COVID-19 Innovations For Education

The Director of the School proudly shows a parent the new toilets.

Amidst the difficult times of COVID-19, we set out to accomplish a highly innovative effort with 3 targets: (1) needed infrastructure, (2) teacher motivation and (3) modeling the use of digital resources.

First we noted that locally the COVID  health focus was almost exclusively on student handwashing, ignoring the hygiene concerns of the teachers, many of whom are older, with chronic health conditions. Hence our idea to construct teacher-only toilets and sinks– offering immediate health benefits, but also the potential for an enormous motivational impact on the teaching staff.

Imagine sharing toilets with 300+ students pre-covid. Now imagine sharing toilets with the students  under the threat of COVID-10 and you have a sense of the heightened level of stress on these professionals.

Our new teacher-only toilets offered concrete evidence that they are valued and respected.

We also used teacher toilet “down time” to provide hours of training during COVID-19, a period when teacher professional training simply disappeared.  Teachers collaborated online to locate resources of interest to them  that we attached to the inside walls of the toilets. In the course of their “down time” the teachers reflect on new ideas and inspiration quotes. They are now excitedly engaged in locating digital resources and experiencing for themselves how this can  add to their motivation and professional learning…. on the toilet no less!

2021 PLANS AND 2020 ACCOMPLISHMENTS BY JIM TEICHER FOUNDER & DIRECTOR

2020 Accomplishments and 2021 Plans

COVID-19 challenges affirm the need for the kinds of practical, affordable, and scalable education solutions that CyberSmart Africa has innovated and modeled for over ten years.

Smart Senegal Social Network (priority initiative)

Smartsenegal.com is a highly innovative knowledge-building platform that helps teachers get ahead. Messaging, collaboration, and content sharing help teachers construct lessons and improve their teaching.

During 2020 we continued work to build, evaluate, and improve the platform – a vital tool for teachers to have meaningful connections with learning content, and with each other. Strategic use of artificial intelligence helps them find and apply the best pedagogical resources. We will continue the development and roll-out of Smartsenegal.com throughout 2021.

The Heart of Senegal – health lessons

The Senegalese national curriculum urgently needs a “health update.” Many health lessons are obsolete, while vital content is missing. In the midst of the pandemic, CyberSmart Africa worked with education leaders and teachers to develop and distribute model health lessons. We have set forth a plan to dramatically improve health education through ongoing lesson development and distribution in 2021.

NBA Africa  

Just prior to the COVID-19 confinement, we partnered with the National Basketball Association and brought rural elementary school students (many living in homes without electricity or plumbing) to the gleaming NBA Academy training facility in Saly, Senegal. The purpose was to motivate and inspire the students by meeting and playing with elite basketball players. The young students learned that great basketball requires critical thinking and problem-solving skills, along with the presence of a great coach – who is also a great teacher.

Flagpole Civics

This was the simplest and perhaps the most powerful of all our 2020 initiatives. The simple act of renovating a school flagpole and replacing an old, shredded flag instantly transformed civics instruction into compelling, real-world learning. Students and teachers raise the flag and sing the national anthem each week with a heightened level of dignity and respect.

Building a Computer

 

CyberSmart Africa introduced the  KANO PC kit, enabling students to quickly and easily build and then take apart a working laptop computer. So, instead of learning about the parts of a computer by drawing them on a chalkboard, classroom learning became part of a meaningful, real-world experience. 

 

American Chamber of Commerce

I continue to assume a leadership role within the American Chamber of Commerce to strengthen American investment and influence in West Africa. The net impact can be huge, including transparency improvements, and embracing more problem solving and decision making at all levels.

Solar Powered Digital Learning 

Building on over ten years of experience in Senegal, CyberSmart Africa continues to realize our vision of massively scalable, low-cost digital learning. This year we focused on directly supporting local Elementary school teachers to integrate Android-based apps that extended and support the curriculum with digital resources for whole-class instruction.

 

Speaking at West Africa Com,  the Meeting Place for Leading Telcom Players in West Africa

At the invitation of West Africa Com, I led a virtual discussion focused on the fact that teachers are the largest consumers of telecom services in sub-Saharan Africa. The telecom ecosystem needs to figure out how to reduce the cost of connectivity for teachers, while they manage the tremendous growth of online educational solutions. My second virtual discussion concerned the key cybersecurity education challenges necessary in order to achieve digital commerce for all.

