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Researching the use of tablets and apps in improving the Ethiopian education system

Luke Sawyer (2012, MML)

For two months of summer 2016, I volunteered in the small city of Gondar, Ethiopia with the development education charity Link Ethiopia and a child sponsorship charity known as the Kindu Trust. I worked with around 80 students on a research project at the Kindu Klub, a youth group which aims to support and improve the lives of the Kindu Trust beneficiaries by offering them a comprehensive supplementary education programme. I conducted ten two-and-a-half hour lessons per week over the course of the eight-week programme, during which I investigated the ways in which tablets and applications could be used to teach English to Ethiopian children. I placed a particularly strong emphasis on the spoken language, using as many applications as possible in order to improve the students’ conversational skills, as well as teach them new vocabulary and grammatical constructions. In addition, I helped to prepare and proofread historical and annual reports for the child sponsorship programme before they were sent off to the Kindu Trust’s many sponsors around the globe.

Teaching with tablets in Ethiopia
Teaching with tablets

Throughout my time in Gondar, I faced challenges that threatened to impede the completion of the project. Among these was the large-scale civil unrest that broke out a couple weeks after my arrival. Due to protests and violence on the streets involving civilians, the army and the police, the children were forced to stay at home some days, which meant that the teaching programme was quite severely disrupted. In addition, there were communication issues. Although I had an Ethiopian teacher and translator working with me, I felt that some of the children (particularly the younger ones) did not always understand exactly what I was trying to communicate. Learning a small amount of Amharic helped to resolve part of the problem, but it was often frustrating not knowing how much of what I was teaching was actually being absorbed.

Kindu Klub
Kindu Klub

Despite the aforementioned challenges, I had a fantastic time overall. This was my second time in Ethiopia, so I was much better prepared for the socio-cultural differences (such as the fact that the Ethiopians use a different calendar and a different time system – the year is currently 2009 and the day starts at dawn, not midnight). Due to the fact that Ethiopians are so hospitable, it was fairly easy to get an ‘inside’ view of the country, the people and their culture. By the end of the first two weeks, I had already attended a football match, a graduation ceremony and a traditional wedding! The children benefitted both from having a native English speaker working with them and from the opportunity to learn through forms of technology that were new to many of them. I noticed some very positive progress in their grammatical knowledge and conversational ability, and I also felt that I had built up some strong friendships by the end of my stay. Link Ethiopia were pleased with how the research went despite all the disruption, and at some point I hope to return to the country so that I can continue to partake in the wonderful work that they do.

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