A few months ago I knew almost nothing about the country of Zambia. But a visit in June to this south-central African country with a former student, Dave Stienstra, left me with many impressions. After several awkward attempts, we quickly learned the local Zambian handshake: a regular handshake followed by a quick switch to hook thumbs and ending in a traditional handshake position. Other impressions included the incredibly bumpy rural roads, the red, dusty soil which would cling to clothes, vehicles and computers, and one of the staple foods in Zambia, nshima, a thick porridge-like food made from ground maize.
Our trip was arranged by EduDeo Ministries in partnership with the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) Education Department in Eastern Zambia. Since January 2015, the Zambian Ministry of Education has required all schools to teach computer science, resulting in an urgent need for technology in rural Christian schools. Our initial visits to some of the rural schools confirmed what we expected to find – many schools have computer labs cobbled together with mostly outdated desktop computers. Many schools we visited had only 10 or so computers which were shared with classes of 40-50 students. An additional challenge is that only a small percentage of schools in rural areas have electricity.
Our visit culminated with a four-day workshop for local computer teachers from four Christian schools. One of the purposes of the workshop was to introduce the teachers to a nifty little computer called the “Raspberry Pi.” I learned of the Raspberry Pi a few years ago: a device, targeted to hobbyists, about the size of a deck of cards and which can run a full desktop operating system. The small device includes four USB ports for connecting a keyboard, mouse and other peripherals, an ethernet adapter and a monitor connection.
Dave, who has worked for nearly 10 years in Nicaragua, has partnered with me on several occasions to provide computer training for Christian school teachers in Nicaragua. Over the past year and a half we have been piloting a project to introduce the Raspberry Pi to several schools in Nicaragua. The Raspberry Pi runs on roughly 3 Watts of power and can be purchased new for around $65 USD. Because of its size, it can be easily shipped overseas. It has no fans or moving parts, and instead of a hard drive it uses a single microSD card for storage. It runs a version of the Linux operating system and includes a wide variety of open source educational programs. The results of the Nicaragua pilot project have demonstrated that the Raspberry Pi is an appropriate technology for schools in developing countries. In Nicaragua, the cost of the computers is such that schools have begun purchasing some of their own equipment, a path towards a more sustainable model for development work in equipping schools.
We brought 40 Raspberry Pi’s and distributed 10 to each of the schools represented by the workshop participants as a pilot project to see how they would perform over time. If the project proves successful, we hope to work with EduDeo to help provide more Raspberry Pi’s to other Christian schools in Zambia who are currently seeking to meet educational requirements and struggling with old and outdated equipment. Because of the low power required by the Raspberry Pi, we hope to explore a solar-powered solution for the many CCAP schools without reliable power.
The other purpose for the workshop was to share how a Christian worldview relates to computer technology. Although we were eager to introduce the Raspberry Pi, we had to take care not to promote the notion that the answer to challenges in education and poverty is technology and information. Instead we explored a Christian perspective of technology which was eagerly received by the teachers. During our closing session many teachers expressed a deep appreciation for this perspective. In the words of one teacher, “I never thought of the connection of technology to God and now I will be able to share that with others.”
Raspberry Pi (left) compared to a regular desktop computer.
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