Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Tending Tanzanian Trees at the Tenda Teachers National Training Conference

A child is like a young tree which can have its growth stunted and twisted or which can be fed until it grows beyond its unassisted height or whose branches can be pruned and trained so that maximum fruit is obtained at maturity. And the people who have the opportunity to shape these young people – who have the power – are the teachers in our schools.  -Julius K. Nyerere, President of Tanzania 1964-1985

Albin Mathias
PPI Country Director
Powering Potential Country Director Albin Mathias and Community Relations Manager Tumaini Rweyemamu recently attended the two-day Tenda Teachers National Training Conference in Arusha, Tanzania.

The conference's stated goals were to "bring together government and nongovernmental organizations committed to teacher education, especially in-service teacher training, to share current and future plans, learn from one another, and explore possibilities for working collaboratively to strengthen in-service teacher training in Tanzanian schools."

The Tenda Teachers National Training Conference hosted an impressive list of local aid and development organizations, including Tenda Teachers/Project Zawadi, Zinduka DIF, Mwenge Catholic University, Probono, Mwangaza Partnership, Equip Tanzania, USAID Tusome Pamoja Project, Haki Elimu, Tanzania Teachers Union, AfricAid, University of Dar es Salaam, Dodoma University, Twaweza, TZ Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Tanzania Institute of Education, and the President’s Office of Regional Administration and Local Government.

Albin with other Tenda attendees
The conference provided a great deal of important information, advising NGOs on procedures to undertake to improve the quality of teaching and learning in Tanzania. Dr. Elia Kibga, the Director General of the Tanzania Institute of Education (TIE) and longtime Powering Potential supporter, called upon implementers to register their projects with the authorities for monitoring to avoid an inefficient duplication of effort. Dr. Kidga stated that TIE is implementing initiatives to improve networking with NGOs.

Albin speaking at the conference
Dr. Kibga also emphasized that large portions of teachers lacked basic computer skills, and therefore could not effectively integrate Information and Communication Technology (ICT) into the teaching process. In response to this, TIE has put forth a few key technology initiatives, including designing and developing practical teacher guides for Physics, Chemistry and Biology; the development of training videos by teachers with the required practical skills; and the World Bank Retooling Project to assist teachers in handling difficult topics by utilizing ICT resources (implemented in 11 regions of Tanzania so far, and funded by the World Bank).

Albin had this to say about the event:

As with all these initiatives, I think sustaining the efforts of the Tanzania
 Institute of Education and the Tanzanian government is important. The Educating Through Technology Computer Lab and Pi-oneer (mobile projector/computer to aid teaching) programs implemented by Powering Potential Inc. (PPI) and the Potential Enhancement Foundation (PEF), PPI's counterpart in Tanzania, provide a solution. Most schools lack computer labs, electricity, and basic computer skills. PEF and PPI are well organized to provide solutions to these challenges. I also think the Tanzanian Institute of Education should promote the use of open source software, since this technology is sustainable and affordable for all community schools which have limited budgets.

The conference was organized by Tenda Teachers, a program of Project Zawadi, which promotes student engagement through student-centered learning, and provides teacher training programs to facilitate this.

"Watu wanafanya kazi pamoja wanaweza kufanya mambo makubwa."
"People working together can do great things."

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Google Campus Expedition

Google Campus Expedition 

w/ Janice Lathen and Prem Pandian

Here we are on my annual Powering Potential, Inc. (PPI) business trip to the drought-stricken West Coast! Weather absolutely fantastic. Note to self: consider moving PPI HQ to California? Temperature hovering around sixty degrees, but still overheard much complaining about the cold. Trying vainly to hold in my giggles. Californians, am I right? New York would give them something to complain about!

Anyway. Thursday morning Feb. 23. Uber'd over to the Google Campus on the outskirts of San Francisco to visit Powering Potential patron Prem Pandian --- equivalent alliteration unintended, I'm sure.

Prem, a Business Development and Supply Chain Manager at Google, has provided some incredible support for PPI. In 2016, he arranged for our organization to become a Google-approved nonprofit, which means Google will match any of their employee's donations. This year he offered to donate a few Google Chromebooks and Android tablets to our noble cause, and to show us around his workplace. What an opportunity!

Prem and me in front of the Android lobby. Giant metal Android sends his love. 

Here's a pic of me in front of a very important-looking building. Unfortunately, you're going to have to swallow your curiosity about what's going on inside, because the Google security team doesn't allow any indoor photography. This place isn't a petting zoo for programmers, folks — no matter how much fun as that'd be!

The Google Campus. Aptly named. Easy to mistake the inspiring architecture, groomed lawns, pickup volleyball, and casual dress as apex pedagogy, but no --- this is just how Google lures in the best of the best. 

You want perks? These are perks. International cuisine a la front-wheel drive. Ever wondered what drives technological innovation? Indian, Chinese, Mexican, Thai, and more.

Prem and I grabbed lunch and had a great talk about Powering Potential's growth in 2017. (Good things coming — stay tuned!) We also talked about Google, Facebook, and SpaceX's worldwide satellite internet, and how beautifully it works in conjunction with PPI's mission. After all, worldwide internet isn't all that useful unless people have computers to access it with. Imagine a world built on the free dissemination of information, where all people have equal access to the sum total of human knowledge. In a way, it'd be kind of like this row of food trucks — all of the world's best cultural offerings lined up for everyone to appreciate. Yum!

A digestive stroll after a big lunch. Noticed this bucket. Complimentary umbrellas, of all things? It appears California isn't as water-starved as they claim! (Kidding, of course.)

And what's this? Prem explains that Google provides complimentary Google-themed bicycles, too, so their employees can get some fresh air and exercise while traversing the complex.

Do I want to try one?

I jumped at the chance to take this baby for a spin. Here's me prepping for takeoff.

Ah, the salt-tinged coastal air running in your hair! Is there anything so wonderful? So very jealous of Google's bike policy!

Catching my breath in the parking lot afterwards, waiting for my Uber to return me to San Fran. Absolutely thrilled to see this line of charging stations in the Campus parking lot. So very cool!

Reminds me of PPI's work, of course. A different kind of alternative energy, but alternative energy just the same. Maybe someday we'll see solar-powered cars go mainstream?

Finally, here are the Chromebooks and tablets that Prem so generously donated to Powering Potential. Thanks so much, Prem! The work we do rests on the shoulders of generous people like you!

All told, I had a great time at the Google Campus. Hope to be back soon!

Prem Prandian: It was great catching up with Janice and the best part was taking her on the “Google Bike Ride.” Remember “Internship” anyone? 😁 I am extremely happy with the results of the Chromebook pilot study, and looking forward to all the cool things the students could do with the new batch of Chromebooks.