I have taught my first series of lessons on computer systems to each of our four classes. Four classes! Last year iNERDE had one class of 30 from L’Ecole du Progrès – this year we have students from four different schools: Ecoles du Progrès, Castors, la Paix and Badalabougou (the schools of Progress, Beavers, Peace, and the district Badalabougou). 120 students. We decided to mix the kids up, forming four class teams with representation from each school. The teams are the Avengers, the Defenders, the Fantastic 4, and the X-Men; comic books are appreciated by kids everywhere in the world! Each team has its own classroom. Over two days I totted my five computers, handouts, and screwdrivers over our campus to deliver the lessons to each team.
iNERDE’s Colonie de Vacances STEM is housed in the Parlement des Enfants (the Parliament of Children), a large facility with multiple classrooms, a computer lab, a play yard, a playground, offices, meeting rooms, and even a little shop across the play yard that sells ice cream cones. The Parlement des Enfants was initially funded by the Malian government to house activities like the Colonie de Vacances and it is perfect for iNERDE’s activities. It is really like a minature Parliament building, Malian style, with everything a center for learning and play requires.
It is amazing to me to see that iNERDE, in only our second year, has filled the Parlement des Enfants with eager students, learning DNA extraction, civil engineering, computer science, and many other STEM subjects. Beautiful boys and girls, eager to learn, supported by families completely dedicated to the education of their children.
Of course, I wanted to give everything I had to the kids, and I did. I don’t think I have ever been so exhausted as I was at the end of day. But it went well, very well. I began by explaining to the children that it might be hard at first to understand my accent in French, but that technology is international, each country has its own accent but people from all countries work together and make an effort to understand each other. The local teachers helped in the beginning, translating my version of the French language into French that the children could understand, but as each class progressed, the children started to understand me with little difficulty, the teachers repeated less and less of what I said, and the students responded directly to my questions and I responded directly to their responses and questions. We divided into groups and as each group was called up to work on discussing and dismantling computers, they came running up eagerly to the work table, crowding tightly around, eager to see everything.
I know that my efforts this summer will change the understanding, world view, and even the path of life of many of our kids, maybe even all of our kids in some meaningful way. And my course was just one of many subjects. And it all worked, I was so afraid we could not pull it off, to increase in size by 5X in one year (there is one more class in Senegal), I did not see how we could manage an entire campus full of kids. But it is working, there are teachers, classes, activities every day, it is relatively orderly, and the students are eager, having fun and expanding their minds.
We did good. And the kids, even better.