculty questions. (This blog post has first been published in November 2016 on OPEN, the news and discussion blog of Avenues: The World School.)

Working together in New York, and in the field: Hello World and Avenues: The World School

End of last year, Project Hello World and Avenues: The World School, New York, began a partnership to make quality education accessible to all. Our collaboration is wide-ranging, and covers research, development, and programming. The partnership brings together the development expertise of Hello World and the educational innovation of Avenues.

STUDEnts of avenues: the world school are building a hello hub in class.  

STUDEnts of avenues: the world school are building a hello hub in class.  

The common goal of this collaboration is to understand how technology can benefit students academically and on a social level, and to document and research the challenges associated with technology-based learning in remote places. Together, we also aim to enhance the usability and reliability of our Internet kiosks, the Hello Hubs.

In November, the Project Hello World team travelled to New York to put their ideas into practice. With a focus on student-driven learning we aimed to find out exactly how and what students learn when using the Hello Hubs.
 

"Our collaboration is wide-ranging."


Our team became part of the Avenues community both in and out of the classroom. We taught alongside Avenues teachers in classes on Design and Engineering, Programming, and Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Together we built a Hello Hub in the Tech Incubation class—the first ever Hub in North America. Between classes we had speaking engagements with parents, staff and students that highlighted our work at Project Hello World.  

During our two weeks at the school we were able to refine our development objectives and we added a new dimension to the Avenues community. Our partnership will enable students from Avenues and students at the Hello Hubs to connect via the Internet and to maintain this important and ground-breaking connection for years to come.

Drew Edwards, Manager Project Hello World

“We are really starting to see the true value of the Hello Hubs—and this is only the beginning."

As Project Manager of Hello World, Drew Edwards is at the heart of the organisation’s operations. He liaises with communities, government officials and suppliers, and he orchestrates logistics.

"Every organisation in our sector is working with fewer resources than they need and carrying heavier workloads than they ought in the pursuit of worthy missions. Recently, we got a glimpse into the output of our work, seeing impact beginning to blossom." The Hubs have now become an integral part of each community’s education system. So successful have they been that parents and teachers alike are now pushing for the Hubs to play a bigger role in schools, which is exactly what was hoped for when the initial concept was formed.

Students of St. James Primary School, Uganda, work with their teacher at the Hello Hub. 

Students of St. James Primary School, Uganda, work with their teacher at the Hello Hub. 

“Our Hubs are assembled by the communities that use them, creating a sense of ownership and appreciation that is instilled right from the beginning”, says Drew. “Each Hub is a complex and intimidating machine at first, and the process of putting one together can often take a couple of weeks. During this time communities are taught not only how to repair it, should it break down, but they can ask questions about what they can achieve with the Hub. The two-week build period gets them excited about the prospect of learning."

"Hello Hubs are active for an average of 19 hours every day."

Hello World’s figures indicate that the Hello Hubs are active for an average of 19 hours every day, which is remarkable given that they are located outdoors and placed in communities that do not always have electricity. On average there are eight people around the Hub during any one session, something which Drew regards as “very encouraging”. He adds, “Not only does this show that people are looking to absorb knowledge even if they are not at the helm, it also means that sharing and collaboration are being successfully fostered, and it is likely that discussions and debates about the content are happening during these sessions."

Drew also believes the Hello Hubs are helping people gain knowledge, while also ensuring that everyone becomes more aware of the idea that not everything should be taken at face value, that it is good to ask questions. “The Internet is extraordinary, but an important lesson is learned  when people realise that not every article or statistic should automatically be regarded as accurate”, says Drew. “Once people, and especially children, begin to question the reliability of the information they are seeing, they start approaching all matters of life with a more critical eye, and it is amazing to see such a development taking place."

According to Drew, something that has become clear in each of the communities is that children are often taking the lead on how the Hello Hubs are used. Children are beating the adults in acquiring new skills like computer proficiency and competency in typing—and so they are taking charge.

By learning TOGETHER at the Hello hubs, the children also acquire important social skills. 

By learning TOGETHER at the Hello hubs, the children also acquire important social skills. 

The staff of Hello World speak at length with each community prior to a build so that they understand what a Hello Hub does and what its potential benefits are. Drew believes this to be a vital means of building trust, forging relationships and discovering how the Hubs will be used. “What we have seen is that, not only do the Hubs have the capacity to expand school curriculums, but they are also being used to find and apply for jobs hundreds of miles away”, says Drew. “Something as simple as access to the Internet can genuinely increase opportunities and expand horizons."

"The Hubs have the capacity to expand school curriculums."

The next big Hub-related challenge will be to analyse the data that has been collected from the current installations. By understanding how people are learning, what they are learning, which features they find valuable and which are not being used, Drew and his team will be able to tailor the Hubs to make them as beneficial as possible.

“We are taking steps into the unknown with this project”, admits Drew. “Every day I am gaining a better understanding of what can be done and how we can make the most significant impact. There are a lot of other objectives we would like to hit further down the line, such as measuring literacy progression and determining how we can customise each device to better serve individual communities.

Drew is confident that the Hello Hubs will become even more valuable as improvements continue to be implemented. He also believes that the success of the Hubs shows that there is an appetitive for this form of education, and that it works.

“What we have done so far proves the concept is valid. What we now want is to be able to go to investors, or possibly even government officials, and show them data that backs up what we have been saying for years: that our Hello Hubs are a viable educational tool, and they have the power to make a real difference to people’s lives.”

How a TED Talk by Sugata Mitra inspired a 'school in the cloud' for Africa, and beyond…

Three and a half years ago, Katrin Macmillan watched the TED Prize 2013 talk by Sugata Mitra, Professor of Educational Technology at Newcastle University, in which he discussed his ‘Hole in the Wall’ research project and stated his ambition to build a ‘school in the cloud’. Mitra wanted to find out if children who have little or no access to education could educate themselves, simply by having access to the Internet. The children exceeded his expectations—and his TED talk became the inspiration and motivation for Katrin to start Project Hello World.

In response to Professor Mitra’s innovative concept of self-organised digital learning, Project Hello World developed a solar-powered outdoor Internet kiosk, the Hello Hub. Each Hub is WiFi-enabled and is loaded with educational software and applications. With unlimited access to state-of-the-art technology, children who lack formal schooling have an opportunity to shape their own learning and thereby create a brighter future for themselves, and their communities.

