Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Ginger Farmers and Teachers Talking Online

We may have some ginger farmers at the Teachers Talking Anniversary celebration. This was mentioned during the Dadamac UK-Nigeria weekly meeting on November 19th 2008. When we were discussing likely participants I was told that “Reverend Gizo is attending, plus some ginger farmers.” I am delighted at the possibility, because I think I know how it has come about that Rev Gizo is bringing ginger farmers.

Reverend Gizo has participated in several of the Teacher Talking (TT) courses that I have presented at Fantsuam Foundation. (The first course was in 2004.) There are three elements to a TT course, and as far as the ginger farmers' story goes, the important element is TT-Online.

TT-online introduces TT participants to “my world” - the world of the Internet and communities of interest. We don't spend a lot of time on the technicalities, because in general TT participants are unlikely to see a computer again for a long while once the course is over. In fact the way that TT participants relate to my world of the Internet is similar to the way I relate to their world in rural Fantsuam.

The TT participants know that when I am travel to Fantsuam I need help. When I arrive at Abuja airport I look for John, or one of his people, who I know will welcome and guide me. Compared to when I am in my own country I am like a helpless child. I rely on my friends to bridge the gap between me and local ways of doing things.

It is the same when TT participants come to the Internet. They are “in an unfamiliar place”. For this reason I arrange that, when they first visit the Internet, plenty of help is at hand. We have two kinds of help. We have a “rescue squad” in the computer room to help them recover when they press a wrong key. And we have another kind of help ready “on the other side of the screen”. We go to a chat room or similar where people I know are “on the other side of the screen” to welcome and guide the TT participants – rather like I am welcomed and guided on arrival at the airport. A key idea of TT-online is that the Internet “is a place where you link up with Pam’s friends far away from Fantsuam, who will help you to learn things.”

Although most TT participants live far from any Internet connection that does not stop them sending messages through other people. One year, several months after I had come back to the UK after a TT course, I received a message from one of the TT participants, Veronica. Veronica had sent a message to Florence, who was working at Fantsuam Foundation. (Florence had been the TT course co-ordinator during the course that Veronica and Rev Gizo had attended.)Florence passed the message on to me. (The photo shows Florence and Pam preparing for another element of TT - the "no computer computer course".)

The message told me that Veronica had planted ginger, as an experiment. It would be ready to harvest in August, and she wanted information from the Internet regarding harvesting and marketing her crop. She said that if the crop was successful then she would share the knowledge with others in her community.

I shared the request for information with various online lists that I knew. None of them had anything to do with ginger, but they were interested ICT for Education and Development. I soon had four replies. They were all different, all related to ginger, and were potentially useful starting points to find out more. However they were not written with the needs of a small scale part-time ginger grower in mind. The information needed careful reading and refining before passing on to Victoria. There was no time for that. I could only pass on the replies as they were to Florence, with apologies that the information did not yet properly match her need.

I was excited that Veronica had turned to the Internet for help, and disappointed that I had failed to give her the exact information that she needed. Amongst the information was a link to a help-group on ginger production and that would probably have been most useful for her. However, Veronica would not have been able to connect with that group unless Florence could act as an infomediary. I am not sure where Veronica's school was, but I doubt if it was within walking distance of Fantsuam Foundation. We would have needed to take messages between Florence and Veronica. We could probably have found someone to do that, but they would have needed petrol money for transport. Then there was the question of paying for online access at the Fantsuam cyber cafe to enable Florence to continue the discussion with the help group. There were too many other things competing for our time and resources and we did not pursue ginger farming any further.

Although we could not give on-going support to Veronica in her ginger farming, her request for information was an encouraging indictor regarding TT. Her request demonstrated that the TT programme had altered behaviour, on the ground, in a way that could benefit rural development. She was a rural teacher, with no direct access to the Internet, yet, thanks to TT she was looking to the Internet for information. Our theory that if you teach teachers about ICT you also benefit the wider community was being illustrated in practice, spontaneously, by one of our TT participants back home after the course.

We believe that the way to introduce ICT to communities is via the teachers. This is because:
  • Teachers are motivated to learn about ICT
  • Teachers (unlike health workers etc.) need to know about ICT for its own sake, because they have to teach about it
  • Teachers are leaders in their communities
  • Teachers are change agents in their communities
  • People who are teachers have other roles too (parents, farmers, tailors, barbers etc)
  • If you train teachers to use ICT they use that knowledge in their schools (ICT in Education)
  • They will also apply their knowledge in their other roles too
  • This will benefit the wider community (ICT for Development)

The example of Veronica demonstrates that Teachers Talking (TT) is not just a training programme for teachers, it is a combined approach to ICT in Education and ICT for Development.

When I was told that Rev Gizo wants bring some ginger farmers to the TT anniversary celebrations my mind immediately went to Veronica and I asked after her. I am told that she has moved away from the Fantsuam area now. I hope Rev Gizo will bring his ginger farmers to the TT anniversary UK-Nigeria link-up. I wonder what he wants them to gain from the experience. I look forward to finding out if they do connect in any way with the ginger planting experiment that Veronica began.

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