Friday, January 15, 2010

The KIST Classroom

KIST Science Buildings  

I taught my first class yesterday afternoon, and all things considered, it went well.  Most students showed up, and they are very, very sweet and helpful.  I showed up with my computer and projector, hoping to plug in and go, but of course nothing is ever that simple.  First of all, there are no screens for projectors, apparently not anywhere on campus.  There are also no extension cords that I know of.  The students were great in helping me set up—they put a table near the one outlet in the room (that holds 100 people), and I projected the slides up onto a wall.  With the exception of a 5-minute power outage, we did okay.  I would say that I will resort to chalk next week, but there is not a proper board in the room.  (They did find a portable board that they could rest on chairs and lean against the wall, but the sight-lines and lighting in the room are such that it's very difficult for the students to see it.)  Next week, I'll bring both chalk and projector and see what happens.

I do not know how these students manage to learn, but they do.  All their courses are in English, taught by professors who do not know Kinyarwanda.   (None of the current physics faculty is Rwandan.)   A few of the students are fluent in French, but none of them are fluent enough in English to be comfortable with a lecture in English.  It’s Kinyarwanda that they know.  I spoke at what I considered a snail’s pace, and it was too fast for them.  After a few hours, we were all fried.  

My first reaction to the classroom situation is, of course, frustration with the Powers That Be.  Why build huge new buildings and neglect to put in enough chalkboards and enough outlets?  Why can't I find an extension cord? Where are the library books?  The answer, as I think I understand it, is due to the fact that there is one central budget, subject to what the government can provide, and there is not enough to around.  One positive, key feature of the current budget is that all students go to KIST for free.  100% of their costs are paid for by the Rwandan government.  If I were a government official, eager to jump start a technological economy, I might do similarly.  "Put the money you can into the infrastructure (the buildings) and the students, and add the other things in as you can," I can imagine them saying.  Maybe. So many projects and initiatives at once are happening at KIST and in Rwanda, it's dizzying.  Chalkboards get forgotten.


  1. Well, I guess we can no longer complain about the "lack" of chalkboards in Bowman anymore.

  2. Nice post; I was IT lecturer in Kenyan Universities and doing IT-led instructions or demos was a challenge with lack of projector facilities. I decided to teach with the aid of chalk and board. ( on ocassions purchasing the chalk or board pens myself ! )

    Assess to library materials is also sometimes a problem; but even when available students are too "busy" to use them as you would imagine.


    I have also taught students with poor english language skills where the delivery of lecture course material becomes a challenge. I found that diagrams and demos were more effective than traditional sentence/paragraph wordy descriptions found in most text books. A good point to remember when setting your exams and assessment tests.