Our amazing journey to southern Africa
Is it possible for primary and secondary students in two very different countries like Lesotho and Norway to collaborate using technology? What can we learn from each other and how would we even attempt to start such a project?
Lesotho is a landlocked country completely surrounded by its only neighbor, South Africa. It has a population of approximately 2 million and is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. About 40% of the population lives below the international poverty line of US $1.25 a day.
In contrast Norway is one of the richest countries in the world, with 5 million people and extensive reserves of petroleum, natural gas, minerals, seafood and fresh water. What we do have in common is that both countries are constitutional monarchies with kings!
Based on written applications, four high school students from Norway were chosen to accompany me to Lesotho and stay for 4 days. Our goal was to help a primary school with technology and teach the students how to use laptops to make presentations for a joint project with our school. The project grows out of my meeting with Lesotho educator Moliehi Sekese in Brazil in 2009 and her subsequent visit to Norway and Sweden in 2011. If you would like to know more about how we met, read this previous Voices post here.
Before we left on our trip we knew next to nothing about life in Lesotho. And when we began planning for this journey, I was very surprised to learn how nervous some of the Norwegian students were prior to traveling. It turns out that if you do an online search for Lesotho, you might find pages like this one from the US government. The warnings here I imagine are enough to scare the bravest travelers: Lesotho has a high rate of crime. U.S. citizens should remain vigilant about their surroundings at all times. Foreigners are frequently targeted, robbed, car-jacked and sometimes killed.
To prepare, we compared our countries’ living conditions using the website If It Were My Home. This site offers a visual of the size of the countries. Lesotho, it turns out, would just about fit into one of Norway’s largest counties (we have19). If we lived in Lesotho, we would be 232 times more likely to have HIV/AIDS as adults, be 14 times more likely to be unemployed, die nearly 30 years sooner, and consume 99% less electricity than we do in Norway.
To get a picture of what young people in Norway know about Lesotho we interviewed students at our school and created a Google doc where we shared prior knowledge and questions we had.
My high school, Sandvika, has 850 students. They are all equipped with laptops and our building has a fast and reliable wireless connection. All our classrooms have projectors and audio systems. When our students start high school they are offered a new laptop, which they get to keep when they graduate after 3 years. In Lesotho, Mamoeketsi Primary School has 750 students and had 5 computers (3 were stolen one month ago). A couple of years ago they had electricity installed. They have a well outside their building where they can pump water.
Our mission: a shared project on equal terms
Prior to leaving we managed to get 11 laptops and 15 mobile phones to give to our friends in Lesotho. We also collected money to install a wireless internet connection. With help from a school in Sweden, Mamoeketsi had already purchased a projector, a projector screen and some modems, and a week before arriving we were actually able to Skype with the class!
Even if our schools have different resources it is important to stress that this project is about collaborating on equal terms. After providing computers and internet we are hoping to level the gap. Our project is about global warming and comparing the consequences of the climate changes in our countries. The students at Mamoeketsi had researched the topic and as soon as we had logged on to the new laptops we brought, they started to type their findings into their presentations. We were all amazed by the quality of their work and how well they write in English! When we get home we will continue to do research on global warming and send more information back to the school. Our goal is to share back and forth equally as partners on this project.
Sharing our story
On day two of our visit, the Lesotho National Broadcasting Service came to report the story of our partnership for the national 7 p.m. news. They interviewed my friend Moliehi Sekese (right), a student each of our schools, and me. We expressed how fortunate we are to have been connected and how much we look forward to continuing our work together. The segment was aired on national TV twice, once in Sesotho and later in English (both are national languages). The report showed scenes from the classroom: the global warming presentation by the Lesotho students and how the Norwegian students offer technical advice.
Skype in the classroom
Phase Two of this project will come when the school is able to routinely connect to the internet and Skype with us on a regular basis. That way we can continue communicating and learning from each other! Once you open the lines of communication there is no limit to what you can do!
I look forward to seeing how our relationship will continue to grow and how we will find new areas where we can collaborate. One of the takeaways from this project is how we connected so easily with the teachers and all the new friends we made. Together with the amazing farewell ceremony, it is an experience I will never forget! My hope is to go back there soon.
Latest posts by Ann Michaelsen (see all)
- Connected Leadership & the Purpose of School - February 2, 2014
- English Learners & Public Blogging - December 4, 2012
- My third ISTE adventure in America! - July 6, 2012
OH MY! Upon reading this post, you brought tears to my eyes! Your post expresses what I so totally believe … all of humanity is joined by a relationship with one another … one that only the heart truly understands. Your work with your students and the students in Africa totally teaches them that this fact is indeed true. … Differences in culture and language, difference in education and a lack electricity truly doesn’t matter. What matters is the heart!
I look forward to your further posts about your collaborative work!
Thank you for you comment! Yes we really managed to touch the hearts of both students and teachers. It is an experience I will never forget and an adventure that will continue to grow as we find new areas where we can collaborate!
I think the project you described is the ideal, you leveled the playing field for everyone and the project itself was conceived in a manner that everyone contributed equally. I also appreciated how you and your school began this journey with exploring how little you knew about Lesotho.
Four years ago I took four high school students to Peru to join other students involved in work to build community centers destroyed by the 2007 earthquake. We worked alongside of local community members of all ages to build these centers. My students made friends with other students from throughout the Americas. These connections have remained intact.
We have a partner school in Ghana (elementary and middle school students). Right now this school does not have internet access so our students are snail mail and human carried letter pen pals. The topics they discuss in their letters build a sense of commonality and bridge the digital divide. The human carriers are our high school students. Every spring we send ten to eighteen students to teach classes and help with ongoing construction projects.
In both cases, the letters and the face-to-face connections and genuine and bridge so many gaps
Thank you Margaret for your kind comment! It is interesting to hear about your two projects too. I was really lucky to find this school in Lesotho. The most important part of projects like these is to get to know the people. Once the lines of communication are open it is easier to collaborate. I have Skyped with my friend several times after we returned and some of the students have called me too! The world gets closer with technology!
Hi,great website…and cool article…thanx for the great post…keep on posting such articles… Resources like the one you mentioned here will be very useful to me! I will post a link to this page on my blog. I am sure my visitors will find that very useful.Thank you!
LED laptops are great since they consume less electricity.’
Look into our very own web portal as well
i always buy LED laptops because the pictures are very crisp and bright ^
Most recently released posting from our new blog page