At the 2011 eLearning Africa Conference in Tanzania, a Welsh grandmother and a Cameroonian Chief realised that they had the same fear – in the digital age, the past was being left behind.
by Jonathan Adebayo
Gaston Donnat Bappa, from the Babimbi region of Cameroon, was concerned that “we are losing traditional skills in Africa at an alarming rate”. Valerie Wood Gaiger had come to a similar conclusion in her home town of Llandovery in Carmarthenshire: “Skills, cultures, traditions, and languages are being forgotten”.
But Valerie additionally believed that her generation should learn how to use the technology that was distancing the young from their history – and that this very technology could be used to preserve that history.
And so in 2006, she founded “Learn with Grandma”, an initiative focused on intergenerational learning. “The young can share their technological skills with the older generations,” she explained. And in return, “the young can record the older people’s stories and knowledge, and so learn and preserve the mysteries of the past”.
After taking her story to the 2011 eLearning Africa Conference, Valerie met Moses Wamanga, Senior Teacher in ICT at Jinja Secondary School, Uganda. Moses was inspired to spread Valerie’s message through classrooms across his country.
One such classroom was at Grace High School, in the Wakiso District of Central Uganda. Moses introduced its students to ideas of the project by asking, “How can you use technology to collect data from these older people and to store it? If an old man of 90 years dies, so many libraries have gone. But you can use a mobile phone to record it and store it”.
In the Learn with Grandma Youtube video that Moses subsequently showed them, Valerie points out that “you can hold in the palm of your hand a micro-computer with more memory than computers of less than five years ago”. With it, the students can audio-record, film, or photograph their elders, and so preserve their stories, traditions, and skills.
At the same time, Moses explained, because mobile phones have become smaller and more affordable across Uganda, they are themselves invaluable resources that should be available to the older generations. “Wherever there is either broadband or a mobile phone signal, you can access the internet and all the information posted on it”.
And who, after all, is better equipped to teach the older generations about it, than the young “digital natives” who have grown up with these technologies?
Moses met the headmaster of Grace High School, Peter Matsanga, through mutual involvement in the Kisubi Associated Writers Agency, and since then Peter has seen successes throughout his community with the Learn with Grandma project. “Old people are being encouraged to use technology appropriately and even listen to ebooks recorded by the students”.
“Modern communication methods are wonderful educational tools – for all age groups!” he enthuses, echoing Learn with Grandma’s essential principle that “the Internet does not recognise national barriers or age barriers”.
But for the other goal – of recording the knowledge of the older generations – Peter sees an urgency to their mission. “We really do have only a couple of decades before the pre-digital older people are gone, and these rich storehouses of African culture are lost.”
To this end, Grace High School has “mobilised its youth, including a large number of orphans in the school, to record and store the content from the community.”
This exchange of knowledge through technology has strengthened his community. “It enabled the youth to gain confidence and break down the danger of inferiority complexes,” Peter says of his mostly orphaned students. Furthermore, “it encourages greater respect and understanding.”
So not only does the initiative promote intergenerational learning, but intergenerational bonding too.
The centrality of technology to the Learn with Grandma project does, however, lead to difficulties. When the equipment malfunctions, few specialist technicians are available to resolve them in the communities that the project has spread to. To counter this, Moses has filmed a series of Youtube videos outlining how to fix the hardware – mostly large PC computers, along with mobile phones – that the initiative relies upon for the data storage. Participants are also encouraged to join the Facebook group “Learn with Grandma Uganda”, to keep its educators in touch with each other, and share details of problems and successes that can improve the mission in the future.
Peter is optimistic about the potential of their project. “Technology became the bridge uniting the generations,” he saw. Modern digital tools can enhance the learning of Ugandan history, making it more fun for the young, while at the same time those tools can ensure its preservation for the generations to come.
“Protecting African Heritage” is the title of the session at which Peter Matsanga, Gaston Bappa and Valerie Wood-Geiger will all speak. View the full programme of eLearning Africa 2014 here.
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