Because of its principles of community engagement, sustainability and open source sharing of its technical designs, Hello World challenges traditional notions of development work. The project has initiated a new approach to learning, with just one goal in mind: to end the education deficit across the globe.

Critical research on the impact of child-led digital learning and the Hello Hubs is still at an early stage. A new and important collaboration between Project Hello World and SOLE Central, Professor Mitra’s centre for research and practice at Newcastle University, will now enable ongoing evaluation of the effectiveness of the Hello Hubs and their impact on the communities they serve.

Sugata Mitra and Katrin Macmillan talk about child-led digital education and Project Hello World

SOLE Central ‘s work is based on fourteen years of research expertise which has shown that children with access to the Internet can learn almost anything. These self-organised learning environments (SOLEs) allow students to learn collaboratively using the Internet. They also provide invaluable data for future research and development.

This partnership will see SOLE Central experiment further with self-organised learning at established Hello Hub projects in African communities. The data on usage and educational attainment will be collected and analysed by the research experts at the University.

By this means SOLE and Project Hello World will create even more efficient Hello Hubs to provide children in developing countries with access to education. The process of refining and improving our work never ends. 

“This partnership is proof that sometimes all it takes to create real change is to respond to a bold call for a better world,” says Katrin Macmillan. “I saw Sugata Mitra on TED and, even though I didn’t know at that point how to reach a feasible system for universal education, I knew that we had to try. So we set out to answer Sugata's challenge to reach all children with a ‘school in the cloud’. Three years and five Hello Hubs later, we can say that we are on our way to achieving that goal.” 

To find out more about how Sugata’s TED Talk that inspired Project Hello World please read the blog post by Duncan McMillan, advisor to Projects For All.


About SOLE Central and the School in the Cloud Project: 

SOLE Central is the global hub for research and practice into self-organised learning environments (SOLEs) at Newcastle University, UK, bringing together researchers, practitioners, policy makers and entrepreneurs.

School in the Cloud is learning at the edge of chaos; a place where children come together to discover and explore self-organised learning (SOLE). It aims to inspire them to become creative and curious problem-solvers who have the confidence and skills they need to tap into the global network of knowledge. It is a project within SOLE Central. 

Project Hello World and Avenues: The World School: Partners in taking on the education deficit

Living in New York City, one of the most technologically savvy places on the planet, and being part of the Avenues community with access to the most state-of-the art-technology and educational resources available, it’s easy to forget what life was like before the Internet. It wasn’t that long ago that newspapers were bought from a vendor, long distance phone calls were prohibitively expensive and writing to someone meant handwritten letters that could take weeks to arrive. The Internet has transformed our lives.

But that isn’t necessarily true across the world. For many people, unlimited access to information is unimaginable. Checking emails is neither a concern nor a possibility; verifying a news source or a health scare is not an option; taking a course online is impossible. 

And yet, communities without Internet access are perhaps those who need it the most. The Internet can be used for education, health and nutrition research, connecting to the world, finding lost relatives, advocating for our human rights, sharing and creating news, solving problems and so much more. It is critically needed in developing communities that want to improve the lives of their inhabitants.

Helping to build the Hello Hub in Kidubuli.

Helping to build the Hello Hub in Kidubuli.

In these communities, connectivity could make a huge impact. Mobile networks are rapidly increasing in size and coverage, and this growth has paved the way for a connected future. But there is a long way to go. 

Project Hello World, a project run by the UK-US human rights organization Projects For All, is on a mission to bring education to all and to end the global education deficit. By building Internet kiosks called “Hello Hubs,” which are focused on remote places that do not have schools or only have the most basic educational resources, Project Hello World makes access to information and educational resources a reality for thousands of people in the communities.

At Project Hello World’s Hello Hub in Kidubuli, Uganda.

At Project Hello World’s Hello Hub in Kidubuli, Uganda.

Avenues is thrilled to welcome the Project Hello World team to New York, to work with our students, faculty and staff over the next two weeks. Students throughout the school will be building a “stripped-down” version of a Hello Hub, learning about community-led projects and gaining insight into what it’s like to build something for real-world use that is truly life changing for people in remote and marginalized communities. The Avenues faculty will continue to support Project Hello World in designing research, data tools and new communication and design materials to help the organization grow and reach their mission to bring education for all.

Parents are welcome to stop by the ninth floor to see the Hello Hub build in progress, and please join Projects For All’s Katrin MacMillan and Roland Wells at 7:00 p.m. on November 9 in the Black Box Theater to learn more about the organization and the work we are collaborating on. We are also looking forward to the SXSWedu panel in March 2017, where we will present and discuss together our research findings and share the impact being made in education in remote communities.

By Faith Rosen
Director of Product Management, Avenues: The World School
(This post was first published in OPEN, the news and discussion blog of Avenues: The World School)

For more information on Avenues: The World School, please visit here

How Project Hello World is supporting Africa’s young entrepreneurs

We spoke to Emmanuel Tuhairwee, an innovative tour guide and sustainable tourism activist from Uganda, whose life has been transformed since the introduction of a Hello Hub in his village, Kidubuli, in October 2015.

“I am the founder and director of Trek Rwenzori Tours, a travel company I set up not only to help local people get jobs and guarantee that tourists see more of our beautiful country, but also to tackle the environmental challenges in Uganda. We use the profits from our tours to support conservation and protection projects, as well as helping to educate young people so they can make informed decisions that will benefit the environment.

One of the main reasons I decided to start my own company was because people who work in tour companies receive much better wages than those working in other industries, such as hotels. I wanted to help more people in the community to live better lives, and a tour company seemed like the right idea to support this. I used to work in hotels and one thing I realised was that very often employees weren’t being paid the right salary. It really wasn’t good for a lot of people and I didn’t like that.

I started my business at the beginning of 2015. I had been working for a tour company, but what I really wanted was to run my own. If it wasn’t for the Hello Hub coming to Kidubuli and giving me access to the Internet, then I wouldn’t have been able to build a website and to progress my idea as quickly as I actually have been able to.

“How can we have Internet if we don’t even have power?”

The first time I heard that we were going to get Internet in my village I couldn’t quite believe it. We were told during a village meeting in 2015, held by Projects For All, and all I could think was “How can we have Internet if we don’t even have power?” Also, Internet in Uganda is very expensive and we are poor people. It didn’t seem like it could happen.

