This August, a team from Manchester, England, took out five Raspberry Pi computers to a small village school in Chigonere, near Monkey Bay, Malawi. The aim of the project was to set up the Raspberry Pi computers in a newly built primary school library, enabling pupils, teachers and community members from the school and neighbouring villages learn basic IT skills as well as getting online and connected. [see bottom of post for a short video]
Project Pi was co-founded by Tim Greenwood and Tyson Dye in 2014. Their aim was simple, leveraging the power of the Raspberry Pi to help teach and inspire IT literacy with anyone who was interested.
They cut their teeth in 2014 with a trip to the Khaya Centre in Johannesburg. Tyson, chief architect for Project Pi, was able to draw upon his years of experience as a solutions architect for a large IT company in Manchester and design a Raspberry Pi set up which would not only be cost effective but also durable. This meant, among other things, choosing the right combination of monitor, keyboard, mice and networking gear within budget and quality spec. No mean feat. In total they took out ten computers, kindly sponsored by Tyson’s firm, UKFast.
The duo also selected a number of open source applications they thought would inspire learning and creativity (Scratch, Minecraft-Pi and Libreoffice). Tim, a psychologist with a background in education and learning, was then able to support members of the Khaya Centre in setting up the Raspberry Pi, learning about the core features and software available as well as learning how to design and run sessions in a hands on and exciting way.
Soon after arriving back in the UK, September 2014, Tim was approached by an old friend Davy Chilakalaka, co-founder, with his wife Sally, of the Charity Kasupe. Davy had connected with Tim on LinkedIn and when catching up on Tim’s news, his heart skipped a beat when he heard about the project which Tim and Tyson had just completed in Johannesburg. Davy wanted to know if Project Pi would like to bring the power of the Pi out to his home village in Malawi; where he was just starting to project manage the building of a new set of school buildings. There would be a new library which Davy knew would be just perfect for a Raspberry Pi computer suite.
In case you are wondering what a Raspberry Pi computer is, it is a small (credit card sized) computer which is capable of running OS like Linux or Android. Raspberry Pi are cheap (under £30 at the time of writing, see here). And they are very good for projects which need a reliable and easy to fix computer. They are perfect for children and those new to computing to learn and tinker without fear of breaking either the software or hardware. In fact this was what inspired their creation by the Raspberry Pi Foundation (see here).
Davy was born in Chigonere, Malawi and came to England to study in 2000. His work at Kasupe has allowed a ‘bridge’ to form between Chigonere and the UK. Davy himself has one foot in both cultures, providing him with a unique standpoint to facilitate development projects in Malawi. He understands firsthand the impact of high quality education as well as a love of his home country Malawi, and old stomping ground, Chigonere village.
Tyson and Tim had learnt a lot from Johannesburg and with the prospect of a second project in Malawi they put their thinking caps on, reaching out to a number of other projects using Raspberry Pi within projects in the UK and abroad. One such conversation, with Dr Maximilian Bock (madanyu.org), had alerted them to the need to support Teachers in becoming confident with using the Pi within the classroom. In short, if you want to avoid Pi gathering dust on classroom shelves, you need to capture hearts and minds. This created a particular line of inquiry for the project: How do we work with teachers in such a way that they will feel confident and inspired to incorporate Raspberry Pi within their curriculums and classrooms?
This August, Tyson and his wife Elise (a talented musician) and Tim and his 9 year old son Toby (a talented Minecrafter) set off for Malawi with 5 Raspberry Pi computers. And like the Johansberg project, UKFast kindly provided the five Raspberry Pi kits we took out.
A brief diary of their adventures can be found [here].
During their stay, they worked hard to set up a working Raspberry Pi computer suite; train and build relationship with teachers from Kasupe Primary school as well as other local primary and secondary schools; get to know and partner with Kasupe’s Malawi side project team; and other key stakeholders within the community e.g. village, village group and district authorities who are key players with regard to authorising any projects within their territories. We were even lucky enough to have a visit from Malawi TV!
By the end of the week we had Teachers asking when we were coming back, a moment which really made us feel that we had made some lasting connections. Tyson was particularly blown away by some of the progress made by attendees on the educational software we had installed (e.g. touch typing). For many people coming to use the Pi, this was their first time using a computer, which meant learning a whole new language. Just imagine the amount of things you take for granted when using a computer, from where to click to maximise a window, how to scroll down a list of font sizes, where to put your fingers when touch typing, how to log on to the computer when you can’t see what letters you have typed into the password field. And hats off to people learning all this in a second language!
After coming back from Malawi Tim reflected that: “So far Tyson and I/Project Pi have taken on two very different projects and I have been excited by what we have been able to do with a relatively small budget. I just love the fact that computers are really great teachers in themselves – you either get them to do the thing you had in mind – or you don’t. And they’re always ready for you to come back and have another go!”
As part of the project, there was also opportunity for some cultural exchange and Elise was able to facilitate some singing workshops with local musicians. Elise reflected that she was ‘amazed to discover the local choir sang in tune without any instruments to aid rehearsal or training and in up to eight parts – and they didn’t seem to think it was anything special!’ During her workshop she noticed the group were excited to learn they could make a more dynamic sound by simply using their voices in different ways while singing – with no fancy instruments needed. Elise commented that ‘It was incredible to me to observe the similarities between singers in Chigonere and in the UK, even down to their perceived improvement needs.’
Update: Mid September 2015
So where next? We left having installed the Raspberry Pi; having worked hard with local teachers on looking at what the Pi can do; and having gained a lot of interest in the project from a wide range of stakeholders (from local authorities to interested citizens). But one of the key outcomes for Project Pi, has been leaving with an open communication channel to the small team we left in charge: Witness, Rebecca and Richard. WhatsApp has proven to be a great tool for sharing updates, asking questions (both ways) and sharing pictures.
We have been able to start charging a small fee (50 MKW, which is about 0.6 GBP) for accessing the internet and basic computer training. All the funds raised are being reinvested back into the project to cover key running costs, such as 3G data charges to connect the wireless router to the internet.
Check out the project video: