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Berhan Teklay: Developer of an E-learning Model

Mussie Efriem

Our guest today, Mr. Berhan Teklay, is a developer of the Rural Education & E-learning Model, which allows students to remotely interact with their teacher, learn and submit their schoolwork using smartphones.

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Please introduce yourself.

My name is Berhan Teklay. I studied mathematics, with minor in computer science and education, in college and am now working as an ICT teacher at Asmara’s Felege-Hiwet Elementary and Junior Secondary School. In the past, I also taught at Foro, Selae Daero, Massawa and Adi Halo.

Tell us about your product that was at the exhibition last week, at the Expo grounds in Asmara, on the occasion of Festival Eritrea.

I call it ‘Rural Education & E-learning Model 561’ and is related to my ICT career. It is a computer that runs on solar power and is designed to serve multiple purposes. At the moment it is essentially intended to be used as an ICT (computer) laboratory, a digital library, an audio-visual class, computer programming, robotics, and a staff computer.

My first priority is computer literacy. So, the most important thing I want to do first is teach the students the fundamentals of computers in order to familiarize them with the technology. In terms of utility, like any computer, the solar computer has Wi-Fi, which the kids use. The teacher could control all of the gadgets, and the students could submit their schoolwork and follow their teacher through over their smartphones that we are using as computers. According to my research, there is one smartphone for every two students in towns, and one smartphone for every three or four students in rural areas.

The local Wi-Fi covers a radius of 10-15 meters and multiple devices can be connected at the same time, which means the entire class joins the teacher, who is the admin of the group. While the teacher is giving a lesson, the students cannot access any other file without his permission. It means that the same computer screen appears on all devices, and the students can learn Microsoft Office and other computer basics through that. This way they are able to follow the teacher on their smartphones or tablets until he completes the lecture, after which he can allow them to complete their specific exercises by providing them a user name. Everything that can be done by personal computers can be done over smartphones. Aside from ICT, students can also learn all of the other academic subjects. But I want this to be only the beginning so that students can become familiar with the computer before they move on to the next level.

The main reason I started this was to save money, and I discovered that it is way too simple to install and make available to students. Especially for students in remote areas, where there is no electricity, it does miracle. What would normally take 300,000 Nakfa can be done with merely 1200 Nakfa. This means all schools, including those with minimal resources, can afford it, allowing every citizen to have access to a computer.

Where did you get the idea for this?

When we covered the ICT TEXT book twice in one semester in my class and were left with a whole semester to spend, my students requested that I teach them more practical classes and show them how to make computer programs. I started thinking about it and began showing my students through their Android phones. Later, we developed it into a digital library. Then I was interviewed by Isayas Oqbay, host of Eri-TV’s show, Tech-Insight. Once the interview was shown on TV, Rora Digital Library and Students Exploration and Discovery Center (SEDC) asked if I needed any assistance, and they gave me Raspberry Pi computers and asked me to produce something for the digital library.

What are the reactions of students and the general public?

The reactions are promising and plenty of questions are coming to me. Adults ask me about my typing skills. And, yes, the keyboard is on the screen, which means you’ll be writing in Microsoft and other programs just like you do in text messages on smartphones. Typing skills will not be useful here. In any case, the first thing I want to do is instill basic computer literacy in children who live in less accessible places. Smartphones and tablets are user-friendly, portable, and require less training, so they have benefits over computers. In fact, the younger generation is so familiar with smartphones that I’ve seen many kids type faster on the screen of a smartphone using their two fingers than people typing on the keyboards of their personal computers using all ten fingers. So, we need to chase technology, which, in my opinion, can solve many problems. Of course, students need supervision because leaving them unsupervised in the digital world is akin to abandoning them in the wild.

What’s the progress you have made so far?

I’ve already tested it in my class with my students, and it’s promising. I’m hoping it will help the students become acquainted with the digital world in their earlier grades. I spoke with some Ministry of Education officials, and they advised me to test it in villages and small towns as well. So, I am now preparing to do this at three villages, which is encouraging. I competed at the African Union’s educational innovation challenge in Tunisia, where, out of 960 proposals, mine was one of the 15 finalists.

What about the program’s other prospects, aside from the academy?

Of course, it has the potential to provide a wide range of other services. It can be applied in giving courses, at conferences, and could help in administration. Any public or private organization can utilize this solar personal computer at a low cost, and it can be used as a local network, as a message board instead of posting notice sheets, and it has many other business applications. In fact, I’ve been contacted by various public and private institutions requesting that I install this program for them. But for the time being, my focus is on academics because that was my initial goal, and then we can go on to other things.

Any final thoughts?

We can’t deny that the digital world is taking over every area of our lives, but the crucial question here is how to manage it for the benefit of society. The youthful generation, in particular, is very well acquainted with digital technology. Even if technology has negative aspects to it, we can’t completely deny kids using it. Instead, we must be vigilant and responsible in order to guide them in a way they could be productive. And I am planning to do my little part in that matter. Instead of relying on technology firms to manufacture for us, we can tailor what we need according to our preferences and way of life.

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