Sustainable Digital Learning in Senegal

I just returned from visiting Potou Elementary School on the edge of the Sahara Desert in rural Senegal. In this remote location it was thrilling to observe teachers collaborating and coaching each other to use The CyberSmart Digital Learning Platform – a breakthrough approach for digital whole-class learning in schools without electricity.

Given that formal teacher training had ended the year before, it would have been easy for teachers to slide back to their traditional lecture strategy while the digital learning platform sat unused. What I observed was a clear signal that the teachers were getting real value in adopting whole-class digital learning. “It makes my job easier,” I was told.

The teacher asks,

“Where do chickens live? Where do cows live?”

Students respond with enthusiasm “At home!”

THREE KEY TAKE-AWAYS

  1. Simplicity. Simple equipment is the key enabler of CyberSmart ‘s strategy to make educational technology as easy to use as a mobile phone. We are using the Android operating system, the dominant operating system found in mobile phones. This translates into tremendous preexisting familiarity among teachers.

Plus, simplifying technology simplifies instruction for the teachers. Easy access to multimedia content like virtual science experiments and graphical images supports learning in ways the developed world takes for granted. For example, it takes just a few seconds for a teacher to use a graphical image of a chicken (above) that they otherwise would have had to hand-draw on a chalkboard. I observed the difference in student engagement, which is tremendous.

2. Efficient Use of Solar Power. Solar power is a critical component of sustainable digital instruction for the simple reason that the vast majority of schools in the developing world have unreliable access to electricity or are not connected to the power grid.

The CyberSmart Digital Learning Platform is specially designed to use minimal power and employs a unique solar-charging system with a removable battery. The battery is quickly charged and contains enough power to teach up to four lessons.

3. Effective Economics of Scale. Using a pedagogically sound whole-class learning model ensures maximum impact on the largest quantity of students, while also achieving the lowest cost per student. The cost per student is low because infrastructure requirements are totally eliminated, and we have radically minimized the amount of equipment being used.

In fact, the cost to deliver high quality digital learning using The CyberSmart Digital Learning Platform can be as low as $0.36 per child/month – less than any other digital learning solution. Our economic model also considers the total cost of ownership, including maintenance and teacher training.

BREAKTHROUGH EQUIPMENT DESIGN FOR SUSTAINABILITY and SCALE 

The solar-powered CyberSmart Digital Learning Platform is an all-in-one mobile device that was designed based on lessons learned in Potou and other rural Senegalese schools

The UN Sustainable Development Goals affirm the importance of harnessing digital learning to meet the dire need for education in developing nations. But during our 10 years here in Senegal we have observed many educational technology programs fail simply because it is not possible to adapt existing commercially available technologies to meet the needs of the developing world. We have seen many schools where the equipment just sits unused, which is why we developed The CyberSmart Digital Learning Platform.

Working in partnership with the Senegalese Ministry of Education and  The Earth Institute at Columbia University; CyberSmart Africa is a social enterprise that is harnessing mobile technology in a bold, new way that has enormous potential for quick uptake and massive impact.

Simplifying teacher adoption

Teachers find it easy to coach each other in their classrooms using the CyberSmart Digital Learning Platform. Simplifying teacher adoption represents our strategy to impact massive quantities of school. Les enseignants trouvent qu’il est facile de coach dans leurs salles de classe en utilisant the CyberSmart Digital Learning Platform. Simplifier l’adoption des enseignants représente notre stratégie d’impact massif de l’école.

Where do chickens live?

The parts of a chicken? Where do chickens live? [Hint: in the house for safe keeping!] With minimal equipment even in schools without electricity, the whole class learns together with the latest technology resources thanks to The CyberSmart Digital Learning Platform.

Jerusalem Post: Nurturing closer ties with West African nations

Senegal brings tolerance and speaks for peaceful coexistence. The practice of tolerance in Senegal is embodied by the spirit of “Taranga,” that we are all part of a human family and must show hospitality to one another regardless of our differences.

 

Having spent the past decade working and living in Senegal, I have had the opportunity to observe a 94% Islamic-majority nation that cherishes tolerance and peace. Although Israel is insulted by Senegal’s support of UN Security Council Resolution 2334, it should defer to the greater good and not cut foreign aid to a country that represents a glimmer of hope for a future with positive and tolerant relations between Islamic-majority nations and the government of Israel. In fact, this hope exists in what I believe is a unique relationship between Israel and the people of Senegal.

I’d like to share some stories that all visitors who have spent time in Senegal would consider commonplace:

I was recently invited to the home of a Senegalese friend to celebrate the Muslim holiday known here as Tabaski, where a sheep is slaughtered to commemorate the willingness of Abraham to follow the commandment to sacrifice his son. Over the holiday meal I observed as a young woman spoke about planning a party to celebrate the Catholic communion of her daughter – an event that her Muslim mother acknowledged with approval in front of the entire family.

I also remember spending Christmas 2016 in Senegal and being surprised at entering restaurant after restaurant where Muslim servers wore bright red dresses and holiday decorations were plentiful. I saw bands of men with fake white beards and fullblown Santa Claus outfits dancing to the beat of African tam-tam drums.