But at the next community meeting I saw it for myself: I was able to access the Internet. I managed to get on Skype. It was a great moment. Everyone was very excited, but most people still weren’t too sure what the Internet was or why it could make such a big difference. I decided to support the team around Project Hello World and teach people in my community, particularly the children, about the importance of the Internet. I wanted to show them what they could do with the help of the Hello Hub.

The Hub is now so popular that people from surrounding villages come to Kidubuli to use the Internet, so I also teach them. We have made many new friends this way and it has definitely connected the whole community and is bringing lots of villages together.

"The Hello Hub has definitely connected the whole community."

The Hello Hub is a very important part of my life. I use it every day to check my emails, surf the web and run my business. Before I was able to access the Internet in this way, I would have had to travel for a long time to find an Internet café – now things are much easier. The Hub has helped me set up my business and given me the chance to build a website so people can find out about the tours we have on offer. I even have my own page on Tripadvisor now! All this has been vital to making my company grow.

The Hub has been such a success that we have had to introduce 20-minute slots so we can ensure everyone is able to get online when they need to. Before it arrived around 90% of the people in my village were computer illiterate. Now, because we have the Internet and because we are teaching and educating everyone about websites and programs, nearly everybody can at least perform basic tasks on a computer. It’s amazing how quickly people have been able to learn, and it’s great to see them so enthusiastic about discovering new things.

"Without the Hello Hub I have no idea where my business would be now."

Everything has moved very quickly for me and I am so pleased with how things are coming together. I am now in the position where tours attract so many tourists that I am looking to build a lodge to also offer accommodation. We are also going to expand the tours we do; we have hired cars and motorcycles so we can take tourists to many different areas. And we will be going to a build a botanical garden! Not only will it be popular for tourists, but we believe that there are many scientists that will be interested to come and examine the wonderful flora of Uganda. We expect all of this will be completed within two to three years.

Without the Hello Hub I have no idea where my business would be now, but I know for sure it wouldn’t be this successful. From my point of view, it has been fantastic having access to the Internet. And for the local community, it has been an incredible learning experience. It’s something we could never have imagined, and it has definitely changed our lives for the better.”

More information on Emmanuel and his business can be found here.
Trek Rwenzori Tours
Tripadvisor

Are digital resources making a real impact? Panel discussion gives insights into experiences and perspectives.

Last week, Project Hello World was invited to a google hangout panel discussion addressing the question of how digital resources are making an impact in the context of development work. The panel was co-hosted by the Center for Education Innovations (CEI), and the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE). Drew Edwards, Manager Project Hello World, was one of the panel members, together with Alexandra Iselin Waldhorn, Communications Officer at UNESCO's International Institute for Educational Planning, and James Centenera, Co-Founder and CEO of The Ultimate Learning Accelerator (TULA).

The conversation revealed interesting insights into the experiences and perspectives of the three organisations, particularly with regards to learning platforms and portals. Drew Edwards presented the distinctive approach of Hello World which, due to the unique self-organised learning environment that is generated by the Hello Hubs, is markedly different from other education projects in the field.   

Inclusion is key

Despite the variation in programs that the panel members facilitate, they all agreed that inclusion is key when working with communities in the field. Involving stakeholders in the design and implementation of any technology is crucial for the long-term success of any development project. Platforms and portals that are disconnected from the users, their needs and requirements, are destined to fail. Project Hello World has understood this from the outset and constantly adapts its product, the Hello Hub, to the demands of the users. This approach, together with the concept of rapid prototyping, has led to the longevity and depth of use that can be seen in every community Hello World operates in.                                                              

The process of introducing these kinds of technology, and making them widely accessible to developing communities, is at a very early stage. The platforms that are being developed and introduced into these communities require constant re-evaluation, rapid prototyping, and input from the stakeholders as these two worlds collide, in many ways, for the first time. Traditional community expertise and new technology can combine to create a powerful force for good.

A pioneer in connecting communities to digital resources

As evidenced by the panel itself, Project Hello World is one of the pioneers in connecting communities to these amazing educational resources that have the ability to liberate learners and educators of all kinds, and give a voice to those communities that are disconnected from the global conversation. We are thankful for the opportunity to have shared our experience and knowledge with our colleagues, as we continue to work together to leverage the minds and technology on offer, and to make the world a better, fairer and richer place for all people. 

By Drew Edwards and Monika Hubbard

Liz Smith visits Uganda: “The Hello Hubs open up the World.”

Very often, it is pure coincidence that we meet the people who become involved in Projects For All. One of those serendipitous moments occurred when Liz Smith from New York City read an article about the Bottles to Buildings project that Katrin Macmillan set up in Nigeria. At that time, Liz was working on a project in Tanzania to recycle plastic bottles into bags for Whole Foods. She contacted Katrin to exchange ideas, and soon the two women started to think about what the next generation of these projects could be. It was through these conversations that they developed Bottles to Blankets, a business plan aimed at recycling plastics and creating jobs in Africa, while supplying refugees with fleece blankets. Even though they haven’t yet found the funding to launch this project, they remain friends and supporters of each other’s work.

 Liz has a personal interest in solutions with "cross-cutting impact”

Having heard so much about Project Hello World from Katrin, Liz was eager to see it in real life. Liz works in international development and she has a personal interest in solutions with what she describes as "cross-cutting impact”. So, just a few weeks ago, she booked a ticket to Kampala. “I needed a break and change of scenery”, says Liz, who is in the midst of launching the start-up EYElliance, a multi-stakeholder initiative dedicated to increasing access to eyeglasses.

"Access to a Hello Hub can transform lives."

Although work back home in the US got in the way of touring Uganda as extensively as planned, Liz visited Tooro, St. James and Kidubuli and spent a lot of time with the communities. She visited the site where the new school in Kidubuli is being built and met with both Father Sylvanus and Josephine, the headmaster of the current school. Liz received a very warm welcome from the students who have fond memories of the day when Katrin Macmillan visited to teach them. Liz also had a few adventures in Fort Portal including a hike with Tabu that included a brief but frightening encounter with a 4m long snake!

Seeing the Hello Hubs, and the communities interacting with them, was one of the highlights of the trip. Liz commented that “the lack of opportunity in Kidubuli was surprising – and I am no stranger to remote and impoverished communities. The children in this community have no clear pathway to change their lives. It’s in settings like this that access to a Hub can literally transform lives." For Liz, the Hello Hubs are the most beautiful example of how one simple idea – albeit complex in its design – can connect people, promote educational opportunities, and increase gender equality and social inclusion of those children who are not enrolled in school.

