DISCLAIMER

The ideas and thoughts expressed within this blog are not the views or opinions of WorldTeach nor the Namibia Ministry of Education, but rather my personal views.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Working with PLATO




I wanted to write a little about the work I am actually doing here in Namibia, and specifically, Khorixas. I work for the Ministry of Education, and am currently on assignment through the Directorate of Research, Science, and Technology to the Kunene Region.

My job is to manage the strategic planning and implementation of a sustainable and optimally-utilized computer-based learning centre for learners and teachers in mathematics and science. I truly enjoy my work because it is based on partnerships and capacity-building, two areas I believe are at the root of sustainable development.


All of the computers in the centre are equipped with PLATO software. PLATO is an acronym that stands for, People Learning And Training On-Line. The software company is headquartered in Minnesota, but has offices in other countries as well, including South Africa.

When I arrived, the centre in Khorixas had the computers and software, but no project or centre manager and no detailed plan for how to introduce the resources to the key stakeholders. And so I began identifying those who would be affected in any way by a new computer-based learning centre. I began organizing meetings, searching for any useful documents, and drafting timelines and workplans to guide the project (and keep me sufficiently busy). In order to understand who I’ve been engaging, I should give a little background into the learning communities here.

Namibia’s school system for learners (pre-college students) is broken into three levels: primary (K-7), junior secondary (8-10), and senior secondary (11-12). There are some variations in this organizational scheme, but schools are typically grouped in this way. At the end of grade 10, learners must pass the Namibia Junior Secondary Certificate Exam to continue to grade 11. Those who do not pass must leave school. Some go straight to work or a vocational training program, while others enroll in another type of learning program to prepare to pass the exam. They cannot move on to the next grade until they pass the national exam. Learners must also pass an exam, the Namibia Senior Secondary Certificate Exam, to graduate high school and enter college. I have organized the centre to work with learners in grades 5 – 12 and also those who did not pass grade 10 or grade 12 exams.

The centre is also designed to assist teachers. Teachers can use the software to improve and manage their subject knowledge. Teachers can also use the software to prepare or supplement lessons on particular topics. They can assign activities for their students to complete before, during, or after they have introduced a concept.

Of course, in order to work with any of these groups effectively, I must have a solid relationship with principals and other educational administrators. As Khorixas is small, I have quickly come to know all of the principals in town and I work closely with the Director and Deputy Director of Education in the region. I have also created a planning and advisory committee, comprised of teachers and administrators, which has helped promote ownership of the project and has demonstrated investment made by local leaders in the project.

I am still learning the PLATO software and finding the best way to engage teachers; although, over one-third of the teachers in the area attended my basic computer literacy classes and over half attended my introduction to PLATO classes. As a large percentage of teachers had never touched a computer before entering the centre, the basic computer literacy classes were designed to ensure that they could understand and appropriately utilize the learning software.

In addition to working with teachers, there are also a number of infrastructure issues still being worked out. As such, I have only allowed a small number of learners (50 in-school and 25 out-of-school learners) use of the Centre. Each school nominated 10 learners to be a part of a pilot group throughout March. These learners have been especially useful in helping us observe how student populations may respond to the software and what systems we should have in place to track their progress, protect the centre's resources, and support student enjoyment of computer-based learning.

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