What is the key to Fintech growth?

Cybercrime poses a significant threat to financial inclusion and efforts to bring the unbanked into the formal financial system. The need for cybersecurity education came up several times during the cybersecurity discussion I led at Nigeria Com and West Africa Com. Joining me in the discussion was the preeminent IT lawyer in the region, Leon Patrice Sarr..


Three key cybersecurity education takeaways:

– Consumer education and “hand-holding” is key to assure the safe and trustworthy growth of Fintech in West Africa. The responsibility for cybersecurity education mostly rests with MTN, Orange, and the other dominant fintech players in the region. They have the expertise and resources to assure the integrity of transactions via mobile apps, and to address the breadth of cybersecurity dangers.

– Although the public appreciates the convenience of Fintech services such as mobile money, many users are barely literate. They do not have the capacity to protect themselves from becoming victims of cybercrime, including online scams and identity theft, money loss, and other risks.

– Individual mobile phones and personal computers lack essential security software necessary to help keep hackers from stealing passwords and taking over mobile money and social media accounts.

Watch the conference session video “Cybersecurity Roadmap to Promote the Growth of Telecom.”

Is West Africa Ready for Fintech?

Fintech investments come with significant cybersecurity risks which are mostly ignored and misunderstood in the race to accumulate customers and grow transaction volume. The legal, regulatory, and policy framework also present a host of landmines.These are the key takeaways from the cybersecurity discussion I led at Nigeria Com and West Africa Com, the leading conferences for telecoms in the West African region. Joining me was the preeminent IT lawyer in the region, Leon Patrice Sarr.

Consider these challenges:

–  You should not generalize about the quality, or even the existence of cybersecurity regulations, a regulatory agency, a legal framework, coordination between countries, or other capacities in West Africa.

–  A major Fintech objective is to build creditworthiness and provide loans to the “unbanked” – those who are traditionally excluded by the formal financial system. West Africans have always participated in peer-to-peer borrowing and informal savings schemes where participants are authenticated via social relationships. In contrast, Fintech systems must authenticate people digitally, often by collecting and storing sensitive biometric data. This is a big security risk.

– A lack of transparency in the legal, regulatory, political, and social framework in countries will remain a big challenge for the due diligence process.

Led by the boom of mobile money services in Africa and the opportunity to bring the traditionally “unbanked” into the formal banking system, investments in Fintech represent the bulk of over $2B worth of tech venture investments in Africa during 2019, according to Partech Partners. At the same time the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warns “There is a need to balance the trade-off between the benefits that Fintech technologies may generate and potential added risks and vulnerabilities.”

Watch the conference session video “Cybersecurity Roadmap to Promote the Growth of Telecom.”

Teachers are Telecom’s best customers!

At the NigeriaCom and WestAfricaCom conferences (October 1, 2020) I shared data that CyberSmart Africa recently collected about new teacher use of connectivity and digital devices. We learned that twice as many teachers – 89 percent – own smartphones in comparison to the general population. That’s important news for telecom.

CyberSmart Survey

Teachers represent the largest professional workforce of regularly paid civil servants, and they can drive children and families to connect and learn online. As a group, teachers are the largest consumers of telecom services, they own smartphones, and they already benefit from  regularly connecting with colleagues via Facebook, WhatsApp, and other services.

Unfortunately, teachers in sub-Saharan spend a greater percentage of their personal income on connectivity than their counterparts in other regions of the world. The telecom ecosystem needs to figure out how to reduce the cost of connectivity for teachers, provide more affordable smartphones, and act more aggressively to facilitate digital skills development and the availability of educational content. This is what I call good market development!

A market-based strategy driven by the private sector will result in the quickest and most financially sustainable uptake of digital content by teachers. Equipment donation programs simply don’t work because there is no built-in sustainability or scalability.

Watch the conference session Teachers Are Telecom’s Best Customers

View my presentation The Digital Life of Teachers

Totally wireless satellite technology and new business models will drive digital transformation

New business models in combination with satellite-delivered connectivity will drive down telecom costs and enable new, more efficient and effective ways to learn, work, and live. This was the consensus of opinion I sensed during our virtual sessions at the NigeriaCom and WestAfricaCom conferences, the largest meetings of telecom players in West Africa. I was pleased to lead two sessions at the conference.