"Hello Hubs will have a far reaching impact."

When Liz embarked on her trip three weeks ago, she wanted to find the answer to one question: Can Project Hello World really achieve what we all hope for? “After seeing the Hubs in action,” she says, “I have no doubt that not only will they deliver on the opportunity of improved educational outcomes, but they will also have a far reaching impact on the entire community that we can’t even predict.” 

By Monika Hubbard

Drew Edwards talks about his new role as Manager Project Hello World, and the past, present and future of the project and the Hello Hubs.

As the new Manager of Project Hello World, Drew Edwards is no stranger to either the organisation or the project. In his position as Director of International Operations and Co-Founder of Pangea Educational Development (PED), he worked closely with the team of Projects For All to plan, build and manage their four Hello Hubs in Uganda.

Drew’s first encounter with Hello World was in 2014 through his cousin Steve Tiseo, CEO of design agency Friendly Vengeance. Steve met Katrin Macmillan and Roland Wells at the SXSW Interactive Festival in Austin/Texas, after listening to their panel discussion on Digitally Democratising Education. “Steve introduced us and we connected straight away,” remembers Drew, “Projects For All was looking for places in Africa to roll-out Hello World, and we at PED were trying to give our communities access to computers and reach more children who were out of school. The missions of our organisations synced seamlessly – and so we partnered."

“What I liked about the project was its approach.

It wasn’t until Drew took part in the first build in Kidubuli that he fully understood the Hello Hub’s potential. "Initially, I didn’t really get it!” he laughs, thinking back, “I did not fully understand what a Hello Hub looks like, how it operates and how people use it. But what I liked about the project was its approach.” Community-led development is one of the core principles of Projects For All when embarking on new projects, and Hello World is no exception. “When community members are engaged in the process from the start, and are the ones who invite the project because they have some interest in it, they make an ongoing investment. And that builds sustainability, social accountability, and security.” For Drew, these are important aspects of development work, whose founding organisation PED has just won the 2016 GoAbroad Innovation in Sustainability Award. “If you look at the approach of Projects For All, combined with this incredible machine that is self-sustaining because it is solar-powered and that community members can use for whatever they find valuable – I don’t think one needs a whole lot of convincing,” he says.

But such an approach doesn’t come without its challenges. For Drew, the most stressful part of the project is the building of the Hubs. "Compared to other development projects, Hello World is not about control and applying your skill set to accomplishing a project, and then handing it over. It is about embracing something that is entirely new to someone and showing its value,” he explains, “It is about involving communities in the process and encouraging them to engage in something they don’t know.” The difficulty with all educational projects is that it is about guiding the end-user through the process in the hope of transformation. This can be a slow, incremental process with many steps back, and maybe a few more steps forward – but maybe that is what makes it so worthwhile. “You create these wonderful relationships with the communities,“ says Drew, “and you can see the continuous growth. Nothing can beat that feeling of accomplishment.”

In the next few months, the team of Hello World will focus on refining the technological processes and making the Hubs replicable and scalable. “We are also working on refining educational outcomes,“ explains Drew, “Data is going to be increasingly important going forward because it will make our programming more efficient. And for the communities it provides invaluable feedback on the way the Hubs are used and what their children are actually learning." To achieve this, the team will work closely with SOLE Central and the School in the Cloud, Sugata Mitra’s research centre for self-organised learning at Newcastle University. The Hello Hubs will provide data about usage and educational attainment that will then be collected and analysed by his team of research experts.

“Data is going to be increasingly important.“ 

There is no doubt that the Hello Hubs will soon be better equipped than ever for their mission to reduce the global education deficit and to give communities a voice. Long-term, however, this requires bringing this innovative technology to many more communities across the continent of Africa and beyond. “I would like to see the Hubs scaled and tried in a couple of different contexts, for example in refugee camps,” says Drew, reflecting upon the future. A small step towards this goal is on the horizon: after five builds in Nigeria and Uganda, Hello World has two more Hello Hubs planned later this year, both in Uganda. “We have started our social community process of identifying potential partner communities and organisations that will work alongside us,” he explains, “and we hope to be able to start building in October or November."

Even though one of the main objectives is to scale Hello World, Drew’s focus remains on the individual child when being asked about his hopes for the future of the project. “We don’t always get the benefit of seeing how our work affects a child’s life in the long term,“ he says, “I always hope that, for one brief moment 10 or 20 years down the line, we get a glimpse that our work gave somebody the opportunity to do whatever he or she wanted.”

By Monika Hubbard

If you would like to get in touch with Drew, you can reach him on drew@projectsforall.org.

 

The team of Project Hello World is growing and our objectives are growing with us. We want to bring the Hello Hubs to more children who have no or limited access to education. Digital learning allows children to educate themselves and share their voices with the global community. It will give them a chance to create their own future. But we at Hello World can't change lives on our own. We need your support to build more Hello Hubs, so please donate. The children at the Hello Hubs will thank you.  

Stories from the Hello Hubs: “We need to support each other to live in a better, more beautiful world.”

Long before the sun rises over the Ugandan village of Njara, Abu is up, kneading dough to make chapats, flatbreads that his mother will later fry and sell on the market. Abu – who everyone calls Tabu – is 16, a teenager, full of dreams and ambitions. Manchester United is his favourite football team, and he wears the club’s jersey with pride. Tabu has five siblings between 10 and 27 years of age, three of them are still at school, his father passed away four years ago. Life is challenging, making enough money to pay for school fees and books is a struggle. 

Once Tabu has finished his chores at home, he is off to school. He is a student in Senior Three at the state-run Mpanga Senior Secondary School in Fort Portal. Just one more year, but even that proves to be a waiting game. “16 years in school is too long for me, so I can’t wait to finish,” says Tabu. “My dream is to study music in one of the schools outside Uganda. If only money wouldn’t be an issue."

Music has turned into Tabu’s biggest passion after he had to realise that becoming an engineer would not be feasible due to the financial strains the training would put on his family. “I joined the Big Spit Music Cooperation in Fort Portal a couple of years ago,” says Tabu, “and today I am their producer.” Tabu spends every free minute with his friends in the small studio. Big Spit Music is run as a non-profit organisation and aims to promote everyone who is interested in art, music and films. Tabu makes their goals clear: “What our studio really is about is creating a place where people can meet, improve their talents and share ideas. We all want to live in a better, a more beautiful world, and we have to support each other to achieve this."