Most striking of all is not a story, but a daily observation: every time I drive through Place de l’Indépendence, a main square in downtown Dakar, I am greeted with a sight that fills my heart with joy: waving proudly from a tall office building is the flag of Israel, in full visibility for all to see, a fixture in the bustling capital city landscape.

These moments happen every day in Senegal and are living proof that it can be possible for an Islamic nation to not only tolerate, but also accept and celebrate people with different religious beliefs.

For over 55 years Israel and Senegal have maintained a mostly positive relationship, other than a brief hiatus following the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Many people view the relationship as one-sided, where Israel gives and Senegal takes – but I do not.

Given all of Israel’s foreign aid, here’s what I believe Senegal has brings to the table: Senegal provides Israel with positive, long-standing relations with an Islamic-majority nation. The symbolic and practical value of this is extraordinarily important for those of us who hope for a future of peace and understanding.

Senegal brings tolerance and speaks for peaceful coexistence. Strong cultural and religious traditions have made Senegalese society resistant to violent extremist ideologies – and history is proof. Senegal has never been at war with other nations, and has never experienced extreme domestic conflict. Islam in Senegal is organized around several influential brotherhoods which are generally tolerant and do not preach extremist ideology, and are also fairly resistant to external influences. The government of Senegal has reached out to the brotherhoods to offer support in resisting violent extremism.

As evidenced by the current flurry of construction in Dakar, Senegal is growing in its importance as the regional hub of economic influence, security and humanitarian aid. Through its foreign aid, Senegal provides Israel with a unmatchable mechanism for positive regional impact that would otherwise be impossible. Considering the global diaspora of Senegalese, the net benefit for Israel is that tens of millions of Muslims globally are more accepting of Israel.

Senegal voted against Israel’s settlement activity, and this should be no surprise. What else should Israel expect given that Senegal has supported Palestinian issues for decades and chairs the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People? So why is Israel now withdrawing its aid and punishing Senegal for casting a vote that confirms a long-standing policy which was previously disclosed? Regardless of one’s position on the settlements, Israel’s knee-jerk reaction to Senegal’s UN vote is hastily conceived and should be immediately reversed.

Hardly a stab, perhaps a slap.

The UN vote on Israeli settlements is hardly a stab in the back to Israel – perhaps an unwelcome and politically motivated slap that must be accepted to advance a higher objective: stability in the West African region and ongoing positive relationship- building with Senegal and its global citizens representing tens of millions of Muslims.

The long-standing Senegal-Israel relationship can also be used as a model to nurture closer ties with other West African nations.

Senegal is teaching the world an important lesson – they are a living, breathing example of how people of different religions can peacefully coexist in Africa. The notion of secularism elsewhere is that people have the right to celebrate their own religious holidays; but in Senegal, many people believe that everyone should celebrate together.

The practice of tolerance in Senegal is embodied by the spirit of “Taranga,” that we are all part of a human family and must show hospitality to one another regardless of our differences. The hospitality that Senegal showned to Israel upon Golda Meir’s first visit in 1959 exemplifies the spirit of Taranga, and it continues in spite of significant differences between the countries. Israel must now respond with Taranga and continue to build on more than half a century of hospitality that can shine strongly as a beacon of hope for improved relations with the world of Islam.

The author is CEO of CyberSmart Africa, a social enterprise using solar power for a new school learning platform reducing information poverty through educational development.

New York Times: Letter to Editor

To the Editor Re: Trump Team’s Queries About Africa Point to Skepticism About Aid (Jan. 10)

Aid to Africa is vital to help the United States combat terrorism and support democracy-building in developing nations. Speaking from the perspective of an American working to improve education in Senegal, an African nation that is a beacon of democracy, tolerance, and peace, I am able to vouch for the dire need of well-managed American foreign aid. Similar to other nations in sub-Saharan Africa, Senegal is experiencing a youth population explosion and needs help to educate its children and build long-term economic prosperity. If US foreign aid is reduced the void will be filled by other nations looking to gain influence in the region, such as China and Saudi Arabia, who do not share the democratic values essential to both the stability and prosperity of Africa and the United States.

Jim Teicher, Dakar, Senegal, CEO of CyberSmart Africa, providing a digital learning platform for schools without electricity.

Using solar power to educate

Merci à l’énergie solaire, Mounirou Cisse utilise the CyberSmart Digital Learning Platform pour faciliter une leçon pour l’ensemble de ses jeunes élèves. Thanks to solar power, Mounirou Cisse uses the CyberSmart Digital Learning Platform to facilitate a lesson for the entire class.Thanks to solar power, Mounirou Cisse uses the CyberSmart Digital Learning Platform to facilitate an engaging lesson for all of his young students.

Dr. Scharff, Chair of the Computer Science Department, Pace University NYC visits

Dr. Christelle Scharff, Chair Computer Science Department, Pace University, New York City, visits a rural school in Senegal to view the solar powered CyberSmart Digital Learning Platform in operation. We so appreciate her interest!