Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Education Challenges

Kist students studying on a Friday night.

Sorry we’ve been so silent the past weeks.  The work load has been high, and it’s been hard to keep up.
I want to give you a picture of what education is up against in Rwanda, from first grade to graduation from university.  This entry is about what I have seen firsthand at KIST.  Later entries will be about the state of K-12 education in the country.

To repeat myself from an earlier entry, there are no textbooks for students.  Books of any kind are prohibitively expensive; KIST relies on donations to put even one copy in their library.  The physics section in the library is paltry, so students must rely on the internet for information beyond what is given them in class. 
For basic information, it is up to the professor to write out notes for each class period to hand out.  Each week I write up what I consider to be the basic ideas of that day’s lecture.  KIST will not pay for photocopies for students, so I print out three copies of the lecture notes and give them to the class representative, who gives them to the students to photocopy and return to him.  The students pay 50 FRW (about ten cents) per copy.  This is a lot of money for them, so I keep the notes to two pages so they can afford to make the copies.  Even then, some students hand-copy the notes.

Remember, these classes meet once a week for three hours at a time.  I am not in my comfort zone writing two pages to cover what is essentially a chapter in a textbook!  There is only space for the very basics (formulas, basic derivations, and a few graphs), and no space for any kind of expansion, analysis or discussion about the ramifications of the lesson. 

If students want additional information, they must go to the internet.  There are very few open source options for advanced physics out there, but there are some.  I am extremely grateful to all the physics professors in the world who have posted their notes and lectures on the web!  Finding information is haphazard, but there is a growing source of organized information through www.compadre.org  and other places that students can avail themselves of. 

If they can get on the internet.  Another huge hurdle is access to the internet.  Although KIST has computer labs, getting someone to open it for the students is like pulling teeth.  Other than the few machines in the library, students cannot have access to computers unless a faculty member is in the room at the same time.   Even when a faculty member is lined up to babysit the room, the one person on campus with the key to the room may or may not show up.   

With few exceptions, the computers that the students can get to are slow and riddled with viruses.  KIST does have wireless access which is sort of reliable. The few students who are fortunate enough to own laptops share with everyone else.  (Rwandans are excellent sharers of resources.)  A few more have flash drives, and those also get shared around.  They also pick up the viruses on the public machines, and those get shared.  I’m starting to think of computer viruses as venereal diseases.

Here endeth the rant.  For now.

1 comment:

  1. Adrienne, very interesting. It all sounds like an uphill battle. I don't know how you do it. All of what you wrote makes me appreciate my instant and reliable technology, most of which I am too pin-headed to know how to use.

    Tell the Doctor I have learned 'Moondance' and that that little rat Bergin doesn't even KNOW the song! Too many years of Bartok, Schubert, and, um, whatever other composers there are. Talk about your culture-deprived people.

    When are you guys coming home?

    Take care,