Africa 5 Nov 11 Computer school

The room is dim, in total silence, children sitting stone still, their ears covered and a ghostly light flickering. Occasionally a voice rings out, calling for help, or a deep chuckle emerges.

The beginning of a ghost story? Not at all. This is our new project, a children’s computer class held on Saturday afternoons.

We brought some Learning Games from Canada last September and allowed our two young Kenyan assistants, Brenda and Vincent, to become familiar with them. The games touch on Math, English, Logic, Prediction etc. I must say Brenda and Vincent had fun too. About six weeks ago we ran test classes with the two children of the office secretary, and then opened it to others from roughly grades 4 to 6.

We are supposed to begin at 2 p.m, but children start to arrive just after 1.00 because they know we can only take ten students and they want to make sure of their space. They pay their hundred shillings (about $1.20 US) and settle down for two hours. These kids had only ever seen a picture of a computer, and never touched one, but within a few minutes they were clicking, pointing, sliding CDs into the trays and closing down their machines. Parents tell us that the children think we should offer the class every day of the week! After the two hours we have to insist they leave and they dutifully cover all their pieces of machinery to protect against the ubiquitous dust.

When we did our first ‘test’ class, I asked Marvin, who is nine, if he wanted to come back. "Yes!" "Will you tell your friends?" "Yes!" "What will you say?" "AMAZING!"

They love Zoombinis ,which is a strategy, prediction and logic game in three levels with little blue creatures they put together. We insist they spend a short time with Carmen San Diego, Math Detective, because in the huge elementary school classes, there is no time for math drills or what we used to call "mental arithmetic." Even in grade 3 children are still counting on their fingers. Of course the whole time they are improving their English skills, reading and listening to the instructions.

Last week we set up a system of certificates they can earn by completing the levels of each of the games and they all took home Certificate Number 1: Basic Computer Operation. A wall chart shows which certificates have been earned and how many there are to go. Last week Marvin really focussed and finished all three levels of Zoombinis and will proudly take home three pieces of paper. Sophie got two, Harry and Marion did level One. Gradually we are introducing elements of word processing and they can select text and change the font appearance.

When we started we thought we would maybe run a class for four to six weeks and then give others a chance. But there are so many games for them to do it would be hard to make a cut off. Schools are closed during December so we’ll be offering two afternoons a week and see if we can capture another ten potential computer geeks!