What has helped Tabu getting that bit closer to achieving his own, personal goals, was an event of pure coincidence. One evening in October 2015, he and his friends decided to take a walk to the nearby village of Kidubuli, an area they have not been before. Tabu is still excited when he thinks back: “I saw all these people, the community members and the Hello World team, and I stopped and listened to what they discussed and to their plans. The next day, I was the first person on site. All I wanted was to get involved in building the first Hello Hub in Uganda." 

Two weeks later, the solar-powered Internet hub was up and running. It had been a huge team effort, led by the community and supported by the team of Project Hello World. “The Hello Hub has lead to affordable and easy Internet access,” says Tabu. “The Hello World team taught me how to use the educational software, how to research the Internet and how to find and download apps that help me at school with maths, chemistry and physics.”

Life has changed for the children and adults in Kidubuli since the arrival of the Hello Hub. They feel connected and empowered, part of a global community. For Tabu, the Hello Hub has become a place where people can address their problems and find solutions. “The Hello Hub has shaped my hope for the future,” he says, “my hope that it is indeed possible to become a film and music producer.”

By Monika Hubbard

If you would like to get in touch with Tabu, you can reach him by mobile and WhatsApp (+256 700 267128), or on Twitter @TabuTrabu. You can also listen to the music of Big Spit Music here.

 

Project Hello World was created because we believe that education is a birthright. We will need to build more Hello Hubs to achieve our goal of closing the education gap in communities who need it the most. Please support us in our mission and donate. Thank you!

We've been busy!

Welcome to the new Hello World website! Created by an amazing network of artists through Paper Fortress, we now have a platform to share our story with the world.

Please reach out if you have any questions or comments, we would love to hear from you.

Film, Creative Direction and Website Development: Stebs Schinnerer
Photography and additional Creative Direction: Justin Keena
Branding and Identity: Hovercraft Studio
Copywriting Support: Pete Louison

 

Hello Uganda!

Supported by Lessons for Life Foundation and The Cobalt Trust, we are delighted to bring Project Hello World to Uganda this October. We are partnering with Pangea Educational Development to build multiple Hello Hubs which will connect communities to the Internet and educational software to make child-led digital learning and storytelling possible. 

We know that by bringing Hello Hubs into these communities in Uganda, they will serve not just as a simple portal to the Internet, but act as a community building resource and educational tool for everyone in the village. While we are there, we will keep you updated on our progress in the lead up to, and throughout, the build.

Here’s to #EducationForAll!

A year in numbers at the Hello Hub in Suleja

We at Projects For All have been busy crunching the numbers for our first Hello Hub in Suleja, Nigeria, that was built in October 2013. With the help of Laura Castrillo, who generously volunteered her time to help us with the analysis, we are very happy to be able to present one year of user data from our pilot project. We would also like to extend a special thank you to Aliyu Zubairu in Suleja, who has tirelessly helped us collect data on the ground for the past year. We are still amazed by the vast turnout and frequent use of the Hello Hub by members of the community from all walks of life and are very excited to share our findings with you.

Number of visits to the Hello Hub

Based on our survey data collected during 150 days over the course of 52 weeks we estimate the Hub has received 26,700 visits. We found that average daily visits to the Hub range between 30 and 129 per day, with the periods of lowest attendance coinciding with school holidays. Children enrolled in a traditional school accompanied by teachers account for around 25 visits on an average weekday.

Visits are highest on weekdays in the morning between 8am and 1pm, with lower attendance in the afternoons and on weekends.

Who is using the Hub?

Of the 5,443 visits in our sample, community children (i.e. children not enrolled in school) constituted the largest group representing 48% of the total. Children enrolled in school and adults followed at 27% and 23% respectively. Teachers accounted for only 2% of total users, but seemed to be instrumental in getting school children to attend as school children and teachers were observed attending at the same times.         

Girls vs Boys?  

Overall, women and girls represented 29% of all visits to the Hub. The percentage of women and children is highest among teachers and school children where they comprise 45% of the total. Men and boys represent the largest proportion of community children and adults, making up 77% of the population in these groups. So there is work to be done here to help more community women and girls find their place at the Hub.

Stories from our users 

Of course, numbers can only say so much and sometimes it’s best to hear from our users directly. Here is what Muibat Aliyu and Aminu Saidiu had to say about the Hello Hub:

“My name is Muibat Aliyu and I am 11 years old from Suleja, Niger State, Nigeria. I normally visit the Hello Hub whenever I am free because is located in my community. I learn a lot by using the Hub, and the Hub is my first time touching a computer. My favorite activity is playing educational games. My future ambition is to become a qualified teacher to assist the educational sector of my country.”

“My name is Aminu Saidu from Anguwan Gayan Suleja, Niger State, and I am 14 years old. I visit the Hello Hub three to four times a week. I normally use the Hello Hub to do my school assignments and play games. My favorite activities on the Hello Hub are browsing the Internet through google.com to do my school assignments and play educational games free off charge. My future ambition is for God to provide for my family to be able to sponsor my education to University to get a Computer degree.”

What did it cost?

Looking back and looking forward, we are proud to say that our Hello Hubs are truly an affordable means to give the most remote and disadvantaged communities a chance to learn and to be connected to the world. At a setup cost of $40,000, this only$1.50 per visit over the course of the first year in operation – that’s less than the cost of a cup of coffee in New York. But in the end, what matters most is empowering our users and communities, seeing them thrive and helping them accomplish their goals, and we simply can’t put a number or a price tag on that.

Written by: Judith Mueller

“Well, what do you think?”: Working with communities to measure what matters

people-of-suleja.jpg

Let me tell you a brief story: “Imagine yourself sitting on the sofa in your living room.  As you look up, you realise that the water stain on your ceiling is slowly but steadily increasing in size every day. After careful observation and willing to take the necessary steps to fix it, you schedule an appointment with a contractor. Citing his expertise and without really listening to what you are saying, he theorizes that it must be due to a leaky roof and some old pipes. Begrudgingly you agree to pay thousands of dollars to have new shingles placed on your roof and have your pipes replaced. You hope for the best, but a week later the dreaded stain is back. You call the contractor again, but this time you really try to share your side of the story: “I’ve been monitoring this and over the past two weeks, every time after I take a shower in the morning on the second floor, I notice that the stain in my living room seems to get a little bigger. I also know that one of the tiles around my shower is a little loose”. The contractor seems surprised “Oh, that’s a quick fix – we can just buy a silicone paste and a new tile. Why didn’t you tell me this before?” Resigned you answer: “Well, you never asked.”

