Learning Centers Provide Global Access to Effective Teaching Tools
For the residents of Namibia, in Southwest Africa, obtaining their first television set was not about entertainment or leisure - it was about opportunity and access to
information. With the launch of six new learning centers, the rural residents of Namibia will now have access to television and satellite technology due to the efforts of the nonprofit Discovery Channel Global Education Fund (DCGEF) and The Africa-America Institute (AAI). In joining forces, the two organizations can better serve the people of Namibia by providing culturally appropriate educational video programming and training in the use of video as an effective teaching tool.
DCGEF's worldwide learning centers (www.discoveryglobaled.org) currently serve more than 320,000 students and have trained more than 5,200 teachers. The organization provides training and television equipment for local teachers to use in the classroom to enhance their teaching abilities and broaden their students' experiences. DCGEF chose television over all other technologies to inform and educate the underprivileged students because it requires very little technical support and can easily reach large groups of people - many of whom might be illiterate. In addition, television boasts a large amount of available content.
As an added bonus to help benefit the community, DCGEF's agreement with each school includes making the equipment available to the community outside of school hours when it is not being used. Gail Ifshin, Ph.D., executive director of DCGEF, notes that the practice of sharing the technology equipment helps to reach a larger demographic of people in addition to fostering a sense of community ownership and pride. In this way, more people are exposed to diverse cultures, enabling them to adopt ideologies that can change their lives for the better.
Reaching the larger community has a greater health impact as well. In Namibia and other African nations, the television equipment is used to convey important social information regarding HIV and AIDS that helps to break taboos and increase awareness about how the disease spreads. For countries suffering under the AIDS pandemic, the educational system suffers as well.
"In recent years in several African countries, the number of teachers who died [from AIDS] exceeded the number who graduated from that country's teacher colleges," says Mora McLean, president and CEO of AAI (www.aaionline.org).
Therefore, encouraging and enabling students to become teachers or other professionals who stay in their native country to help improve living conditions is an important aspect of both DCGEF and AAI. According to McLean, through AAI's efforts, 20,000 Africans have completed college, graduate-level and professional training to become leaders in their own communities. This has helped to change the economic and social structure of their country for the better.
It is access to information that makes these students able to achieve the goals they once thought were unattainable. Ifshin relates the story of a young African girl who told her mother that she wanted to be a pilot - a job she once thought only men could do - after seeing a female pilot on television at school. It is individual stories like this that bring the goals and successes of DCGEF into perspective for Ifshin. "It's one thing to read school reports and feedback from our local staff," she says, "but the project takes on new meaning each time I have the opportunity to see its impact firsthand." - A.D.
This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.