 

Tweaking existing (now decades-old) mobile technologies may not do the job to sufficiently drive down costs and enable new services delivery. The tweaks involve a combination of work arounds and heavy subsidies that are akin to building a new house on a poor foundation. New disruptive technologies and business models will include commercial elements (advertising and commerce) and rely primarily on satellites for data transmission. A new generation of low-cost satellite smartphones and hotspots will emerge that will allow everyone to benefit from the internet as a fundamental human right.

Disruptive changes will give the dominant telecom players a run for their money as new operators enter the market and threaten the status quo. There are also huge political, regulatory, and policy implications; but the need for improved connectivity will keep the transformative momentum going.

Watch our Nigeria Com and West Africa Com conference session video “Teachers Are Great Telecom Customers.”

The telecom ecosystem must address huge infrastructure challenges to lower the cost of connectivity

 

Here are some key take-aways from the conference session I hosted at WestAfricaCom with Dr. Momar Dieng, former senior educational technology advisor to the Senegalese Ministry of Education and The World Bank. Dr. Dieng led the ongoing educational technology transformation efforts in Senegal. Watch the conference session Teachers Are Telecom’s Best Customers

The most significant take-away is that the COVID-19 pandemic has widened the gap between the digital haves and have-nots causing an even more extreme learning deficit. Although ministries of education have encouraged teachers and students to go online and learn from home, much needs to be done to make distance learning a practical reality. The cost of connectivity is absolutely the most basic underlying challenge.

Unlike the more economically developed world, the lack of core infrastructure in West Africa means that providing and maintaining connectivity is an extremely expensive, daunting task for telecom operators. Hundreds of millions of people remain unconnected due to a lack of electricity, insufficient roads and bridges, and the need to access and maintain cell towers – among other issues. The process to lower the cost of connectivity requires strong political will, innovative partnerships between and among the private and public sector players, and – subsidization. All of the players need the appropriate incentives to work together; and it isn’t easy. Still, we must push ahead for the sake of growing the digital economy to benefit our children and future generations.

Watch the conference session Teachers Are Telecom’s Best Customers

Overcoming Key Barriers to Sustainability

Jim Teicher led a discussion in the May 6 “Global Digital Development
Forum” hosted by USAID and other global development leaders

Most international development projects have a short lifespan because
there is a limited capacity for long-term sustainability at the
country or local level. The net result is a lot of time, energy, and
money wasted; as well as the loss of life. This is a sad and
unfortunate reality of global development that needs to be avoided and
mitigated at all cost. The emergence of COVID-19 reminds us that the
security of the planet rests on effective coordination, transparency,
and sustainability. In order for this to happen we must demand
accountability and take political risks.

Sharing Stores in Our Connected World

 

STUDENTS & PARENTS: The COVID-19 pandemic forces us to look at our connected world. More than ten year ago, students attending CyberSmart Africa’s first partner school in rural Senegal wrote, narrated and filmed short one minute stories. These stories provide us with an unusually intimate window into lives far different than ours..  The students — all the first in their villages to ever attend school — reveal their thoughts and dreams for the future. As we see most clearly today – in our connected world, we can learn from each other and everyone makes a difference. Conversation prompts are below. 

CONVERSION PROMPTS:

  • What surprised you about the stories?
  • How is your life different from these lives of the students?
  • What else do you want to know after viewing one of these videos?
  • The students worked in teams to make the videos. What other examples of teamwork do you see when you watch the stories?
  • Take one thing you learned about Senegalese village life and compare and contrast it with your own life. What story might you tell to “answer” the story told in a Senegalese video?
  • How do your responsibilities at home or school compare to those of these Senegalese students?
  • Write a one-line movie tagline, or slogan, for each of the video stories here Make them catchy so that others will want to see the videos, too.
  • Many students in these videos talked about what they’d like to do change in their villages. If you could change one thing about your community, what would it be? What changes do you hope to see in your hometown 10 years from now? What changes do you hope to see in your country 10 years from now?
  • These stories were filmed in the village of Sinthiou Mbadane Senegal.  Where’s that? Geographically how does it compare to where you live?
  • Which one video spoke more directly to you? Why?