Now you might wonder, why am I telling you a story about a water stain and a home improvement effort gone wrong and what does any of this have to do with international development and community data collection. In short, the moral of the story is that oftentimes in development work, we as development professionals act similarly to the contractor: We have become so comfortable with the expertise we have built and often forget to be open to knowledge and insight that those directly affected by a problem may have. We waste time and resources and simply forget to cater to the inherent human desire of those we are trying to help to be heard, understood and valued in their experiences and knowledge.

We at Projects For All seek to address this inefficiency and place value on the consultation and participation of the communities we work with in every aspect of the project from design to implementation, including our data collection and analysis efforts.

Projects For All’s community-led data collection goes beyond a passive, one-dimensional process by helping to actively involve people in the monitoring and evaluation of the project. By involving the community in the collection and analysis of the data collected and by creating a feedback loop, our project adjustments and outcomes are well informed and based on data driven decision making, all while empowering community members in the process. Through our community-led data process we aim to foster the following six features:

Ownership: We place particular emphasis on ensuring that our data collection process is led by community members who act as information catalysts and have strong ties to the project or research question. By working closely with community members, we are able to incorporate their existing knowledge into our project design. Furthermore, by creating a sustainable information source that makes use of the input and knowledge of those directly affected, we are able to create a sense of ownership of project objectives over the life of the project, ultimately leading to long-term sustainability as ownership of the project is transferred to the hands of the community.

AutonomyAn added benefit of actively allowing communities to participate in the data collection effort is that the community works with us to set the terms of what they are comfortable collecting from other members of the community. The community has full autonomy and a say in what they feel is acceptable to share with the world in terms of data and information. We place very high value on ensuring the privacy of the individual and work together with the community to ensure informed consent.

Feedback Loop: By including community members in the data collection process, there is a continuous stream of mission-critical information to improve program performance, even when the organization staff is not in the field. This helps us to immediately assess what is working and what is not, thereby ensuring effective and timely alterations to project design. We are able to incorporate community insight into our decision making, thereby creating sustainable and effective solutions to sometimes unexpected problems.

TrainingFor communities to become co-creators and active participants in the data collection process, they need to have access to training and gain confidence in their ability to understand and imagine data collection efforts and analysis solutions. By actively involving community volunteers in learning about the value of data as well as sound data collection methods through hosting community data workshops, we encourage both social cohesion and personal growth.

Social CohesionA community-led data collection process supports a democratic process and places very high emphasis on community participation and buy-in. By understanding the value of collecting data, these communities are now able to present themselves to the world through telling stories and mapping out their communities geographically and through numbers and stories. Even the youngest members in the community can participate in administering surveys to one another and can help inform decision making processes within the community; for example, by taking a poll on which animal should be painted on the side of the school.

Personal GrowthOn a personal level, each volunteers has the opportunity to participate in skills development related to data collection and analysis. Being able to gain a better understanding of how data is helpful and what good data collection methodologies are, participants learn to better understand news articles and political polls, leading to more informed discussions and decision making in the community. Additionally, many participants that want to pursue a career in a quantitative field, such as economics or accounting, can greatly benefit from learning about the appropriate use of data by volunteering their time to our data collection efforts.


Projects For All’s community-led data collection approach is focused on actively involving and empowering people and communities and not simply on the pure extraction of data. We believe that community-led data collection should build local capacity to be able to define, analyze, and solve problems long after we have left. By living with and learning from the results of their own decisions, local community members become powerful agents of positive change, and not simply the passive subjects of the decisions made by program managers or development practitioners. In the end, we do not want to be like the contractor, but instead we want to ask the question to our communities: “Well, what do you think?”

Written by: Judith Mueller

Sugata Mitra – The inspiration behind the Hello Hubs

In 2010, Sugata Mitra, at the end of a TED talk on a revolutionary digital education project called the "Hole in the Wall", proposed a challenge: He wanted to test a simple idea – that with the right tools children in the most difficult of situations, with the fewest advantages, could teach themselves. And he wanted to test it on a huge scale.

Dr Mitra is Professor of Education Technology at the University of Newcastle and his TED talks have been viewed over 5 million times. One of those who watched him online was Roland Wells, a technologist and engineer, based in the USA. At around the same time Katrin McMillan, my sister, was in South Omo, Ethiopia. She saw what lack of access to education or communication meant for a marginalised and poor community. It deprived them of a story, and the chance to record it. It also deprived their children of the opportunity to enter a world which had left them behind. Katrin called Roland, and old friend, to describe the situation. Roland forwarded Dr Mitra’s talk to her with an idea – to take Dr Mitra up on his challenge. Two years later, in October 2013, the charity they founded cut the ribbon on a digital education terminal, in Suleja, a satellite of Nigeria’s capital, Abuja.

That charity, Projects for All (I am a Trustee), is now poised to deliver an international expansion of their own evolution of the Hole in the Wall concept – Hello Hubs. “I feel nostalgic when I see Hello Hub and Katrin’s team in action,” says Dr Mitra, Projects for All advisory board member.

“In the years since 1999 when the first "Hole In The Wall" computer was installed in New Delhi, I have been struggling with how to keep them in working condition. The technology keeps failing, even today. Internet connections are still spotty. The lights still go out. But it is efforts like Hello Hub that will solve these problems eventually.”

Projects for All’s core idea is that communities should have the biggest say in their own development. Applied to education, it recognises the vast unmet need for reliable access to information and educational tools, which communities demand. We (certainly I) have the luxury of arguing about how to teach and what to learn. My professional background is in online education – maths and chemistry – and in my working life I get to test different educational theories with digital tools and tweak algorithms to  ensure the right resources get to the right students. The notion of universal education is never in question.

In many countries the problem is not what children should learn, but whether they even have the chance. When stories trumpet the success of mobile banking across Africa, or the growth of tech and the middle classes in India it might be inconceivable that there is a lack of access to information anywhere in the world these days. But people do lack access, and in huge numbers. Nigeria, a booming African economy with the continent’s largest population, is home to 15% of the World’s out of school children*.  Suleja, just an hour’s drive from Abuja, bristles with 3G mobile masts; there are SIM card sellers are on every corner. But children are missing that tech boom, and often cannot meet their most basic educational needs: access to information and resources. The Hello Hub, our way of providing that access, is based on three principles: child-led, digital, and open-source education.

