What began, three and a half years ago, as a challenging experiment to bring laptops and wireless internet to a school with no power and no computer experience has now become a regional initiative. It is bolstering education, enhancing computer literacy, promoting conservation education, and providing training for local graduates throughout the a region of northern Kenya between Meru and Isiolo - centred around the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy.
In 2009, teacher Mark Battley and four high school students (Amal Chandaria, Connor Cimowsky, Derek Chan, and Adam Gordon) arrived from Toronto, Canada. With Lewa’s Education Programme as their Kenyan hosts and partners, they arrived on site with eight laptops in a suitcase. Their goal? To deploy the little green One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) XO’s at Ntugi Day Secondary School, charging them with solar panels, and using a single Safaricom 3G modem to create a wireless network.
Then-Principal Jacob Mbijiwe hoped that would allow his Ntugi students to connect to the Internet and become, as he put it, “part of the universe.” The experiment worked; the five-person Toronto team became the first on the planet to connect OLPC laptops to a portable, wireless network using solar power. More importantly, that 2009 visit was the start of the Toronto group’s continuing commitment to Ntugi School, to Lewa, and to Lewa’s Education Programme. Flash forward three years: The small Canadian group of five has grown as they’ve brought friends, brothers, fathers, mothers, and wives to Kenya - including four members of the Walker family - to be part of this remarkable program.
Mark has now retired from teaching to pursue OLPC deployment full time and the boys have graduated to university. Determined to renew their continuing commitment to Lewa and the OLPC project, they formed their own small NGO, Ntugi Group. Its mandate is to provide resources and training to local teachers and students, building local capacity in ICT4E and digital literacy. Ntugi Secondary’s tiny laptop experiment, and it’s Toronto partnership, has also grown to include:
- 40 XO laptops in a full solar-powered computer lab
- A school website
- An NBA-sized concrete basketball court
- Music and Art programs
- A Journalism Club that takes advantage of the school’s blog
- A Computer Club that works on computer animation and programming.
This growth has been driven by Ntugi Group’s original ‘local hero’ and first Site Supervisor, Godfrey Mutwiri, a Geography and Math teacher at Ntugi Secondary. Godfrey has recently been joined in the project by the group’s two new interns, Simon Mwangangi and Judy Kinya, responsible for the duplication of Ntugi Secondary’s success at other schools throughout the Lewa area.
Simon and Judy were Head Boy and Head Girl of Ntugi Secondary when Ntugi Group first arrived in 2009. Now, as graduates of that school and of its OLPC laptop initiative, the two interns are driving expansion and innovation of the program, providing a scaleable model not only for local schools, but for other OLPC deployments worldwide as well. You can get a sense of their remarkable ability in these videos that document their teaching and repair skills, or read their regular reports here.
Ntugi Group’s scope has now expanded to seven sites within Lewa’s Education Program. As well as the 3-year-old program at Ntugi Secondary, Judy and Simon have also launched programs at Ntugi Primary, Leparua Primary, Ngare Ndare Secondary, Lewa Downs Primary, and Subuiga Primary - with an additional small pilot planned for Kariba Primary. By September there will be 120 laptops deployed at Lewa-supported schools.
The interns also teach and support a 12-laptop OLPC lab at Lewa’s Conservation Education Centre, giving visiting students a chance to use the XO’s to play conservation games after their game drives. Simon has used the OLPC laptops to teach himself the Python programming language, and is now designing custom-made interactive quizzes and activities for Ephantus Mugo’s conservation program. Soon, Simon’s students, like Ntugi Secondary’s Computer Club Prefect, Jackline Kathambi, will be able to do the same.
One of the highlights of the year was a BBC visit to Ntugi Secondary in March. Current Principal Phineas Ithinji was interviewed, as was Simon and Jackline. Jacki was filmed teaching the Computer Club at Ntugi, and then at her house, teaching her mom and little brother. She also helped the BBC presenter connect with her colleague in China via video Skype on the XO! These interviews were broadcast to 360,000,000 households in 122 countries worldwide on the first November weekend, as part of BBC’s popular new show about innovation, Horizons. You can see the video by going to the Horizons Episode 15’s web page, and scrolling down to the Part 3 link.
Additionally, in July, Godfrey, Simon and Judy traveled to Matapwili, a remote village in Tanzania, to represent Kenya, Lewa and Ntugi Group by launching a 30-laptop pilot project there. Hosted and supported by the Tuende Pamoja Charity , Kisampa Lodge, and the Barbour family, the Kenyan Ntugi team trained the local children, villagers and teachers, and worked with 30 visiting students and teachers from two high schools in Australia to get the Matapwili program up and running.
It really has been an incredible three years - from a Canadian high-school initiative to a local Kenyan team of media stars and international ICT4E consultants!