Why child-led? Dr Mitra described his method as “minimally-invasive education.”  This downplays the necessary organisation and support; adults and educator-figures are heavily involved, especially given the Projects for All remit of community-led development. But the idea of ‘child-led’ echoes Arthur C Clarke’s observation: “Where you’ve got interest, there you have education." And the interest is there. The key is the trust that it will turn into education. The Hole in the Wall and Hello Hubs are built on trust. Children otherwise unused to digital technology and strangers to formal education are trusted to use the terminals, to seek out an education wherever they might find it. As Dr Mitra demonstrated with Hole in the Wall, and as Projects for All is now demonstrating with their first Hello Hub, they have made good on that trust.

But giving free access to a valuable commodity in any community is a challenge, and we learned a huge amount from "The Hole in the Wall’s" experience of this. When access to information and education is rare, and technology a luxury, both will inevitably be monopolised, and by those with power – often dominant, younger men. When Dr Mitra joined Projects for All as an advisory board member, he told us to make part of the Hubs unattractive to those groups. So we lowered one of the benches in front of the terminals, and we asked the children to choose the colour.

As with the "Hole in the Wall", children using our first Hub have hungrily sought out education materials, unprompted. They demand to be given time at the terminals, and have made the Hub in the process a safe place, somewhere they can learn without interference, or competition for network time.

Just as open-source software isn’t unguided, child-led education isn’t unmanaged. Hello Hubs are backed by local communities given real stakes in their construction and maintenance, and policed and supported by "Grannies", both in the Cloud, and in person – another gem of advice from Dr Mitra.

Why digital education? The boom in cheap mobile technology is a means to close the education gap. Digital education is an increasingly redundant concept. Better that we think simply of "education", achieved by the only method which makes location and language increasingly irrelevant. Hello Hubs only use free Internet-based tools and sources. So when we talk about digital education, we are simply talking about education. And when we talk about access to education, we know that the presence or even ubiquity of digital and network technology isn’t sufficient. With digital education we can reach thousands of potential teachers and students simultaneously, and affordably.

Why open-source? We built the first Hello Hub using open-source principles, in which the plans were shared online, months before the build, and then iterated. On the ground in Suleja we again modified our plans, based on what we could procure, and from whom. Carl Sagan joked that to create an apple pie, you needed to invent the universe. To build a Hello Hub, using the community it exists to serve, you need to ensure access to raw materials, skilled labour, technical tools, safe locations, advocates, educators, willing parents and grandparents, and the wider infrastructure of a functioning town. Given this, the notion of anything other than an open-source approach to education would be nonsensical. There is no proprietary, ideal, Hello Hub. There is the community, first and foremost, from which the demand for education and the means to meet that demand, subsequently rise. As Dr Mitra puts it: “Education is a self-organising system where learning is an emergent phenomenon.”

With open-source tools and philosophies, Hello Hubs will emerge, whether or not Projects for All is responsible. And they are. Over the Christmas holiday period, Katrin was contacted by Mark Afolabi, founder of mywhitespaces.com in Nigeria. Mark had, unsolicited, downloaded the Hello Hub plans, read the notes, reviewed the usage analytics, and planned his own Hub to support his community in Lagos.

And this may prove to be one of the most exciting aspects of the Hello Hub project – the incredible interest in the Hello Hub build techniques, plans, and data. The Projects for All team could often barely access the site in Suleja for the men and women who wanted to understand the network setup, who lent a hand to the construction. Many, especially the women, had never used a computer to access information online.

So we have high hopes that Hello Hubs will spring up around the Globe, and we have ambitious plans to make that happen in 2015. But the last word should go to Dr Mitra: “As for the children, they never fail us. They are amazing everywhere. I can say this with confidence, I have now seen them learn almost anything, anywhere  on the planet, by themselves – if the Internet is reliably available, and if we leave them alone. If they don’t fail us, we can’t fail them. So, go, Hello Hub. With all my very best wishes.”

Watch Sugata Mitra’s second TED Talk, the inspiration behind Hello Hubs.

Written by: Duncan McMillan

Bears to Necessities!

My mother-in-law, Betty, has been knitting teddy bears to send to homeless and vulnerable children in Nigeria.

The teddies will be sent to Aisha Sani, a Projects For All Hero, who has dedicated her life to protecting children in custody from sexual violence, and to supporting rape survivors, some as young as three. You can read Aisha’s story in my previous blog post.

It’s a simple idea; we want every child whom Aisha visits in prison or saves from the streets, to have a bear of their own. My daughter takes her bear, Arny, everywhere and I know that he makes her feel safe and comforted when she is tired. The children Aisha looks after have nothing; they are extremely vulnerable and they are the poorest of the poor. Many have experienced assault and rape. Betty is knitting so that they can have their own bear, and so they know that we care about them.

CRESSIE AND HUGHIE "QUALITY CHECK" THE FIRST BATCH OF TEDDIES, KNITTED BY BETTY FOR CHILDREN IN AFRICA

CRESSIE AND HUGHIE "QUALITY CHECK" THE FIRST BATCH OF TEDDIES, KNITTED BY BETTY FOR CHILDREN IN AFRICA

Please help Betty by knitting some bears for the children in Nigeria. This is the link to the pattern that Betty is using. And, if you would like to make a donation to support Aisha’s heroic work to protect vulnerable children, then do please get in touch with me.

Thank you for helping us fight for the most vulnerable children in Africa,

Katrin

 

 

Project Our Heroes

We are delighted to announce a spinoff from Project Hello World in Nigeria: Our Heroes! It’s a simple program to provide critical support to the most committed and best-positioned change makers in a community. The Our Heroes program provides a basic salary to the Hero, giving them security and stability, so that they can focus on addressing the urgent problems around them. The Heroes are working on the front line of the battle for basic human rights, against significant odds. We know how hard it is to raise salaries, and so we wanted to take that struggle away from these brave women, so that they can continue to do more of their critical work without distraction or hardship. Our embedded community-led process for building Hello Hubs gives us a unique ability to find out who is doing humanitarian work in Africa for no money or recognition. We are delighted to share the unbelievable courage and selfless focus of Our Heroes. Here they are….

Our Hero – Gift Augustine

Gift is a trained nurse. A natural organizer and leader, Gift coordinated groups of women to tackle the practices of; female genital mutilation, breast ironing and sleeping with the dead. Gift trains teams of community volunteers who travel to at-­risk villages to talk to the men and women about the dangers and injustices of these practices. Her one-to-one hands on approach has been enormously successful and she has saved countless girls from these violent and harmful practices. Gift is tireless and has committed her life to saving others. Here is Gift talking about her work: 

Our Hero – Aisha Sani

Aisha is volunteer vigilante police officer. She is horrified by the prevalence of sexual assault in her community and, with no resources at all, she is determined to fight it. Aisha persuaded government and police officials to let her travel in the police vehicle whenever a child or woman is arrested; the simple act of bearing witness in this way prevents the women and children from being raped in police custody. As well as preventing rapes, Aisha also fights for justice for children who have been raped. She raises money (by begging) to pay medical examiners to check rape victims and lawyers to prosecute on their behalf. She very often takes in rape victims in to her own home. When we met Aisha she had a 12 year old rape survivor living with her and she was prosecuting a case on behalf of a 3-year old boy. This work has put Aisha is personal danger but she is not cowed: She is fighting to protect children who otherwise have no one to fight for them. See Aisha talk about her work here:  

We urgently need to raise funds to support Aisha’s work to protect so many children from rape, homelessness and assault. Please help us. 100% of your donation will go directly to Aisha. If you would like to support Aisha’s work then please drop me an email at katrin@projectsforall.org. Thank you.

New ideas about connecting people...from Africa

Our initiative, Project Hello World, provides Internet access and educational opportunities to remote villages in Sub-Saharan Africa. Our projects respond to the needs of the communities, and are run by the communities.

There is a wealth of online learning material, which can be used by children and adults to develop skills and acquire knowledge. We link communities to the resources of the Internet, so the capabilities of each Hello Hub are limitless. In this simple way communities can begin to overcome some of the disadvantages of isolation and limited resources. The benefits are both individual and societal, not only allowing access to information in every sphere of life, but enabling communities to link with each other and the best of the world. The Hello World model is freely available to any community who wishes to use it, and the software may be customised to teachers and students to meet their needs. 

   

In regions of political turmoil, a culture has a better chance of survival if it is documented. Hello Hubs provide the means to do this and also to speak out and be heard by the rest of the world. This is an invaluable means of fighting tyranny, and of giving some power to the powerless. Those who have been dispossessed and alienated due to conflict or natural disasters can reconnect with family members, and obtain relief information or alerts.

While the technical accomplishment of bringing Internet access to a remote rural community in Africa is important, it is just the beginning. Hello World fosters radio stations and local journalism, and provides reference tools, business opportunities, and more. Our Hubs provide local producers with the means to bypass price-fixing at markets, advertise, and find new suppliers. Because of the essential and pivotal role the Hubs play in the communities, our experience is that they remain well maintained, without being vandalised. 

The success of the Hello Hubs in some of the most disadvantaged communities on Earth is a demonstration of how powerful collaborative community work can be. Project  Hello World is about connecting people, ending isolation, enriching communities and aiding them in establishing autonomy. 

Written by: Katrin Macmillan

Reflections on the "Projects For All" mission

How do we give communities in need the material resources they require to address their needs, while supporting them in maintaining their independence and recognising the cultural and spiritual riches they have to offer the world?

Additionally, how can we ensure that they have a voice in the global community?

Katrin Macmillan, founder of Projects For All, is busy addressing this problem on a practical level with a bold, "community-first" approach to development. With a mission of fostering community ownership of development projects, our team at Projects For All has been working together with communities in Africa on a series of innovative and creative projects. In Nigeria, we have assisted communities in learning how to build houses from recycled plastic bottles, and we are supporting local women in the production of soap and shea butter as a means of developing local businesses.

We are also implementing Hello Hubs in Nigeria, which are solar-powered Internet kiosks that provide children and adults access to the Internet. We are working on bringing our Hello Hubs to India, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia and Kenya.  These Hello Hubs give community residents access to vast educational resources, the opportunity to communicate with others around the world and perhaps most importantly, a voice in the global community.

While we at Projects For All recognize the importance of aid, we also recognize that the aid industry faces complex problems, with no magic bullet solutions.  It can be argued that a major blind-spot in the field of development economics is its inability to conceive of alternative ways of knowing. The value of culture and community empowerment is often either dismissed, or, at best, discussed as only superficially relevant.  One of the central features of Projects For All is its commitment to placing the power of economic and educational self-determination in the hands of local populations. We owe it to communities to share our technological expertise, but we must be aware of what we have to learn from these communities, first and foremost. As Dr. Geoffrey Wells, Trustee of Projects For All, notes:

“Development aid fundamentally is like any other human interaction: it’s a relationship between people. Like any human relationship, it only works if there is a mutual exchange. The fundamentals of human relationships anywhere apply here as well. There needs to be a platform of respect, and that is an unconditional position. 

Respect is due: to people as people, to groups as groups, to each other as we interact with each other.  And along with that comes learning, which flows out of respect. It’s because you respect people’s values, abilities, attributes and cultural riches that you are in a position to learn. The attitude of an aid agency going into that kind of relationship, in my view, can very fruitfully be framed as learning.”

Philosopher and educator Paulo Freire has noted that throughout our lives we acquire knowledge largely from dominant sources of power, and that true learning is a process that involves critically reflecting on what we have been taught, and by whom, about the world in which we live, as well as reflecting on our own experiences and the experiences of others. Freire expands the roles of the teachers and students, acknowledging that both have much to learn from each other. At Projects For All, we believe that development aid work should attempt to mirror this process, to create an environment in which we, as development practitioners, adopt the roles of both student and teacher.

Developing critical awareness of our social reality involves both reflection and action. In this blog, it is my goal to establish a community where we are able to critically reflect upon our acquired knowledge regarding the role of aid in economic development initiatives, and discuss together potential modes of action. Topics of discussion will likely include the following: how we can begin establishing the legitimacy of indigenous knowledge in development initiatives; what we can learn from the communities we work with; the importance of incorporating qualitative analysis, as well as quantitative, into project development and evaluation; how we can envision approaches to development that are not another version of modern day imperialism; and why it is important  to place the success of communities at a higher level of importance than the success of any organisation. We also hope to use this blog as a space where members of the communities we work with can share their stories and histories, as well as provide input on our own work.

We invite you to explore our website and follow our blog, as well as provide feedback, ask questions, and join the discussion as we attempt to engage with some of the most important issues facing development aid work today.

Written by: Ashley Dixon